Opinion: Craig Goodwin's Melbourne Heart debut hints at long career

Goodwin's standout performance on debut in the Melbourne derby has immediately marked him as one to watch, says Iain Strachan.

By Iain Strachan

What do Robert Redford, Kevin Costner and Sam Mendes have in common with Craig Goodwin?

Give up? That’s ok, it’s a tricky one.

Redford, Costner and Mendes are members of an exclusive club, populated by the winners of an Academy Award for their first feature film as a director.

The A-League does not hand out Oscars on a game-by-game basis, and one performance alone is not enough to sew up the Player of the Season award.

But if there were any statuettes available for Saturday’s 0-0 draw between Melbourne Heart and Melbourne Victory, 20-year-old Goodwin would have swept the board.

With Aziz Behich absent on Olyroos duty, full-back Goodwin was handed his first start at A-League level.

And this was no early season run out at an empty Skilled Park. Indeed, there can be few more intimidating circumstances in which to make a professional debut in Australia.

AAMI Park was packed to capacity for the third Melbourne derby of the season, with both teams out of form and desperate for a win.

National Youth League graduate Goodwin’s likely direct opponents during the game? Take your pick:

Marco Rojas, the breakthrough talent of last season with Wellington Phoenix.

Harry Kewell, veteran Socceroo and an English Premier League star at Leeds and Liverpool.

Or Jean Carlos Solorzano, an A-League winner with 2010-11’s all-conquering Brisbane Roar.

The realistic expectation for such a daunting brief would surely be to survive, and avoid embarrassment.

Stay in position, track the oppositions’ movement, and try to not to find yourself exposed. Maybe, just maybe, mount one of two forays up the flank, if the opportunity presents itself.

Safety first? Either nobody told Goodwin, or he neglected to listen. For that we can only be thankful, because on Saturday the A-League witnessed an unexpected master-class in modern full-back play.

The newcomer did not miss a single beat. Taking up a default position part-way into Victory’s defensive half, Goodwin terrorised Victory's makeshift right-back Petar Franjic.

Victory opted for Rojas at right midfield, and the lively New Zealand international may have had designs on using his pace and skill to test the unheralded newcomer. Instead, he found himself isolated in offensive positions.

Frequently, Rojas was forced to join Franjic in Victory’s defensive third, with the pair doubling up in a vain attempt to restrict Goodwin’s influence.

For the majority of the contest, the match highlight reel and Goodwin’s were one and the same.

A warning shot arrived in the 20th minute, when he beat Franjic to the touchline and cut the ball back across the face of goal, only for no team-mate to provide a threat.

Minutes later, Rojas advanced on the Heart penalty area, but the debutant duly arrived to make an inch-perfect tackle, cleaning winning the ball before playing it out from the back.

In doing so, Goodwin showed his attacking instincts have not been honed at the expense of defensive duties, a distinction Behich would be wise to study.

Instructively, the incident marked one of Rojas’ few meaningful contributions, despite the highly rated forward playing the full 90 minutes.

Goodwin, meanwhile, opted to camp out in the other half.

Time and again he embarrassed Franjic, delivering a succession of crosses and cut-backs.

Eli Babalj was a frequent recipient, and it was only the Heart centre-forward’s failure to capitalise which prevented his team from taking a deserved lead.

With 11 minutes to go and the score still deadlocked, Goodwin took matters into his own hands.

He cut inside and unleashed a venomous strike on goal, with Victory goalkeeper Ante Covic fortunate to parry the ball over the bar.

Despite its speculative nature, Goodwin’s rasping shot was among the best chances of the game.

To cap off such a mature bow at elite level by claiming the winning goal would have been the stuff of a fairytale or Hollywood script.

The decisive strike did not arrive for Heart, by Goodwin’s hand or any other. No matter.

If Saturday’s showing was any indication, we are surely set to see plenty more of the fearless South Australian, with the plaudits and highlights potentially following wherever he goes.