The National Youth League resumes in earnest on the weekend as last year’s champions, Sydney FC, aim to make it back-to-back titles.
The Sydney-siders began their season on Tuesday with a 1-0 loss to cross town rivals Western Sydney Wanderers before heading out to Vietnam on Friday to compete in the U21 International Newspaper Cup football tournament.
While it wasn’t the start the harbour-siders were hoping for, coach and Sky Blue legend Steve Corica expects some breakout performances from his side in 2014/15.
With a planned academy on the horizon, and new senior coach Graham Arnold keen to showcase the club’s rising stars, the next few years should see a wave of new talent coming through.
Sydney's former skipper has overhauled last season’s title-winning outfit which ran away with the NYL crown with three matches to spare.
“We’ve brought in about seven or eight new players," Corica said.
"We’ve obviously kept half the team from last season – brought in three or four train-ons from last year and the rest are all new players.
“Then we’ve had ones that signed a first team contract from last year’s squad like (Young Socceroos) Christopher Naumoff, Hagi Gligor and goalkeeper Anthony Bouzanis.”
Sydney’s A-League glamour clash with Melbourne City last weekend was a chance for some of the youngsters to step up to big stage with a host of first teamers away on national duty.
Midfielder Max Burgess, 19, and George Blackwood, 17, got a run in the club’s season opener and Corica is anticipating a big year from both players as well as defender Aaron Calver.
“There’s also a young boy at the back George Timotheo as well as Bai Antoniou who we got from the AIS last year. They’ve joined out squad this season and are doing really well. I’m looking for a big season from both of them.”
Last month Arnold rested nine of his senior players for a pre-season friendly against Melbourne Victory and was delighted his young stand-ins came away with a 1-1 draw.
Post-match Arnold said: "The senior boys who played did very well and the young boys are now creating some fantastic depth in our squad and there's a lot of competition for places."
Corica said the former Central Coast Mariners mentor is the ideal coach to bring his boys on.
“He obviously likes giving the younger players a chance,” Corica said.
“I think he’s shown that from when he was at the Mariners. A lot of young boys came through when he was there.
“Obviously we’re a bigger club but I still think there are spots for the younger boys to come through and do well if we’ve got the right boys in place."
Corica said the much-anticipated club academy, headed up by former FFA Assistant National Technical Director Kelly Cros,s should also build strong ties between the club and players from an early age.
"It will be fantastic - we're going to have all the young ones probably from 10 up to 16 at which point they should be coming into the youth team.
"If they’re good enough they’ll stay in the program from a young age, playing the way we want them to play.
"By the time they get to me or whoever’s coach of the youth team they’ve been in the system a long time and we should be able to find new recruits from within our own program.
"It’s developing pathways for these young ones to come through, stay with the club and have a real heart for the club and make it their home really – like I did when I was at Marconi."
Sydney is aiming to start fielding teams in the State League from 2016.
Meanwhile the Silver Fox from Innisfail, who hung up his boots in 2010, has aspirations of his own beyond developing Sydney’s brightest young talents.
“I do miss playing – although I still play over 35s – but I’m really enjoying this time as coach and working with the younger players and hopefully improving them,” he said.
“Obviously my job is to get as many as possible into the first team and I think that’s going along nicely at the moment.
“I’m still assisting with the first team as well but I’m not a 100 per cent sure just yet (what the future holds).
“I’m gaining experience and learning along the way and once I think I’m ready then I’ll look to do something else.
“I do have aspirations to coach at a higher level but at this stage I’m really enjoying what I’m doing with the youth team. Obviously they were very successful last year and hopefully we can do the same this year.”
National Youth League fixtures:
Perth Glory v FFA Centre of Excellence (formerly AIS)
Adelaide United v Melbourne City
Newcastle Jets v Melbourne Victory
Central Coast Mariners v Brisbane Roar
*MAIN PHOTO: Sydney's 2014 NYL Premiership winning teamcomments