FOOTBALL - A-LEAGUE
Title-winning A-League defender Matt Smith believes the South Coast Wolves have a golden opportunity to ride the wave of All Stars support in Wollongong this week to mount a fairytale FFA Cup run.
Almost 7000 fans turned out to watch the A-League All Stars play the Young Socceroos at WIN Stadium on Tuesday and countless more participated in community events during the elite squad's six-day camp.
Admitting he was amazed at the level of support, Smith said the Wolves future A-League prospects would be boosted by showing they can compete in the newly-created Australian cup competition.
On August 20 the South Coast Wolves meet Smith's A-League rivals Central Coast Mariners at WIN Stadium on for a spot in the round of 16.
The Wolves' FFA Cup bid comes at a tumultuous time for the NSW National Premier League club, which will part ways with its second coach within 12 months when Nahuel Arrarte leaves at the end of the year.
Smith - who will be part of the Brisbane Roar squad to travel to Perth to take on the Stirling Lions - said the competition was ideal for lower level teams to showcase on the nation stage, particularly one like the Wolves.
"I haven't been down to this region before but I have heard of the South Coast Wolves from other A-League players and for them to be competitive in [the FFA Cup], it will certainly help their case for a maybe a future A-League club here in the not too distant future," Smith said.
Smith was one of the only players to play a full game for the All Stars in Tuesday's scoreless draw and was happily surprised by the healthy attendance at the region's premier venue.
"To be honest going into the game, [I thought a crowd of] maybe 2000," he said.
"To come off the pitch and the guys say there was close to 7000 there, is fantastic.
"It really shows there is strong support here for football in the community."
Smith added the local support extended far beyond the region's elite facility.
"Everywhere you go, you drive along and you see football pitches. It doesn't matter if it is WIN Stadium or school pitches," he said.
"The amount of promotions we have done, we have seen lots of kids playing football."
The All Stars rounded out their six-day camp with a recovery session at Beaton Park on Wednesday.
They returned to Sydney after the session where they will continue preparation for Sunday's stoush with Juventus.
The match pits the competition's best players against some of Europe's finest and poses as the perfect stage to advertise the improving brand of Australian football, according to Smith.
"The level of the A-League is getting better year in, year out and I think people are starting to take notice," Smith said.
"This is going to be a big test because a lot of people from different countries are going to be watching with interest.
"We have to put in a good performance otherwise all this talk that the A-League is going well, if we don't show that, then they are going to think the A-League is a little bit less than some of the other leagues."