A-League Men’s players to watch in the 2021/22 season: 23 players under 23 years of age

Brisbane Roar striker Cyrus Dehmie is a young man going places, and if he continues at his current rate, it looks like he’ll get there pretty quickly.

The 19-year-old has broken into the Brisbane Roar senior squad after an incredible season in the National Premier Leagues Queensland, where he scored 22 goals in just 19 games, helping the Young Roar to their best-ever finishing position of second.

Moon said the move to include players from the academies was a huge shift in attitude from the past.

“There was no pathway [from the NPL into the A-League], there was a dead end, so what was the point of having academies and what was the point in having youth teams?” Moon told the ABC.

“There are those that, locally, believe people could step up and there are a lot of people within the A-League that believe the gap was too big.

“I’m the head coach now so I have the chance to show that might not be the case and I live and die by my decisions, and I’m OK with that.

“But I think I’ve already shown in one season that is not the case, we’ve had players that have stepped up, even to the surprise of some of my senior players.

“There is nothing more pleasing than when you see a player who is hungry, who is motivated, with an opportunity.

Dehmie said the clear pathway from the academy into the A-League senior team motivated the entire youth squad.

“Football is a funny game,” he told the ABC.

“Last year I was playing in the Under 20s [NPL team] but I knew there was a pathway.

“Everyone in the academy knows that if you perform there is a chance to play up, so everyone is pushing each other.

“The [NPL] youth team weren’t always a winning team, but we had a tremendous season, we were all winners. 

Dehmie played a cameo role for the Roar at the back end of the 2020/21 season, but has really come to the fore in this year’s FFA Cup, scoring a hat-trick against two-time reigning NPL Queensland champions Lions FC to progress to the quarter-finals.

Moon said that, plus his performances against defences featuring the likes of former A-League defender Zac Anderson in this year’s NPL, was a great start.

“I’ve always seen that potential in him,” Moon said.

“I see, right now a player now that has developed really really well in the last 12 months, but I think there is still a long way to go for Cyrus, and I think we need to recognise that too.

“I see a young man with a bright future who is hungry, he’s dedicated, he’s talented, he wants to work hard, he’s learning every day.

“He came against Adelaide [in the FFA], he came in at half-time and said, ‘What can I do better?’ He’s asking the questions, he wants to learn.”

Talented as Dehmie is, he’s far from the only young player who threatens to light up the A-League men’s competition, which gets underway on Friday when Melbourne City host the Roar.

Here are some of the other young guns to keep your eyes on.

Max Balard

Max Balard is a defensive midfielder.(Supplied: Central Coast Mariners)

Club: Central Coast Mariners

Age: 20

A-League appearances: 5

Max Balard made five appearances last season as a scholar, including one start in the heart of the Mariners midfield, and proved himself to be incredibly assured on the ball with an excellent range of passing.

He signed for the Mariners from Hakoah Sydney City East and has slotted into the Mariners’ NPL side seamlessly, occasionally filling in as a centre back in his 34 senior appearances in the NPL2 competition.

Adisu Bayew

Adisu Bayew runs with a soccer ball wearing a black and green top
Adisu Bayew has progressed through the NPL system.(Getty Images: Robert Cianflone)

Club: Western United

Age: 19

A-League appearances: 4

Born in Sudan, Adisu Bayew moved to Melbourne as a four-year-old, playing junior football at Sunshine George Cross before moving through the National Premier Leagues set-up at Green Gully and switching to Western United, playing 13 games and scoring twice in the truncated 2021 season.

The attacking midfielder has already played for the Australian Under 23 team and is a skilful, fleet-footed star in the making.

Raphael Borges Rodrigues

Raphael Borges Rodrigues runs, slightly hunched over looking forward with the ball at his feet and a defender behind him.
Raphael Borges Rodrigues has featured in the FFA Cup for Melbourne City already this season.(Getty Images: Robert Cianflone)

Club: Melbourne City

Age: 18

A-League appearances: 5

Attacking prospect Borges Rodrigues already has five A-League appearances under his belt for Melbourne City over the past two seasons, including one start.

Borges Rodrigues has been involved in the Melbourne City system since he was 14. His tremendous footwork and speed makes him a real handful for defenders.

