The kids are 'alight': the City youth for fans to get excited about
Get it? Because they're on fire?
...When City defeated Wellington Phoenix 3-2 on Sunday afternoon, Erick Mombaerts had fielded a starting lineup and bench which included eight players aged 20 or younger and Lachie Wales, who’s still just 22 years old, meaning that U-23s – the representation age bracket for Olympic football – comprised half of the 18-man matchday squad.
Of these nine youngsters, Moudi Najjar, Lachie Wales, Denis Genreau and Connor Metcalfe were selected as starters, whilst Stefan Colakovski put in an exhilarating shift from the bench late in the second half.
With so many exciting youth prospects on the verge of a breakout season, we’ve taken a look at all nine youngsters included in Sunday’s matchday squad:
Lachlan Wales (22)
Whilst Wales has at least two years on every other player listed here, his combined 45 senior appearances for Central Coast and City remain fairly impressive given his age. The winger has three goals and five assists for Melbourne despite having been played out of his preferred position for a decent proportion of his time here.
Wales joined City as one of the top youth prospects at the Mariners and whilst he’s continued to progress in his development, it’s clear that he’s just a consistent final product away from truly ‘breaking out’ as a star player. Here’s hoping this is the year.
Denis Genreau (20)
Genreau’s an interesting one, isn’t he? All throughout his City youth career, he was touted as potentially being the next big thing but made just five appearances before joining Dutch side PEC Zwolle on loan, where he took to the pitch 10 times in the Eredivisie.
He’s still yet to score a goal at senior level (he nabbed one for Zwolle’s reserves) but has returned to Melbourne with a certain creative spark that the team has missed from its midfield without Florin Berenguer. His lobbed assist for Jamie Maclaren’s first goal against Western United is the perfect embodiment of this.
We’d watch it all day if we could.
Connor Metcalfe (20)
We’re fans of simple taste here at Talking City – we see a shirt-pull and a badge-thump after a goal and we’re VERY happy.
Connor’s arguably the big gun here, especially on the back of such an impressive preseason which earned him league-wide plaudits, and from some pretty big names and outlets too.
Central midfielders aren’t typically the players you’re looking at to bring excitement to the game, but Metcalfe manages to bring an all-action brand to his role in the centre of the park, even on defensive duties.
We’re desperately hoping he continues to get starts – it just feels as though he already means a fair bit to the fans.
Moudi Najjar (19)
The next few weeks are big for Moudi.
Sustained periods of starting selection are rare for most A-League youngsters, so the 4-6 week absence of Maclaren is HUGE for our young backup striker, especially now that we’re committing to him rather than preferring out-of-position players or false-nines.
Nobody’s really expecting him to set the world alight with a bagful of goals over the coming weeks, but even just one or two would do worlds of good for the confidence of the 19-year-old and City fans alike.
Perceivably less of an ‘in-behind’-style striker than Maclaren, we’re interested to see how Najjar establishes his own brand of striking dynamism over the coming rounds.
Stefan Colakovski (19)
Genuinely the most exciting player on the pitch in his short cameo on Sunday afternoon; he had the crowd on their feet when he was put through on goal by Genreau late in the piece, his shot well-saved by Marinovic.
It would’ve been the dream debut if he’d scored, truly announcing himself to the City faithful, but he’s certainly done enough to get our attention.
With Najjar probably unlikely to play out entire matches if he does continue to start, we’re excited to see if Colakovski gets more opportunities to set the game alight.
Nathaniel Atkinson (20)
Back in 2017/18, Nathaniel Atkinson was pretty much the Metcalfe of this season.
He was the exciting youngster who had a starting spot at fullback within his reach after several promising performances, but his season came to an end after an awkward fall caused ligament damage to his ankle, with the then 18-year-old stretchered off writhing in agony.
Since his recovery, Atkinson probably hasn’t seen as much game time as he deserves, having proven to be an extremely versatile player who’s capable of playing anywhere along our right flank, and we suspect he’d be fairly adept in midfield too. Hopefully we’ll see more of him soon.
Ramy Najjarine (19)
The young winger’s got plenty of competition in both his position and in regards to vying to be the standout youngster at City, but we included him amongst our ‘Three City players to watch in 2019/20’ nonetheless.
Alongside our other two selections, Connor Metcalfe and Harrison Delbridge, Najjarine’s slightly paled in comparison thus far, but if his narrowly-‘posting’ shot against Adelaide United in Round 2 goes just a few centimetres to the left, it sneaks inside the upright and everyone’s suddenly talking about his performance. Instead, he never really got going and was substituted at half-time due to his defensive deficiencies.
There’s a whole season ahead of him still and we expect he’ll make the most of his opportunities soon.
Raphael Borges Rodrigues (16)
The son of former Adelaide United striker Cristiano dos Santos Rodrigues, Raphael is described as more of an attacking midfielder, though he maintains his dad’s eye for goal. Having impressed in the City youth setup (following a move from Adelaide), he signed a three-year scholarship deal in September of this year.
Most importantly though, he’s just got a sick name.
Kerrin Stokes (16)
This bloody Adelaide-City connection just won’t go away, will it? Stokes joined the club earlier this year from Adelaide-based side Croydon Kings and signed the same 3-year scholarship contract as Rodrigues.
The young defender made 16 appearances in the NPL SA in 2018, playing alongside current Adelaide United players Al Hassan Toure and Yared Abetew.