Last season – which seems like an eternity ago, like most things of 2020 could only seem like they were – Melbourne City swept three regular-season games against then-expansion side Western United and an A-League semi-final match, and Golden Boot winner Jamie Maclaren paced all four of those wins with seven goals.
Fast-forward to the new 2021 season, and everything is a clean slate for Maclaren and Melbourne City.
Looking to go one step further in a faster-paced season, and one where players, coaches and teams are uncertain as to what’s lurking around the corner from one week to the next, Melbourne City under new coach Patrick Kisnorbo have had a mixed bag of results to start the new campaign.
After losing the A-League grand final to Sydney FC last August 30, Melbourne City started the season with a 1-0 win away to Brisbane Roar then followed it up with a 2-0 loss at Adelaide United.
Another showdown against Western United awaits on Saturday evening – and according to Maclaren, goalless so far in the 2021 campaign, those four wins and seven individual goals last season don’t mean anything.
But they do have a feeling of what to expect from their Victorian rivals from around Melbourne’s Western Ring Road and down the Princes Freeway.
“They’re a good side – I think we’ve played them the most often, between pre-season friendlies, and games that have meant a lot more,” Maclaren said on Thursday in the midst of preparations for Saturday’s match at AAMI Park.
“We’ve had some good battles, and they’re a very good team that could hurt you.
“We’ve been wary about how they like to mix it up, and how we can approach that,” he added.
It will also be the first time since March 14 that Melbourne City will have played a home game in front of their own fans at AAMI Park.
And for Maclaren and his teammates, the significance of what’s to come on Saturday cannot be understated.
“Last time we played in front of a home crowd, it was last March, against Western Sydney, the stadium was half-full, and we had no idea just how long it was before we’d do it again,” Maclaren said about the uncertainty his side – and realistically, countless others in sport and society alike – faced with a global pandemic about to derail the season for what was roughly a four-month stretch.
“It’s going to be exciting to walk out and see a lot of familiar faces who have missed a lot of football from us. Let’s be honest – we had a great season last year and got to a grand final, but a majority of those people sat on their couches at home watching those games,” he added.
Maclaren has also paid tribute to Kisnorbo, a decorated A-League player who had appeared 76 times for Melbourne Heart and City, and won 18 caps for Australia, after playing in England with Leicester City and Leeds United, and in Scotland with Hearts, upon being a holdover from the National Soccer League with South Melbourne.
According to Maclaren, Kisnorbo has been able to roll with whatever punches the uncertainty of the current A-League season has thrown at their club, amid the ever-revolving doors of fixture changes brought on by state border closures whenever coronavirus cases have spiked in other states outside of Victoria.
“Originally we were going to play seven games in this January session [of the new season], but we’ve only played two up to now. So we’ve had to gain our legs by playing in longer training sessions, so that we can keep out fitness levels high and make sure the boys are fit,” Maclaren said about the sessions led by Kisnorbo.
“You don’t want to get into a situation where you pick up injuries because you haven’t played in a couple of weeks,” he added.
And Maclaren feels that he does not have to repeat his Golden Boot accolades for another season in order to win enough games for the club to get them back into a grand final-type position at season’s end.
Maclaren has yet to score a single goal so far in Melbourne City’s first two games of the new season – which doesn’t frustrate him in the least.
“I just want to be a consistent goal-scorer and look back at the end of the season and be proud of what we achieved. Last year, I set my sights on a Golden Boot, and also on getting into a Grand Final.
“But this year, it’s more team-focused for me – not in being less selfish, but in the sense that I was feeling hurt, and am still hurt, by losing a Grand Final,” Maclaren admits.
“When you win a Golden Boot, it’s great but you wake up the next morning forgetting the feeling. It’s great, but not as good as winning a championship,” he adds.
In fact, if he scores fewer goals and it results in Melbourne City winning its first A-League title to go in the club’s trophy cabinet alongside the 2016 FFA Cup triumph, then the effort will have been worth it.
“I’m going to score goals, but it’s all about providing goals for others, too, so we can win games,” Maclaren said.
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