It was a new look Sydney FC coming into the season, with a number of players and coaches departing the club after a strong period.
The club appointed former captain Steve Corica as their new manager, replacing the Socceroos-bound Graham Arnold. Many thought Corica would struggle given his limited experience, however he was one of the few candidates who could convey the ideas of the Arnold reign.
A number of players were also brought in to replace the departing list that included Bobo, Adrian Mierzejewski and Jordy Buijs. Trent Buhagiar, who recently signed with the club and figured in their early matches, suffered a season-ending knee injury right before the beginning of the season.
Adam le Fondre was brought in from England, while Siem de Jong joined the club on-loan from Ajax. While they kept some stars from previous seasons, it was a different looking Sydney FC.
The Sky Blues came into the season with open wounds, following their heartbreaking semi-final exit last season to Melbourne Victory. Despite winning the Premiers’ Plate, they could not secure the A-League Championship and were looking to avenge this coming into the new campaign.
Added in to the mix was the closure and subsequent demolition of their home base Allianz Stadium. The club agreed to play their home matches at the SCG, Jubilee Stadium and Leichhardt Oval.
Sydney FC looked to defend their FFA Cup title, with victories over Rockdale, Cairns FC, Avondale FC and the Western Sydney Wanderers. However, they were unable to overcome Adelaide United in the final away from home, going down 2-1.
Their A-League season began a week and a half before this, with another trip to Adelaide ending in a 1-1 draw.
The following week saw a home derby at the SCG against the Western Sydney Wanderers, in a match that had VAR controversy. The Sky Blues prevailed 2-0 and ended the round on top of the table.
After an impressive victory at AAMI Park over Melbourne City, Sydney faced adversity with disappointing losses coming against Melbourne Victory and Wellington Phoenix at Jubilee Stadium. For the first time in ages, pressure mounted at the club over their disappointing results.
Despite this, the Sky Blues won their next four matches against the Wanderers, Perth Glory in Western Australia, Brisbane Roar and the Central Coast Mariners. This victory over the Glory will give Corica’s men the belief that they can cause an upset again in Sunday’s Grand Final.
Their second trip to Perth in two weeks did not end as well as their previous visit, with a disappointing 3-1 loss occurring.
The club won their next three matches, including a 1-0 victory in an ‘away’ match against the Wellington Phoenix at Campbelltown Stadium.
Their next four weeks of football however were the ones that proved most costly in their Premiers’ Plate defence. Losses to Melbourne Victory on Australia Day and Brisbane Roar occurred, while a 1-1 draw against the lowly Central Coast Mariners at Leichhardt Oval brought the club back to reality.
Iranian striker Reza Ghoochannejhad was added to Sydney FC’s attacking stocks and managed to get on the scoresheet in the 2-0 win over Adelaide in March.
However, an inconsistent finish to the season ensured that the Sky Blues finished second to leaders Perth.
Milos Ninkovic’s 93rd minute winner against Melbourne Victory at the SCG was a fantastic moment and result for the club, while the 1-0 victory over Perth Glory in Kogarah wrapped up second-place and a home semi-final.
The Sky Blues faced a red hot Melbourne Victory again in the semi-final, in what turned out to be a rematch of the previous year’s semi.
Fired up from the words from manager Corica about the events of last season, Sydney were on-point from the first whistle, winning the tie 6-1. It was the literal meaning of revenge, with the Sky Blues making up for the failings of the previous tie last year and booking their ticket to the Grand Final.
Adding to their schedule this season has been Sydney’s participation in the Asian Champions League, with Ulsan Hyundai, Shanghai SIPG and Kawasaki Frontale joining them in their group. To date, the Sky Blues have drawn three times and lost twice, however produced fantastic performances against the star-studded Shanghai in both matches.
With the Asian Champions League now out of their reach, Sydney FC’s last chance for silverware comes on Sunday in the Grand Final at Optus Stadium against Perth, led by Corica’s former Sydney FC teammate Tony Popovic. This will be no easy task, with the Glory rightfully finishing the season on top. The home supporters will no doubt be an added challenge for the Sky Blues, however their good record against the Glory and two victories during the season against them gives them a chance of winning the A-League Championship.
So far, it has been a decent season for Sydney given their departures and injuries, with the strong finish to the campaign being a positive. Credit must go to Corica for guiding the Sky Blues to second in only his first professional managerial season.