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Winning games easy part for Western, scoring off field bigger battle

The only blip on the radar has been their 2-1 home defeat to a ten man Melbourne City: that was a loss that hurt coach Mark Rudan and his men, given that they had come from behind to level but couldn’t find the goal to put away an undermanned opponent.

They were eventually being caught out by a sucker-punch counter attack late in the game and a marvellous piece of opportunistic finishing by City talisman Jamie Maclaren.

It’s just scenario they need to avoid on Saturday night when they face Western Sydney Wanderers in the clash of the league’s two western suburbs based clubs, a shared geographical identity which spawns several cultural and marketing perceptions and which will, undoubtedly, be one of the motifs underwriting this and subsequent meetings between the two teams.

Creating an image and a brand off the field is more problematical.

In Western’s favour is that they represent a distinct region, like their Sydney rivals.

It has been designed to appeal to an increasingly broad demographic stretching from the end of the West Gate Bridge to, effectively, the South Australian border, although quite how many of those in the western districts will take up the club just because it has ”west” in the name is a moot point.

Western’s main catchment is in that zone between the end of the bridge and the sprawling outer suburbs that are springing up between there and Werribee.

The fact that they are playing home games in Geelong (mostly) and Ballarat (a handful) is problematic in the short term although Geelong does have a sizeable enough soccer community to whom they can pitch their appeal.

Creating a winning team is only part of the job.

Youngsters, particularly, need to identify with star players so they pester their parents to bring them to games.

So they have to work overtime to get men like Alessandro Diamanti, fiery frontman Besart Berisha and evergreen former Socceroo striker Scott McDonald front and centre.

McDonald’s excellent match in the come-from-behind win over Victory certainly lifted his profile, while Diamanti has been excellent in his four games with the team and Berisha has been – well, Berisha: combative, feisty and a goalscorer.

But two of these are 36-years-old and Berisha, the youngest, is 34.

Western also needs their young players – men like Valentino Yuel, Josh Cavallo, Dylan Pierieas and Jonathan Aspropotamitis _ to get game time so they can get traction with younger fans, who like nothing more than seeing ”home grown” (if that can be said of a club that didn’t exist a year ago) youngsters coming through.

So far Western has published crowds averaging 7000 for its two home games.

But, say officials, that is only one of a number of metrics by which theu will measure progress.

”We have been a bit unlucky with the weather but so has everyone. Even the Cup week crowds have been down,” says Chris Pehlivanis, the club’s CEO.

”But we measure our progress in other ways not just gate attendance: our digital reach, our number of school and club visits, and the overall community engagement is crucial as we try to build an identity.”

A big part of that identity has been the promise of their own stadium at Tarneit.

So far work has not begun as the club still await the requisite permits to be granted.

Their target was to be in the new venue for their third A-League season. To do so for the start of the 2021-22 season must now be in some doubt, although Western hopes they will be in their own home for at least some of that campaign.

Building projects, no matter how well intentioned, do have a habit of blowing out in cost and over-running their time frame.

Which is why the task for Western is greater off field than on. It has to build fan loyalty, get those supporters to follow them in Geelong and Ballarat and then stick behind them when they finally drop anchor in Tarneit.

But building a winning team and culture helps. If Western can see off their Sydney namesakes they will take another step towards cementing their position as a competitive club.

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