A-League grapples with format to accommodate new boys
CONSENSUS is growing for a slightly shorter A-League season for the next campaign as the competition evolves to accommodate an 11th team.
The tricky dynamic behind admitting Western Melbourne Group (WMG) for the 2019/20 season is likely to mean a 26-match league; a full home-and-away fixture as well as three additional home-and-away matches.
The significant shift from playing each team three times towards a compromised AFL-style draw is seen as a necessary evil as the league expands.
A 20-match home-and-away fixture would diminish the league to a bit-part competition unlikely to keep Australian football competitive.
But there's no appetite to grow to a 30-match season, where each side continues to play three fixtures against the others, from either the clubs or head office.
Aside from the logistical challenges that extra matches bring, flatlining attendances and broadcast numbers haven't inspired confidence to grow the league.
The compromise of a 26-game season will be thrashed out by FFA chiefs and a group of club supremos this month.
There's an urgency behind the decision, with stadia and clubs eager to plan.
Another roadblock - an AFC regulation that mandates a minimum 27-game season for participation in the Asian Champions League - has been assessed and nullified by FFA.
The 10 existing A-League clubs will reach that minimum by playing in the FFA Cup.
As WMG isn't joining the FFA Cup until 2020, they will also be eligible for continental football should they make the finals which will bump them to 27 games.
The omission of Western Melbourne from the Cup this year was taken to give the new side more time to prepare.
It also allows for a bumper first match - with a Melbourne derby mooted - when WMG make their debut.
The A-League's structure will be reviewed again for the 2020/21 season when Macarthur South-West Sydney joins as the 12th side.