For Hyundai A-League fans, the start of the 2018/19 season can't come soon enough.
While there's just under four months until the Regular Season gets underway, a few clubs have already returned to pre-season training, with the rest set to get down to work in coming weeks.
SQUAD CHECK: Every Hyundai A-League in and out
With that in mind, we run our eye over how each club's squad is shaping up and outline the priority areas they need to strengthen ahead of the new campaign.
Here's Part 1 - looking at the first five Hyundai A-League clubs as they hit the pre-season training track!
When does their pre-season start? The Reds returning to training on Monday, June 25
New arrivals: Michael Jakobsen (Melbourne City FC), Craig Goodwin (Sparta Rotterdam)
Departures: Tarek Elrich, Johan Absalonsen, Ben Garuccio, Dzengis Cavusevic, Mark Ochieng, Daniel Adlung, Jordan O'Doherty, Ersan Gulum
The Reds made significant strides in Marco Kurz’s first season in charge but will need to find a consistent scorer if they want to take the next step in 2018/19.
Adelaide has struggled to find a consistent scorer since favourite son Bruce Djite left after the club’s title-winning 2015/16 campaign. Spanish striker Sergi Guardiola failed to catch fire the following season, while Baba Diawara, George Blackwood and Dzengis Cavusevic struggled for consistency last season.
Diawara and youngster Blackwood are the options still on the Reds’ books, but Kurz will surely be targeting a proven goal-scorer before the 2018/19 campaign rolls around.
Despite finishing fifth last season, the Reds scored just 36 goals from their 27 regular season games. Only Brisbane Roar (33), Wellington Phoenix (31) and Central Coast Mariners (28) scored fewer.
Youngster Ryan Kitto was the team’s leading scorer with seven, despite playing the majority of the campaign as a winger – or even at left-back at certain times. Blackwood’s return of five wasn’t too bad in his first season for the club, but Diawara only contributed two in what was an injury-plagued season.
The worry for Kurz will be that two of the side’s main scorers – Johan Absalonsen (6) and Daniel Adlung (5) – are no longer with the club.
The addition of Craig Goodwin is a bonus, with his speed and delivery from the left sure to create plenty of opportunities, but fans will be desperate to see a quality striker on the end of those chances if the Reds are to push for the title.
When does their pre-season start? Roar began their pre-season campaign on June 5.
New arrivals: Adam Taggart (Perth Glory), Dylan Wenzel-Halls (Western Pride), Stefan Mauk (NEC Nijmegen), Tobias Mikkelsen (Nordsjaelland)
Departures: Corey Gameiro, Mitchell Oxborrow, Jade North, Massimo Maccarone, Corey Brown, Fahid Ben Khalfallah, Michael Theo, Ivan Franjic
Pre-season priority area:
This needs to be a much more productive off-season for the Roar and their boss John Aloisi. Much was made of the disruptive pre-season the Roar endured before the last campaign as a host of players struggled with injuries.
It told on the pitch with Brisbane failing to win any of their first six games of the season. They can’t afford a repeat of that.
With key additions like Taggart, Mauk and Danish import Mikkelsen, this is the chance for Aloisi to re-invent Roar’s playing style, with the added intangible boost of the club now having their own training facility.
Renowned as one of the most fluent, attacking sides of recent seasons, Roar were far more pragmatic in 2017/18, partly due to the age of their squad as well as the need to play ‘catch-up’ after their slow start.
But the new signings are very much at the peak of their careers and will add plenty of flair and thrust in the front-third especially. Throw in the fact Eric Bautheac should be better heading into his second season in the Hyundai A-League, while the development of exciting talents like Joe Caletti, Shannon Brady and Nick D’Agostino will continue.
If Aloisi can keep the likes of Luke De Vere, Brett Holman and Thomas Kristensen fit then Roar have the ingredients to be a force again.
CENTRAL COAST MARINERS
When does their pre-season start? They hit the pitch for the first time on Thursday 21 June.
New arrivals: Jack Clisby, Jonathan Aspropotamitis (both Western Sydney Wanderers), Corey Gameiro (Brisbane Roar), Matt Simon (Sydney FC), Mario Shabow (Newcastle Jets), Joe Gauci (West Torrens Birkalla)
Departures: Josh Rose, Trent Buhagiar, Liam Rose, Storm Roux, Jacob Poscoliero, Josh Bingham, Blake Powell, Peter Skapetis, Tom Glover, Wout Brama, Alan Baro
Pre-season priority area:
New coach Mike Mulvey has the tough task of rebuilding the Mariners after a few forgettable seasons in terms of results.