Jordan Bos

Jordan Bos looks down and runs towards a soccer ball
Jordan Bos will look to fight for a starting role this year.(Supplied: Melbourne City)

Club: Melbourne City

Age: 18

A-League appearances: 0

Fullback Jordan Bos has already shown the Melbourne City hierarchy that he is one to keep, earning himself a long-term contract that will see him stay with the reigning champions at least until the end of the 2025 season.

An Olyroo who played 90 minutes against Indonesia last month, Bos will serve as backup to skipper Scott Jamieson this season, so expect to see him injected into games late on when he can use his speed and technique to challenge tiring defenders.

Noah Botic

Noah Botic looks down at the ball and runs, wearing an orange bib
Noah Botic signed from Hoffenheim.(Getty Images: Robert Cianflone)

Club: Western United

Age: 19

A-League appearances: 0

Noah Botic joins Western United from German side Hoffenheim, where the young Sydney-born striker has impressed at youth level.

Botic scored four goals at the Under 17 World Cup, displaying high levels of athleticism and an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time, so could be a dark horse for Western United as he learns from legendary Socceroos striker John Aloisi.

Max Caputo

Max Caputo looks up with his hands by his side with a soccer ball at his feet
Max Caputo has three Socceroos in front of him in the Melbourne City attacking ranks.(Getty Images: Robert Cianflone)

Club: Melbourne City

Age: 16

A-League appearances: 1

Caputo has already made his A-League debut for Melbourne City, having worked his way up through the academy, starting in the Under 15s, since joining from Sunshine George Cross.

A prolific goal scorer in the truncated NPL3 Victoria season, he scored 12 goals in 11 games before COVID halted that competition.

Opportunities might be somewhat limited this season, with the Socceroos triumvirate of Jamie Maclaren, Andrew Nabbout and Mathew Leckie standing between him and the first team.

Cyrus Dehmie

Cyrus Dehmie smiles and points to the sky wearing a white football shirt
Cyrus Dehmie scored a hat-trick against Lions in the FFA Cup.(Getty Images: Bradley Kanaris)

Club: Brisbane Roar

Age: 19

A-League appearances: 6

Cyrus Dehmie, a powerful, intelligent striker with an exceptional eye for goal and electric pace, has lit up the NPL Queensland with his performances for the Brisbane Roar Youth team that finished in second spot on the ladder, the team’s highest-ever finishing position.

Dehmie scored 22 times in 19 games for the Roar cubs and, although he is still waiting for his first A-League goal, netted an FFA Cup hat-trick against Lions in pre-season.

Jacob Farrell

Jacob Farrell jumps over Jordan Smylie
Jacob Farrell graduated from the Central Coast Mariners academy ahead of this A-League Men’s season.(Getty Images: Mark Kolbe)

Club: Central Coast Mariners

Age: 18

A-League appearances: 0

After six years in the Mariners’ academy, 18-year-old Farrell earned his first professional contract this off-season and has come straight into the senior side, playing against Blacktown City in the FFA Cup match at Mudgee earlier this month.

The left-sided fullback started his football at Wyoming FC and is described as having a great engine by his former academy coach Nick Montgomery. He is someone who will bomb forward to support the attack whenever possible.

Archie Goodwin

Archie Goodwin runs with his tongue out and finger pointing upwards
Archie Goodwin’s first A-League goal was a bit special.(Getty Images: Mark Metcalfe)

Club: Newcastle Jets

Age: 17

A-League appearances: 8, 1 goal

An academy graduate and Jets fan, Archie Goodwin has been a prolific goalscorer through the NPL age groups, once scoring 29 goals in 12 games as an Under 16 in the 2019 season.

Goodwin will look to take that eye for goal into the senior ranks, and got off to a great start when he signed off the last A-League season with a spectacular goal, as the then-16-year-old striker became the youngest Jets goalscorer of all time with a 25-yard effort against Melbourne City.

Dan Hall

Dan Hall looks up with a soccer ball at his feet
Dan Hall came through youth academies in Queensland.(Getty Images: Ashley Feder)

Club: Central Coast Mariners

Age: 22

A-League appearances: 6

Dan Hall is another graduate of the Queensland NPL, playing as a junior for Lions and Brisbane City before signing on with Western Pride, from where he joined the Central Coast Mariners Academy midway through the 2018 season.

