Soccer whiz Girdwood-Reich off to a good start

January 4, 2024 by Jonathan Benjamin
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2023 was an eventful, roller coaster year for the highly competitive and versatile Sydney FC A-League midfielder Jake Girdwood-Reich, who is steadily building his full-time professional football career.

Jake Girdwood-Reich

Jake’s family link to football started with his grandfather Mendel Reich, a loyal Sydney City Hakoah supporter, long ago in the NSL days. But it was his friendship with the Daniel-Walker family, who were big Bondi Beach Arsenal fans, and playing for community club Queens Park FC with his Clovelly Primary School mates and a Sydney FC Junior Blues membership that really kindled the football flame in Jake.

The last year has seen Jake turning 19, signing a three-year professional contract, and becoming accustomed to regular A-League men’s appearances in Allianz Stadium and stadiums around Australia and club publicity assignments. Stories about him have been at times a challenge for Jake’s fairly reserved personality. He has had overseas travel with the Young Socceroos U20 national team along with the usual responsibilities of managing all aspects of his life to help his football performances.

The A-League season 2023/24 season started in earnest on 21 October 2023 after a long pre-season from mid-July, culminating with Sydney FC winning the Australia Cup national knockout competition. The Sydney FC manager, Steve Corica, was still under much pressure, having just survived with a late run to the finals in the previous season and following a finals exit with a heavy semi-final loss to Melbourne City FC.  Jake was given the opportunity to play full games given his height, exceptional vertical jump and defensive abilities to play full games with ex-EPL player Rodwell at a completely new position he had never played, centre-back.

Following the high of coming into the regular A league men’s season after winning the Australia Cup, Sydney FC’s fortunes began to falter dramatically when they found themselves near the bottom of the A-League results table with three losses, no home wins, and no goals scored in the early rounds. The week leading up to the away Round 4 game to Adelaide United saw the resignation of Steve Corica as manager quickly followed by the immediate appointment of Ufuk Talay, the former Wellington Phoenix FC manager and former Sydney FC player and assistant coach. The team travelled away and Sydney FC convincingly beat Adelaide United FC 5-1 at the first outing for the new manager. Jake maintained his run of good form and played full games while being shifted between the central defender and his natural midfielder positions.

Jake has been fortunate to fit into the new manager, Ufuk Talay’s new style of football. As a young and relatively tall 185cm midfield player, Jake has relished Talay’s high tempo, possession-based, attacking style of play with a physically intense, high-pressure defence. This required some dramatic changes in training with a greater focus on speed, endurance and fitness conditioning. The team had to go up a gear to play Talay’s physically demanding style of game for the rest of the season. Media commentators wondered how, given the age of some of Sydney FC’s senior players and the injury list, this new training regime would impact Sydney FC’s results in the short term.

“Steve Corica gave me a chance in the centre-back position, a position I had never ever played before,” said Jake. “He had me playing full games, substituting for the very experienced ex-EPL player Jack Rodwell while he was injured. It was great, and winning the Australia Cup pre-season was terrific, and it qualifies Sydney FC for AFC men’s competitions in Asia.

Ufuk Talay, our new coach, is also giving me opportunities to play regularly as a midfielder again. Teaming up in midfield with my very experienced, much older, team captain Luke Brattan has been great as both he and Jack, who plays behind me, have been very generous with advice.

As a younger player being only 19, I guess I have some extra energy in my body, especially my legs, which suites new coach Talay’s high pressing, possession-based attacking style. Training under Talay has been much more intense to get our fitness levels up in order to play his style of game in defence and offence. I am also finding myself in attacking and scoring positions more often, which is boosting my confidence and enjoyment of playing.”

Sydney FC did struggle to score goals and win games, which placed by Round 8 placed Sydney FC down at 8th. A low point was a 1-0 home game loss at the Allianz Stadium in front of a stadium packed for the Sydney Derby match with WSW. A positive was that Jake continued to show his great athleticism with his vertical jumps to head the ball, quick feet in winning midfield battles and intercepting ability to disrupt opposition attacking plays. About this time, Jake finally took the long-standing advice of one of the senior players and traded his famous high school mullet for a stylish, fashionable, short men’s back and sides.

So again, there was pressure building on the new coach and players to win home games, especially before New Year, and put themselves in a good position on the A-League table to start 2024. While demoralised by some losses, Sydney FC beat Perth Glory 3-2 in a hard-fought, lightning and rain-interrupted home game at Allianz Stadium. Even while losing some games, Talay, the Sydney FC manager, recognised Jake’s versatility, giving him full games as necessary at centre back or as a midfielder. Jake has remained positive and determined through the ups and downs of the first half of the 2023/4 season by being chosen to play lots of game time in all games.

The good news before New Year was Sydney FC winning 3-1 at home against the top of the table NZ team Wellington Phoenix FC. Jake and his midfield partner  Luke Brattan disrupted Wellington’s offensive build-up play, tied down the Wellington team’s midfielders over and over, making intercepts and forcing turnovers of possession and Jake winning the ball in the air. Commentators pointed to this control of the pitch as the key to victory.

Hopefully this latest win is the start of a winning run early in 2024.

As a young professional player, Jake relishes his new manager’s fast-paced, intense style of modern football, demanding increased speed and endurance and putting Jake into many more scoring situations. He is also well suited to the new style of refereeing, making the game more fluid as a spectacle for viewers that has emerged in Australia and internationally, allowing a higher level of physicality in games, emphasising again the physical nature of football as a contact sport. Jake’s physicality in winning midfield battles helped Sydney FC dominate the midfield and was a key feature of Sydney FC being able to win the game.

Jake summed up his love of playing “To be honest, I just simply like being a versatile player, getting as many minutes as I can in games and living my dreams as a professional footballer.”

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