Captains vote Sydney title favourites
Club captains were predicting the closest competition on record as the A-League enters its fourth season on Friday, despite installing Sydney FC as overwhelming favourites for the title on Monday.
Already the top team in the bookmakers' eyes for 2008/09, Sydney were on Monday branded by their peers as the team to beat at the league's official launch.
Melbourne Victory, who received just one vote, were the only other side nominated in an AAP captains and player poll, with John Kosmina's team receiving five of the eight votes.
Sydney, who have been eliminated in the opening round of the last two final series, have been listed as $3.50 favourites by TAB Sportsbet to lift their second A-League crown on February 28.
Sydney, for their part, are doing nothing to shy away from the tag with Kosmina saying he expected to be labelled favourites after recruiting Socceroos World Cup hero John Aloisi, veteran midfielder Simon Colosimo and Olyroos duo Mark Bridge and Stuart Musialik.
"If you look at the quality of the squad we've got and when you sign the players that we signed in the off-season, you would expect to be short priced favourites," Kosmina said.
"We've got to live with that, but it will be interesting to see how we cope with the pressure."
Unlike previous years, Sydney have resisted recruiting a big name overseas star for season four (Aloisi is the marquee player), but Queensland Roar captain Craig Moore believes that may ultimately work in the club's favour.
"(Sydney) won't have any worries about overseas players coming in and needing six months to settle in. They're local boys and they know what's required of them," he said.
Not surprisingly, Wellington Phoenix were installed as the out-and-out dark horse after an impressive pre-season.
The wooden spoon has yet to find its way to Australian shores with New Zealand teams finishing last in all three seasons of the A-League.
But after losing on penalties in the pre-season final last week, optimism is high that the Phoenix will not just cast off the dreaded spoon, but be in the mix for the finals.
Wellington midfielder Tim Brown, for one, believes anything less than a top four finish will be a major disappointment.
"There is a quite confidence around the place," Brown said.
"Pre-season is pre-season, but in saying that we've started really well, it's given us a bit of confidence ... so certainly the signs are looking good.
"We're quite happy to fly under the radar, but ultimately no New Zealand team has finished better than last, and we're out to change that and get in the top four."
With Wellington expected to challenge, all players polled were tipping a frenetic race for this season's finals.
"I think this is going to be the closest A-League we've had so far," said Central Coast captain Alex Wilkinson.
Sydney skipper Tony Popovic added: "All eight teams would be crazy not to be aiming for the top four.
"If you get up there and hold the trophy at the end of the year than you know you'll be a worthy winner."