Hall, who is eligible to represent Fiji, captained the Mariners NPL team at centre back and signed a two-year senior contract that will see him stay with the Mariners until 2023.

Jake Hollman

Jake Hollman looks to one side with his hands by his side
Jake Hollman moved to Macarthur from Sydney FC Under 21s.(Supplied: Macarthur FC)

Club: Macarthur

Age: 20

A-League appearances: 17

Jake Hollman moved across from the Sydney FC NPL team for Macarthur’s inaugural A-League season. His speed and footwork made a big impact with coach Ante Milicic, who described him as an “exciting dribbler” with a great attitude.

He played five games for Northbridge in the NPL in 2021 to build some more game time, scoring three goals, but will hope to do most of his playing in the A-League this year.

Henry Hore

Henry Hore smiles and turns wearing a pink bib over an orange kit
Henry Hore reunites with former Lions coach Warren Moon at Brisbane Roar.(Ian Judd: AQUA PD)

Club: Brisbane Roar

Age: 22

A-League appearances: 0

One of the outstanding players in the National Premier Leagues Queensland for Lions in 2020, Hore returns to Queensland after moving to South Melbourne for the 2021 season, before it was curtailed due to COVID.

Linking back up with his former coach at Lions, Warren Moon, Hore has plenty of pedigree, having been named player of the year for the Perth Glory Y-League team in 2019.

Hore is an energetic, skilful player who can be used as an attacking weapon as well as a playmaker in midfield.

Jez Lofthouse

Jez Lofthouse runs with the ball at his feet looking off to one side
Jez Lofthouse played for Olympic in the NPL Queensland competition.(Getty Images: Bradley Kanaris)

Club: Brisbane Roar

Age: 22

A-League appearances: 0

An attacking midfielder who has been lighting up the NPL Queensland with Olympic for the best part of four years, Lofthouse comes with high expectations from fans of Queensland’s second tier.

A local favourite with dazzlingly quick feet and an eye for goal, Lofthouse will most likely be deployed off the bench late on in games to torment opposition fullbacks by cutting inside off his left and rifling shots towards the top corner of the goal.

Alessandro Lopane

Alessandro Lopane holds a pole and walks forward with a neutral expression on his face
Alessandro Lopane has performed well in the Australia Under 23 side.(Supplied: Western Sydney Wanderers )

Club: Western Sydney Wanderers

Age: 17

A-League appearances: 0

Alessandro Lopane is a player who is already making waves in the Australia Under 23 team, providing the assist for Patrick Wood’s goal against Indonesia in the 3-2 win in October.

A player who has been with the Wanderers Centre of Football since he was 12, Lopane has great vision and confidence on the ball, as well as an ability to score too — he netted six times in 15 appearances for the NPL2 side in 2021.

Anton Mlinarić

Anton Mlinaric kicks a soccer ball with his left foot, his right leg bent behind him
Anton Mlinarić signed for Brisbane Roar on loan from Sydney FC.(Getty Images: Cameron Spencer)

Club: Brisbane Roar (on loan from Sydney FC)

Age: 19

A-League appearances: 0

The 19-year-old Sydney FC defender has joined Brisbane Roar on loan for this campaign with a view to playing regular first-team football.

Roar coach Warren Moon described the left-footer, who spent time with Dynamo Zagreb last season and has played for Australia’s Under 17 team, as mature for his age, and has utilised him throughout pre-season, where he has looked very comfortable in possession.

Calem Nieuwenhof

Calem Nieuwenhof scored in his first A-League appearance.
Calem Nieuwenhof scored in his A-League debut last season before injuries halted his progress.(Sydney FC: Jaime Castaneda)

Club: Sydney FC

Age: 20

A-League appearances: 9, 1 goal

Nieuwenhof made an instant impression on his A-League debut last season, scoring a belter of a goal against the Phoenix in Wollongong.

The academy product — he’s been in the set-up since the academy started in 2015 — had a frustratingly early finish to the season as a result of injury, so will hope for an injury-free season this time around.

