By Theo Katsaros
Friday 13 October 2000
The Melbourne Knights begin the 2000/01 National Soccer League season with up to 10 new faces.
The outfit from Somers Street, Sunshine has been very competitive during the pre-season Tynan Eyre Cup against fellow Victorian clubs South Melbourne, Carlton and the Eastern Pride.
Their youngsters performed above expectations during the tournament to make the final and will be a lot better for the run. But the team needs time to gel with up to seven new faces expected to be named in the starting 11 come Saturday against the Brisbane Strikers.
The Knights will field one of the the youngest teams in the NSL, with Pride recruit Andy Vargas the oldest fit member at 24.
The injured pair of Adrian Cervinski, 27, and Ransford Banini, 26, will add some much needed experience when they return.
The youngsters brought to the club by coach Vlado Vanis include 19 year-old Xhezair Sulemani from Victorian Premier League (VPL) team South Dandenong.
Sulemani is 6’2 striker who will cause many defences trouble with his electrifying pace.
Three players have also been added from the Preston Lions in the VPL. Saso Ognenovski is a 21 year old stopper who is extremely strong in the air, Antun Kovacic, also 21, is defender and 19 year old Joe Kozic is a tireless midfielder.
The brightest prospects for the Knights are Angolan striker Tota Da Costa and former Adelaide Sharks forward Joel Porter.
Da Costa has impressed the coaching staff at Somers Street during his brief stint with the club and will be the main target man for the Knights.
Vanis speaks very highly of Porter and believes that the 21 year old will be a revelation at the Knights. The coach has gone so far as to say that the youngster will represent Australia some day.
The addition of Ivan Zelic may be the spark needed to kick-start the Knights. Zelic is a gifted player but has struggled to maintain fitness and a regular starting berth at the Force.
This may be his last chance for him to step out of his older brother’s shadow and make a name for himself after previous stints at Sydney Olympic and the Canberra Cosmos.
Despite the obvious lack of experience, Vanis is optimistic and believes his current squad is 25% stronger than last season’s.
Jason Vukadin will captain the team at the tender age of 22 following the departure of former captain Ante Kovacevic to Adelaide.
Vanis was reluctant to make bold predictions regarding the Knights’ title prospects, but said that all teams would be looking towards a top six berth.
He searched for experienced players to bolster his squad, but wasn’t satisfield with the players on offer and believes his young squad will surprise.
The future looks bright for this once mighty club and its youngsters may just lead the Knights back to the glory days of 93/94 and 94/95.
The Knights coach believes that Marconi, Perth and Olympic will be tough as always.
He also mentioned the Parramatta Power and the Northern Spirit on the basis of their off-season recruits.
And he had a special mention for South Melbourne. With their depth, he feels South will challenge for at least a top two finish.
Ins: Saso Ognenovski, Joe Kozic, Antun Kovacic (Preston Lions), Joel Porter (Croydon City), Ivan Razov (St Albans), Andy Vargas (Eastern Pride), Toto Da Costa (Angola), Xhezair Sulemani (South Dandenong), Ivan Zelic (Adelaide City Force).
Possible: Jim Tsekinis (South Melbourne).
Outs: Ante Kovacevic (Adelaide City Force), Mark Silic (Sydney United), Zeljko Susa (South Melbourne), Paul Urlovic (Kingz FC), Ivan Kelic (released), Toyin Abbas (has returned to Nigeria), Michael Reda (has not returned from Lebanon), Adam Hrehoresin (AIS scholarship), Zeljko Rados (ruled out for six months with a back injury).