The 10 young players who could decide the Finals Series

The Finals Series is upon us and Hyundai A-League coaches will be scanning their squads for the cool heads and classy game-breakers that can inspire their teams to greatness.

Match-winners are prevalent in all six squads and, such is the level of emerging talent permeating the competition, many of them are taking merely their formative steps in the game.

But as the pressure builds and the lights shine bright, which young players are truly ready to step up in make-or-break matches?

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Jake Brimmer (Perth Glory)

Who will get the nod alongside Neil Kilkenny when Perth Glory line up for their semi-final at HBF Park?

It's a decision Tony Popovic has to mull over for more than a week after Jake Brimmer passed the test in his second straight start, the former Liverpool player tallying a game-high 99 passes as the Premiers romped to a 5-0 demolition of Wellington Phoenix in their final regular season fixture.

The 21-year-old has never let his coach down and will have a crucial part to play for the competition's best side if picked ahead of veteran Juande.

Olyroo Brandon Wilson's versatility could also prove valuable as Glory aim to go all the way, while Borussia Monchengladbach-bound Jacob Italiano is just the kind of creative spark that could break open a cagey Finals Series contest.

Jake Brimmer

Aaron Calver (Sydney FC)

The time has finally come for Aaron Calver.

The 23-year-old defender has made almost as many appearances this term as in his previous four seasons combined, having leapfrogged Jop van der Linden as the preferred partner for the ever-present Alex Wilkinson.

Teenage winger Luke Ivanovic may not yet be at the same stage of his development but, with a new contract inked and four key passes registered in his 189 minutes of action, is sure to be a handful off the bench for tiring defences.

And just as centre-back Calver looks to take his chance, don't discount Daniel de Silva from relishing the opportunity to add to the 15 minutes of Finals Series football he has experienced – a paltry figure for a player of his ability.

Aaron Calver

Thomas Deng (Melbourne Victory)

Kevin Muscat appears to be favouring the idea of fielding Thomas Deng at right-back in the Finals Series and the Caltex Socceroo showed he can provide value going forward with his fine cross for Ola Toivonen's winner in the weekend defeat of Western Sydney Wanderers.

His talents are more naturally fitted to the centre of defence, but the 26 appearances Deng made during the season show he is a trusted member of the starting side regardless of position.

NOMINEE: Deng's NAB Young Footballer of the Year profile

And, with do-or-die matches upon us, it is worth remembering that Deng played 90 minutes and contributed to a clean sheet in last season's Grand Final triumph.

That marked his second piece of major silverware in Australian football and the first for Josh Hope, an unused substitute during the 2017/18 decider who has almost tripled his number of appearances this term.

Elvis Kamsoba (Melbourne Victory)

Heroes are made at this stage of the season and Elvis Kamsoba seems readymade for that role.

The likeable livewire has entertained across his first 14 appearances in the Hyundai A-League, fitting comfortably into a squad packed with high-profile players.

With his thrilling exploits for Avondale in the FFA Cup still fresh in the memory, the tricky forward may sense this as his time to go to a whole new level.

Elvis Kamsoba

George Blackwood (Adelaide United)

Four goals in 10 starts is a reasonable return for a 21-year-old striker still finding his feet at the top level.

Two goals in as many games, however, outline George Blackwood as a real threat heading into the post-season.

On target against Melbourne Victory and Brisbane Roar in the past couple of weeks, Blackwood appears to be finding form at just the right time for an Adelaide United side that will pin high hopes on the ex-Sydney FC centre-forward.

Apostolos Stamatelopoulos shapes as an exciting goal-scoring alternative for Marco Kurz, while fit-again 22-year-old Ryan Strain provides the Reds boss with flexibility and dangerous delivery from the right side of the pitch.

Liberato Cacace (Wellington Phoenix)

From nutmegging Keisuke Honda to netting his maiden Hyundai A-League goal and dominating Wellington Phoenix's left flank, it’s been a breakthrough season to remember for Liberato Cacace.

The 18-year-old has been a revelation as a wing-back, starting 25 times, and it will be fascinating to see what he makes of the spaces potentially left by Victory's diamond midfield on Friday night.

"Libby has a great head on his shoulders and he's another one that we challenged at the start of the season," Mark Rudan said of Cacace this week.

Alex Rufer, having nailed down a starting berth, shares a similar standing in terms of getting Phoenix to function, and his absence from last weekend's loss to Glory was sorely felt.

Sarpreet Singh (Wellington Phoenix)

Rudan's faith in Sarpreet Singh to be his first-choice No.10 on a week-in, week-out basis has been handsomely rewarded.

Five goals and seven assists in 25 games – a workload far beyond what Singh has previously been asked to undertake – goes only some way to capturing his influence.

NOMINEE: Singh's NAB Young Footballer of the Year profile

He is now an indispensable source of creativity and while his output has perhaps waned somewhat in recent times, there is no doubt the 20-year-old is capable of lighting up the big stage.

Youngster Callan Elliot – who learned some of his craft from club great Paul Ifill – could be thrust into the spotlight as a wildcard option should Singh become subdued.

Riley McGree (Melbourne City)

Cast your mind back to last year's semi-final and remember that this man is made to deliver fireworks in front of big audiences.

Riley McGree's incredible scorpion kick for Newcastle Jets attracted worldwide headlines; now, the midfielder is set to star for the side that was on the receiving end.

NOMINEE: McGree's NAB Young Footballer of the Year profile

McGree has notched seven goals for Melbourne City this term, and four alone in April.

Blink and you might miss something special from the talented 20-year-old.

Shayon Harrison (Melbourne City)

If Warren Joyce's side are to spring a few surprises this month, don't be surprised to find the younger players leading the way.

Like McGree, 21-year-old forward Shayon Harrison is in the kind of form that should concern Elimination Final opponents Adelaide.

He put two past Central Coast Mariners last time out and has four from his past six matches.

This is just the kind of occasion the Tottenham loanee must grasp if he's to realise his English Premier League ambitions.

Nathaniel Atkinson (Melbourne City)

Rounding out our top 10 list – and City trio – is another teenager who has come a long way in two seasons.

Nathaniel Atkinson has already racked up 34 appearances since making his Hyundai A-League debut in December 2017.

Of more immediate interest is that Atkinson has settled in at right-back since returning from Olyroos duty in March, helping his club to seven points from their final four fixtures.

NOMINEE: Wales' NAB Young Footballer of the Year profile

Further afield, the thought of quick, athletic forward Lachlan Wales striding into open space is an uncomfortable one for defences hoping to impose a high line.

Nathaniel Atkinson and Lachlan Wales

 

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