Bernardo Oliveira

Bernardo Oliveira looks towards the ball with his arms slightly raised
Bernardo Oliveira has featured in the FFA Cup for Adelaide United this pre-season.(Getty Images: Will Russell)

Club: Adelaide United

Age: 17

A-League appearances: 0

Son of former Adelaide United and Flamengo fullback Cássio, Bernardo returns to Adelaide United after spending the last year-and-a-half at Melbourne City, where he featured for the Y-League team twice in the 2019/20 season.

Described as a player with a lot of potential, the highly skilful midfielder is tied to the Reds until the end of the 2022/23 season and has featured in the FFA Cup this pre-season, as well as in the friendly against Brisbane Roar in Ipswich.

Josh Rawlins

Josh Rawlins holds his arms out and smiles, looking down at the ground
Josh Rawlins has 8 A-League starts to his name, and 12 appearances overall. (Supplied: Perth Glory)

Club: Perth Glory

Age: 17

A-League appearances: 12

Josh Rawlins has already attracted the attention of global football writers as one of The Guardian’s top 60 emerging football talents off the back of just 12 A-League matches last season.

A product of the Glory Academy,  the right-sided flyer played in the Australian Under 17 World Cup side back in 2019 and will be looking to add to his eight A-League starts this campaign.

Michael Ruhs

Michael Ruhs watches the ball and runs in a green top
Michael Ruhs is the youngest member of the Macarthur squad.(Supplied: Macarthur FC)

Club: Macarthur

Age: 19

A-League appearances: 15, 2 goals

The youngest member of the Macarthur FC squad, striker-cum-winger Ruhs scored twice in his maiden A-League season, finding the back of the net against Melbourne City and Central Coast Mariners.

The Sydney United 58 junior was described has having a “big presence on the pitch” by coach Ante Milicic, who said he hoped the Australian U17 international would build on the base he laid down last year.

Harry van der Saag

Harry van der Saag runs with the ball at his feet looking down.
Harry van der Saag played a number of matches last season.(Sydney FC: Jaime Castaneda)

Club: Sydney FC

Age: 22

A-League appearances: 24, 2 goals

Van der Saag is another academy graduate to have scored on debut for Sydney FC, finding the back of the net against Central Coast Mariners.

The 22-year-old, who played at Manly United before joining the academy in 2015, can play just about everywhere, popping up at fullback or in midfield for the Sky Blues over the past two seasons.

He’ll likely provide cover for Socceroo Rhyan Grant at right back this season. 

Callum Timmins

Callum Timmins runs with the ball on his right foot, looking forward
Callum Timmins played 19 games last season.(Supplied: Perth Glory)

Club: Perth Glory

Age: 22

A-League appearances: 22, 1 goal

The UK-born 22-year-old first played for Glory as an 18-year-old in the A-League in the 2017/18 season, but was released in 2019.

A successful stint with ECU Joondalup in the state leagues, where he linked up with former Glory coach Kenny Lowe, resulted in being recalled to the A-League set-up, and he did not disappoint upon his return, scoring a stunner of a maiden goal at Eden Park against the Phoenix.

Nishan Velupillay

Nishan Velupillay runs with the ball looking down wearing a white shirt
Nishan Velupillay will hope to score a maiden A-League Men’s goal this season.(Getty Images: Robert Cianflone)

Club: Melbourne Victory

Age: 20

A-League appearances: 4

Nishan Velupillay got a smattering of minutes at the back end of last year’s forgettable A-League season for Victory, but the 20-year-old has really come into his own in preseason, scoring in all five of Victory’s games.

After signing a two-year scholarship contract with the club in July, the Glen Eira product will be hoping to make his mark, utilising his speed and power to cement a place in Tony Popovic’s match-day squad.

Patrick Wood

Pat Wood looks down
Pat Wood scored four times for Sydney FC last season.(Sydney FC: Jaime Castaneda)

Club: Sydney FC

Age: 19

A-League appearances: 21, 4 goals

Goals against Adelaide United, Melbourne City and a brace against Macarthur highlighted this Sydney academy graduate’s first season of senior football.

Wood, who scored 11 in 11 games in the NPL NSW in 2020, as well as three in two games in 2021 before the season ended, continued that goalscoring form for the Olyroos, scoring twice in as many games against Indonesia for the Australian U23 team to help the side qualify for the 2022 AFC U23 Asian Cup.

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