Here's a wish list for the S.League
Title race promises to be an exciting contest, but goals, youngsters and fans must all be in the mix
The wait is over.
After 62 days, the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League is back.
Local football fans had The New Paper League Cup to keep themselves occupied during the mid-season break.
An impressive Albirex Niigata deservedly won the League Cup and, along the way, suggested they are ready for a serious tilt at the S.League title, too.
For all the excitement of Cup clashes, there's still nothing quite like the cut and thrust of league football.
And it promises to be an interesting second half of the season.
Defending champions Warriors FC are top of the pile with 24 points from 11 games.
Albirex, one point behind having played a game more, and Brunei DPMM, five behind the leaders but with two matches in hand, are waiting for the champions to slip up.
TNP League Cup finalists Balestier Khalsa and a V Sundramoorthy-powered Tampines Rovers are also still in with a shout.
The title race promises to serve up some tasty clashes.
But, if I could ask for a little more, here's my S.League wish list:
1. MORE GOALS
This year's S.League has produced 129 goals from 50 games so far, or 2.58 per game.
Not shabby at all.
But it is still less than in previous seasons.
Last year, the goals-per-game ratio was 3.17.
And in 2013, it was 2.81.
More than a quarter (18) of the 50 games this year have ended 0-0 or 1-0 and, while they have been keenly contested, goals are what fans want to see.
A stunner or two - like Fabian Kwok's 50m volley against Albirex last year that went viral on the Internet - would be very much appreciated, too.
2. MAGIC OF YOUTH
The days where clubs field 16-year-olds (think Yazid Yasin, Ahmad Latiff, Indra Sahdan, the list goes on...) seem long gone.
It's always exciting to see a local youngster on the team-sheet.
But, a few coaches have shown their courage by throwing young guns into the action.
Balestier have fielded Noor Akid Nordin (18), Home United are giving Adam Swandi's former NFA teammate R Aaravin (19) increasingly more game-time, while Geylang have fielded the likes of 19-year-old goalkeeper Hairul Syirhan and former Youth Olympic Games defender Dhukhilan Jeevamani, 20.
The Warriors have used central midfielder Azlan Razak and fullback Asyidiq Sukarto (both 21) and former Youth Olympic Games boys Hazim Faiz and Fatemy Firdouse (20) from time to time.
Let's hope these youngsters get more minutes, and that more clubs follow suit.
3. PROVE YOUR CRITICS WRONG, COURTS YOUNG LIONS
The Courts Young Lions are licking their wounds.
Comprising the majority of the national Under-23 football team that flopped badly at last month's SEA Games, they are bottom in the league with just one win in seven matches.
A series of off-the-pitch issues have dominated headlines since their SEA Games exit, and the challenge now is for the players to prove they are not no-hopers.
The team have been given a foreign boost - a Serbian goalkeeper will join Canadian forwards Jordan Webb and Sherif El-Masri, who played for the team last term and have returned for the rest of the season.
Together with SEA Games players like Syazwan Buhari, Amirul Adli, M Anumanthan, Shamil Sharif and Adam Swandi, as well as striker Iqbal Hussain, who was dropped from the SEA Games squad at the last minute, the team must rebound.
4. COME ON, FANS
It's no secret the S.League has not been able to fill stadiums like the early years.
Local fans should give the league a chance. There's nothing like watching a match "live" at the stadium.
A game at Albirex's Jurong East Stadium, where there is no running track around the pitch, allows you a closer appreciation of the Japanese side's passing skills.
Harimau Muda against any local team is keenly contested, with the Malaysian youngsters trying to put one over a Singapore team.
It can be very entertaining.
So, if you haven't already gone for a game, give it a shot.
You just might be surprised.