NPL Season Preview - Garcia calls upon young charges to 'outsmart' opponents

PGFC Academy Head Coach Richard Garcia is backing his young charges to use brain rather than brawn as they bid for a top-four finish in this season's National Premier League (NPL) WA.

The youngsters host newly-promoted Gwelup Croatia in Saturday's season-opener at their new home in Forrestfield (Game Guardian Stadium, kick-off at 3pm) having enjoyed a run to the semi-finals in their recent Night Series campaign.

And Garcia believes that the players learned some valuable lessons in that pre-season tournament.

"I think it [the Night Series] did a good job in helping the players to believe in themselves a little bit more," he said.

"Obviously after the Foxtel Youth League (FYL), they were still learning the system and the intricacies of the system.

"But in the Night Series, it all came together and I think now they're believing in themselves.

"They've got a confidence now in their ability to play the system."

With the Academy teens now poised for a gruelling six months playing against older opponents, Garcia believes that his squad have enough about them to overcome the physical disadvantages they will inevitably face.

"We're looking to see technical improvement, obviously, but especially in NPL, the players need to be smarter because of the physical challenge," he said.

"As a group, we do lack that physical presence, so we need to see them thinking how to outsmart their opponents and maybe not have to use their physicality as much.

"That takes intelligence and we need the players to find that football intelligence and put it into practice."

In terms of morale, meanwhile, the former Socceroo feels that all three senior Academy squads are travelling well and he's expecting to see plenty of movement between the different age groups as the season unfolds.

"I feel the group is growing every week," he said.

"They have a great team spirit and everyone is pulling in the same direction to try and make everyone better.

"Steven [McGarry - Academy Technical Director], Terry [McFlynn - Academy and W-League Manager] and myself always say that it's one Academy, not three teams and if you're playing well in the 18s and are doing better than the guy who is playing in front of you at 20s level, you'll get a chance.

"The same goes for First Team level.

"With all the guys being roughly the same age, it creates an environment where then can all push each other and that's healthy.

"Already we've seen so many players change and develop and now it's about how much they grasp it and kick on.

"I've seen big changes, for example, in the likes of Ciaran Bramwell who is now Academy captain and I'm looking for a another giant step forward from him this season.

"He's shown some really good maturity this year and you can see that he's grown not only on the park, but off it as well."

So what are Garcia's expectations for the season and in particular, for Saturday's clash with a Gwelup Croatia side that many pundits are tipping as serious title contenders?

"We should be shooting for top four and then it's a matter of how we deal with week-to-week challenges and whatever set-backs come our way," he said.

"Gwelup have ex-Glory players throughout and it's good to see those guys and how they've developed since they left Glory.

"We know what challenges they're going to give us.

"They've got some very good players going forward and it's about us maintaining and nullifying those players and making sure that we're calm enough to be able to play our own brand of football."

At a personal level, meanwhile, Glory's Head Coach is delighted with the Academy's new home ground and relishing the prospect of witnessing further development on and off the field among the young players under his charge.

"Hopefully we can grow this partnership with them [Forrestfield United]," he said.

"It's a fantastic venue, a fantastic club and there are some very, very good people within the club that we are really looking forward to building a good partnership with.

"Personally, I think I'm growing as a person and as a coach.

"I'm learning not only more about the players, but also more about myself and it's good to be able to figure out how to get the best out of people and out of young kids.

"Young kids are a different ball game altogether from professional players whose only focus is football.

"You've got to balance their football with their school life and maturity issues as they grow into men.

"That certainly serves up its own challenges!"

#OneGlory