Singing as they go, Western United ready for ‘Nix road trip

Almost a month after their last A-League Men (ALM) match, third-placed Western United hold no reservations about heading out interstate to finally resume their season when they take on Wellington Phoenix on Friday evening. In fact, they’re making a song and dance about it.

After initially being able to soldier on and complete games against Adelaide United and Melbourne Victory despite a number of COVID-enforced absences, United was finally waylaid by the growing number of cases amongst their ranks over the new year: games with Sydney FC, Western Sydney Wanderers, Macarthur FC and Newcastle Jets all postponed due to the virus.

In total, 20 members of coach John Aloisi’s squad would eventually contract COVID, 14 in a wave following the club’s 3-1 defeat to Melbourne Victory on Boxing Day, and while Aloisi said that he himself was one of the “fortunate ones” that hadn’t contracted the virus, he confirmed that some of his coaching staff had been waylaid during the club’s time off. 

Ahead of his club’s return on Friday evening, however, the United gaffer confirmed that while Rene Krhin and his club’s long-term absences would be unavailable, he wasn’t expecting any of his squad that had contracted COVID to be forced absences from the clash with the Phoenix. 

See Also: What constitutes a good game of A-Leagues football?

For their part, COVID amongst their ranks has prevented the Kiwi side, who are once again playing games out of Wollongong this season due to New Zealand’s COVID-related border restrictions, from playing since their penalty shootout win over Melbourne City in the FFA Cup on January 5. 

“During the season you just want to play games,” Aloisi said. “The players especially, they’re the ones that want to keep on playing and as coaches, you want to be on the sideline. That’s the competitive nature that you’ve got within the game, in elite sport.

“[The players came] back in dribs and drabs. So you have to monitor that and you have to try and make sure that the ones that haven’t had it are still doing the right things – because we don’t want them all together at once either. 

“You have to try and put all the protocols in place and then when the players do come back – coming back at different times – try and build him up because everyone gets affected differently. Some got hit harder than others. 

“But at the moment the ones that have had it and have come back into training feel very good. And they’re still a little bit of an unknown because we don’t know how they’re going to cope with the game on Friday night. 

“But we’re confident that we’ve done everything possible to make sure that they’re ready to play.”

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Presently two-points back of league-leading Melbourne Victory with a game in hand, Friday evening’s trip to take on the ‘Nix at Wollongong’s WIN Stadium will mark the first time that United has ventured outside Victoria this season – the Jets and Phoenix forced to come to them during the FFA Cup. 

“The players are excited because you know the new boys haven’t been able to do their singing as they normally do when they first have their first away trip,” Aloisi said. 

“We were unlucky that we didn’t get to go away in the preseason at all. Normally you get to go away and there’s that bonding and players getting to know each other even more so. So the players are really excited and looking forward to traveling together, going away together and spending a few days as a group.”

Of course, given the travails that United underwent to even secure an opponent this weekend – part of the Australian Professional League’s effort to juggle fixtures between a pandemic and lack of trained camera staff during the Australian Open – the club is just happy to finally be getting out on the pitch after their long break. 

Nonetheless, their coach doesn’t believe that the month between games was a total waste of time: giving the club an opportunity to train aspects of their game that normally aren’t able to be addressed in the midst of a standard home-and-away season. 

See Also: Five A-League Men talking points heading into 2022

“We actually prepped [to play] against five different teams!” Aloisi said. 

“That’s how many times we’ve been trying to organize who we’re playing against and make sure the players are ready for whoever we play against. 

“But we’ve got a lot of good training in, in terms of the technical side. A lot of good things that we don’t have time to work on during the season as much, so that was good.

“We’ve been prepping all this week for the Wellington game and making sure we’re ready for that. Year. Their last game was against Melbourne City in the FFA Cup, and then they got hit, so I don’t know how they’re gonna turn up. 

“We’re pretty confident that we’ll be in good condition. The rustiness might be there because of a play for a month but the players would get over that pretty quick.”

Enjoying Joey’s coverage of Australian sport? Your support helps keep it possible.
You’re seeing this advert because this is an unpaid, self-published piece.

You can support his ongoing work by buying him a coffee: https://ko-fi.com/joeylynchy 

Header Image Credit: Western United

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