Melbourne City's 2022/23 competitive season will begin in just a few days' time when the boys take on NPL outfit Newcastle Olympic on Tuesday night in the newly renamed Australia Cup.
The club has a long history dating back to 1976, though many fans may know the team better for its former name Hamilton Olympic, which it used between 1992 and 2019.
A powerhouse particularly in the 2010s, Olympic won the Northern NSW NPL four times last decade, including three seasons in a row between 2016 and 2018. The club failed to convert this period of local dominance into appearances on the national stage, however, with Olympic failing to qualify for the Australia Cup Round of 32 until its debut campaign in the competition last year when it was comprehensively accounted for by Macarthur FC by a 3-0 scoreline.
Finishing seventh out of 10 teams in the season that they made that Cup debut, Olympic has hardly set about making dramatic improvement this year, currently occupying fifth place (out of 11 teams this year) after 15 games at the time of writing.
It has thus been an underwhelming first foray into senior coaching for former Socceroo Joel Griffiths, who took the reins at Olympic ahead of the 2021 campaign. The 2007-08 Johnny Warren medallist routinely employs a 5-3-2/3-5-2 formation with wing-backs providing the width either side of a back three.
Griffiths guided his team into the 2022 Round of 32 with this system following a 3-0 win over Cooks Hill United in the Cup's Seventh Preliminary Round.
Netting one of the all-important goals to secure his side's progression to the Round of 32, Joseph Langlois has been one of Olympic's primary goal threats in the NNSW NPL this season, netting four times in nine appearances. The 20-year-old midfielder is second in that department only to striker Jared Muller, who has 10 in 15, including four in his last three.
Langlois and Muller are just two of several Olympic youth products now well and truly embedded into the senior team, emblematic of the club's approach to the development of homegrown talents.
A detracting factor to this philosophy is that the squad sorely lacks individuals with previous top-flight experience, with just two players boasting senior appearances for A-League clubs.
Goalkeeper Adam Pearce spent five years in the Central Coast Mariners' senior setup between 2015 and 2019 but made just 10 competitive appearances during this time.
Elsewhere, the versatile Declan Hughes, who has been utilised as both a midfielder and a wing-back in Griffiths' system, made four appearances for Perth Glory in its 2020 Asian Champions League campaign, but the 22-year-old made little impact in the A-League where he failed to debut.
There is always the need to approach Cup fixtures against NPL opposition with a healthy degree of respect and acknowledgment, but to build Newcastle Olympic up has an outfit capable of seriously threatening our progression to the Round of 16 would be dishonest.
The issue isn't that Olympic are an NPL opposition, it's that they're not even one of the country's top second-tier outfits at present. They're not at the same level as a South Melbourne or a Bentleigh Greens, nor are they of the same threat as other NSW sides like Marconi Stallions or Blacktown City. The latter comparison is especially relevant given the inferior performances of teams from Northern NSW (who have never beaten A-League opposition in the Cup) to their intra-state counterparts (responsible for three 'Cupsets').
Olympic's lower profile (unrelated to team ability, of course) is also reflected by just how little information is available about the current squad and its playing style and DNA (see our pre-match analyses of both South and Hume last year by way of comparison).
Further to this point, Olympic are due to be facing Charlestown for a league fixture later this afternoon (30th of July), just three days before our encounter with them in the Round of 32.
All said and done, the fixture may present more as an opportunity for City fans to get a first look at the likes of new signings Callum Talbot and Richard van der Venne, as well as the youth products closest to cracking the senior squad (à la Jordan Bos in last year's Cup), than as a barometer of our preparedness for the campaign ahead.
Fans would hope to see the team make Australia Cup success a high priority to set the tone for another dominant league season, and will expect to see a performance from the City boys that reflects this ambition.