Western Sydney Wanderers' incredible maiden season in the A-League was based around a rock-solid defensive unit and manic pressure on the opposition when they were in possession. While the likes of goalkeeper Ante Covic and captain Michael Beauchamp were critical to that aspect of the Wanderers' play, Dutch winger Youssouf Hersi effectively led the charge when it came to winning the ball back high up the pitch.
Like many internationals in the A-League, Hersi joined Western Sydney without much fanfare after a nomadic career in his native country. But Hersi quickly made his mark on Australia's top tier when he set up the Wanderers' maiden league goal in their inaugural victory over Brisbane Roar.
|Western Sydney [2012-]
Hersi's importance to Tony Popovic's side became apparent from round seven onwards as the A-League's newest club won every match when the former Ajax Amsterdam youth player was involved and failed to triumph when he was unavailable. The Wanderers won 17 games in a row with Hersi in the side from their 1-0 victory away to Perth until their 2-0 semi-final triumph over Brisbane Roar.
The now 31-year-old finished the season with five goals and six assists, while his seven yellow cards and two reds underlined Hersi's commitment to harassing opponents when defending.
But that aggressive streak eventually cost Hersi a spot in the A-League Grand Final as he unnecessarily collected a second yellow card late in Western Sydney's victory over Brisbane in the penultimate game of the Wanderers' campaign.
It also cost his team as the Wanderers succumbed 2-0 to Central Coast Mariners in the A-League decider.
Hersi's speed plus his tricky dribbling skills, honed at Ajax and further developed at Dutch clubs such as NEC Nijmegen and Vitesse Arnhem, made him a nightmare for left fullbacks throughout the A-League. If the Ethiopian-born winger is unable to get past his opponent, he has a special knack for drawing contact with legs that appear almost too long for his 173-centimetre frame.
In a team that was hardly prolific up front, Hersi also added crucial goals in the 2012-13 season. A brace in Western Sydney's 4-2 win away to Adelaide United was Hersi's best performance in front of goal and also highlighted his ability to be in the right place at the right time. The Wanderers' number 17 smashed home from close range for his team's first goal after a scramble in the box, while Hersi's second came thanks to a late run to the back post and a smart header.
Hersi's performance in Western Sydney's biggest victory of last season perfectly exemplified the unique facets of his game and what they bring to the Wanderers. Western Sydney hosted Adelaide at Parramatta Stadium on December 21 and the nimble winger ran the show for the hosts as they destroyed the Reds 6-1.
It took 18 minutes for the Wanderers to score their opening goal, with Hersi deftly flicking the ball over Adelaide's defence to Bridge, who slotted from close range. Hersi's second assist came early in the second half as the right-winger intercepted Eugene Galekovic's goal-kick and headed the ball forward for Ono to make it 4-0.
Hersi set up Western Sydney's fifth goal when he faked to shoot but then slipped the ball inside to Bridge for the Australian's hat-trick. Hersi then cut inside in the 90th minute to tee-up Joey Gibbs, which capped off the Wanderers' six-goal performance, and really announced the wide midfielder as an attacking force to reckoned with.