Western Sydney Wanderers underlined how they are well placed for a much stronger 2017-18 A-League season in their 3-2 win over Shanghai SIPG, according to coach Tony Popovic.
Despite conceding the third-fastest goal in AFC Champions League (ACL) history on Wednesday night, Western Sydney recovered to claim their second win in Group F, overcoming the Chinese Super League club that humbled them 5-1 earlier in the competition.
Jumpei Kusukami was critical to the Wanderers' triumph, scoring the hosts' opening goal and setting up the other two, and Popovic argued the Japanese winger exemplifies the transitional period that Western Sydney's squad has gone through in 2016-17.
"I think he's [Jumpei] been outstanding for us the last two months and some players take time to settle in and you can see now he looks comfortable, he's got running power, he's creating chances late in games, he's scoring goals now," Popovic said.
"It's a very good foundation and base to build on next year."
Jumpei Kusukami, Western Sydney Wanderers
Popovic added: "I'm confident that we'll be challenging [in the A-League] next year.
"Our football was always good and that's what gave us confidence… the second half of the year, we were very good."
With 18 players signed for next season, which should ensure some rare stability in Popovic's squad, there is cause for optimism at Western Sydney.
The Wanderers made a late surge into the A-League finals and only lost their elimination final to third-placed Brisbane Roar on penalties.
After winning just 22.2 per cent of their first 18 games in all competitions this season, Western Sydney won 42.1 per cent of their last 19 fixtures.
The problem earlier in the season was a lack of goals but Popovic insisted he doesn't necessarily need to sign a striker - Brendon Santalab scored 14 goals in the A-League this term - but instead a wider group of players to make an impact in the final third.
Steve Lustica, Western Sydney Wanderers
"You can see with someone like Jumpei, that's coming," he said.
"You know, he scored in Japan, he scored here, he played very well, so you can see that players like him have now adapted and will move forward."
Popovic explained that the Wanderers will try to keep on-loan midfielders Terry Antonis and Nico Martinez.
Western Sydney's boss added that the club will benefit next season from more experienced youngsters, with the likes of Jonathan Aspropotamitis, Jaushua Sotirio and Lachlan Scott - who are all aged 21 or under - having playing 20 games or more in all competitions.