It means there’s a few areas the club will need to get right if they are to move away from the Hyundai A-League basement in 2018/19.
The first is an imposing figure in midfield. Dutchman Wout Brama was supposed to be that man but after an encouraging start last season, his form fell away coinciding with the Mariners’ results.
While compatriot Tom Hiariej remains in Gosford, he’s more of a ball-player and creator rather than midfield enforcer.
Most of the successful teams in the Hyundai A-League have a midfielder – or duo – who can set the tone for their side not only with their quality but also the ability to win the battle and break up opposition attacks. This needs to be one of Mulvey’s main focus’ during the off-season.
The other is a ruthless striker. Despite their struggles last season, the Mariners had little trouble building-up their play, only for it to break down in the opposition box.
Just 28 goals from 27 games tells the story. While the additions of Corey Gameiro and fan favourite Matt Simon is a start, neither is the full answer.
Gameiro is trying to find his feet in the Hyundai A-League again after a horror run with injuries while Simon is coming towards the end of his career and is more of an impact player off the bench.
While it’s difficult to find a player in the ilk of Bobo, Besart Berisha or Bruno Fornaroli, a predatory goal poacher is the type of player the Mariners need not only to excite fans but also, more importantly, move up the ladder.
When does their pre-season start? City return for pre-season training in early July.
New arrivals: Michael O'Halloran (Rangers), Riley McGree (Club Brugge, on loan)
Departures: Nick Fitzgerald, Manny Muscat, Bruce Kamau, Ruon Tongyik, Christian Cavallo, Stefan Mauk, Marcin Budzinski
Pre-season priority area:
Like most clubs planning on mounting a title push, City fans will hope they can bring in another top-notch centre-back to bolster the team’s defence.
The departure of Michael Jakobsen to Adelaide means there’s a hole to fill alongside imposing Dutchman Bart Schenkeveld at the back.
Coach Warren Joyce has used the likes of Iacopo La Rocca, youngster Harrison Delbridge and the versatile Osama Malik there in the past, with Jakobsen also playing as a holding midfielder last season, with varied success.
But if City are to take the next step and breakthrough for their first piece of Hyundai A-League silverware, then an experienced central defender must be top of his transfer list.
But it’s not the only area where the roster looks a little thin right now. Central midfield is another big priority for Joyce. While Luke Brattan is one of the best midfielders in the competition, there’s not a lot of experience to partner him at this stage.
Stefan Mauk’s loan deal with the club ended and he’s now at Brisbane Roar, while Oliver Bozanic – so impressive in the back half of the 2017/18 Season – has yet to confirm his future for the upcoming campaign. The arrival of Riley McGree on loan could be what's needed to make up for the departure of Mauk, but another addition will help.
While with the likes of Bruno Fornaroli, Dario Vidosic, Michael O’Halloran and Caltex Socceroo Daniel Arzani in the attacking third, it’s vital City get the make-up of their midfield right to provide the right ammunition and cover for the attack.
When does their pre-season start? The squad return to training on the week beginning Monday 9 July.
New arrivals: N/A
Departures: Stefan Nigro, Mitchell Austin, Matias Sanchez, Cameron McGilp, Christian Theoharous, Pierce Waring, James Donachie
Pre-season priority area:
Much will depend on what happens with star striker Besart Berisha.
The Hyundai A-League’s greatest-ever scorer hinted after the Grand Final win over Newcastle Jets he may be on his way out of the club. And speculation has grown in recent days Berisha could be about to sign with a club in Japan.
If Berisha is to depart, Victory must add another top-quality striker to their squad if they want to challenge and juggle another AFC Asian Champions League campaign.
While the 2017/18 season was far from Berisha’s best in the Hyundai A-League, he still scored a handy 14 goals and often delivered when it mattered most (including the Elimination Final win over Adelaide with his spectacular overhead kick).
The re-signing of ‘King’ Kenny Athiu is a bonus for Kevin Muscat but he’s still relatively new to the Hyundai A-League and can’t be expected to shoulder the burden of being the club’s main striker.
If Victory can keep a hold of Berisha then their next priority will be finding a new centre-back.
The departure of James Donachie this week means the club only have two recognised central defenders on their books in Rhys Williams and Thomas Deng. With another AFC Champions League campaign to contend with, they’ll need reinforcements in that area, as well as in the fullback positions.