FFA Cup clash opens old NSL wounds for Olympic coach

Sydney Olympic travel to Canberra  tonight to take on Gungahlin United in the FFA Cup round of 32 clash, in what will be a battle of tradition versus the new kids on the block.

In Olympic’s case it’s another reminder to football fans, both young and old of the history, and fine tradition of the heritage club.

And just like the old National Soccer League (NSL) days, when Olympic fans would travel to see their team take on the likes of Canberra Cosmos, there will be buses travelling from Sydney to Canberra for the match.

But unlike some clubs that see the FFA Cup as a springboard to the A-League, Olympic coach Grant Lee has a different perspective.

The former decorated player for Olympic pulls no punches when it comes to the way NSL clubs were treated at the time the A-League was launched.

“There’s no secret that a lot of the ex-NSL clubs and their committees have all stated that the FFA Cup is very important to them,” Lee said, “because they’ve all still got the egos and they all still want to be back in the limelight.

“But there is no promotion and relegation. The A-League clubs are all franchised out. You aren’t going to be there.

“So this competition has given them a chance to be back on the national spotlight. I think it’s probably why the FFA started it. It’s a bit of an olive branch because of the way the A League and the FFA turned their back on the former National League clubs when it all went to the franchise system.

“It was a bit naughty, it was a bit rude because they virtually stated that nothing else really existed before 2006, which is so poor and poorly managed. It isn’t funny.

“Because without all of these NSL clubs, the history is so rich, that without the ethnic clubs in this country we wouldn’t have football without them. So to go back and turn your back on them, I think it was remiss of the FFA and the A-League franchises.”

Prior to coaching at Sydney Olympic Lee worked in Canberra at the Australian Institute of Sport for a number of years so he knows the culture of football in Canberra.

Leading into tonight’s game he has also sought the help of former Olympic teammate Andrew Bernal who trains and manages a number of Canberra’s elite footballers at his Stockdale Gym in Canberra.

“I know a few of their players – one or two came up and trialled with us at the start of the season so those boys I’m very much aware of,” Lee said.

“But I’ve also talked to Andy Bernal as he knows a lot of the players very, very well. It’s always nice to have someone that you know and trust to give you an overview of these people.”

Speaking about the conditions his team will face and the mentality he expects to face from the ACTNPL club, Lee added: “For them it’s, like a grand final. It’s going to be a heck of a game and if we don’t turn up to play we’re going to be in trouble.

“Gungahlin is a northern suburb of Canberra. They’re a new club – a start-up. They’ve got a lot of young players from the ACT - very good players.

“So it is going to be a hell of a game for us, because you have to travel on a Tuesday night, in very cold conditions to play against a team that because Sydney Olympic used to be what they were – every time we play people want to knock us over.” 

Key players for Sydney Olympic include the Japanese duo Soeda Taiga and Shirai Go, who trialled with A-League clubs Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers.

Highly-rated young right back Bradyen Sorge, who Lee thinks has the potential to play in the top-flight, and former Sydney FC youngster Nic Tsattalios who has returned back to Australia from a stint playing in Greece are also ones to look out for.

Lee feels that his young squad will be the key to victory in tonight’s game for Sydney Olympic.

 “We’re at a stage with these young kids where we’re really focused very heavily on how we play rather than being negative or worrying about what our opponents do,” Lee said.

“Sure you have to be mindful but you can’t get bogged down in that either because theoretically we should be a lot better than that.

“For us, we’re at a level where if we concentrate on what we do really well and that’s not discounting your defensive qualities, then it should be enough to beat anybody that we play against.”

One of the players that Lee will have to focus on will be the number 10 for Gungahlin United, Josh Gaspari. Technical Director of ACT Football, Warren Grieve, says that 19-year-old will be a player to watch.

“Josh Gaspari started with Canberra Olympic when he was 16, 17 and he absolutely killed it,” Grieve said. “He has that sort of X factor and you can definitely see him going on to that next level and causing problems at that next level for sure.

“He is an exceptional talent who can play anywhere in the midfield – as a holding midfielder or as an attacking midfielder and linking up with players.

“He has no fear of failure. He can use both feet and he will be one of the key players for Gungahlin in the FFA Cup.”

PHOTO: Sydney Olympic Facebook

Con Stamocostas is an Australian football writer. Click here to see more of his work and check out the latest episode of his A-League Snobcast with co-host Rob Toddler.