NPL Kickoff: Five Things To Watch

The NPL Victoria season kicks off on Valentines Day as defending champion Heidelberg United takes on Pascoe Vale.

Read an in-depth season preview in the Herald Sun by journalists Joey Lynch and Damir Kulaš here.

Until then here are five of the eye-catching stories to watch for as the season gets started.

5. The New Faces

Does a name grab the headlines more than Avondale's capture of Tasuku Sekiya? The Japanese import is best known for knocking Melbourne Victory out of the FFA Cup when he wore the colours of APIA Leichhardt last season.

Well there are definitely some contenders elsewhere for biggest off-season splash.

Altona Magic have signed former Eredivise striker Michiel Hemmen while on the other side of Melbourne, former Adelaide United player Mark Ochieng has landed among a raft of new arrivals at Dandenong City.

Another arrival from the professional is Billy Konstantinidis at South Melbourne, who returns to Australia after a 14-year career in Greece.

Could the biggest new face of the off-season be a gaffer? The expectations will be high at Lawton Park where former Newcastle Jets A-League coach Scott Miller has signed to coach Langwarrin in NPL 2 East.

4. Who's going down?

One of the best things about NPL Victoria is promotion and relegation! And this year there will be more clubs relegated than ever due to the league pyramid restructure coming in 2020.

Pro-Rel from the top division will stay the same in 2019, with the bottom two teams (13th and 14th) going down to NPL 2 while 12th place will have to play for their survival in a winner-takes-all match as part of the NPL Grand Final Triple Header.

The stakes will be high in every NPL 2 game as four clubs each - 7th-10th in both the East and West - will be "going down" to be part of the third tier in 2020.

It means games will be fiercely competitive every week to stay in the top six of both NPL 2 East and West.

3. Who's coming up?

The pointy end of NPL 2 promises to be intriguing this season as teams jostle for top spot and guaranteed promotion into the top flight.

FC Bulleen Lions have wasted no time responding to the disappointment of relegation by bringing in NPL 2 Best & Fairest Phil Petreski, while the club he left Box Hill United has responded with the signing of former Danish professional Dennis Nielsen. Elsewhere, Victorian stalwart Wayne Wallace will continue his storied career at Langwarrin, while another beloved veteran will keep the boots on as Archie Thompson continues with Murray United.

2. Who wore it better

It's always exciting to see the new colours and designs of clubs at the start of a season. Even better when they finally take to the field!

With a number of clubs opting for very different designs and looks in 2019, tell us who you think has the best kit in NPL:

1. Hakeem is home

It's the story that has united the football community and given everyone involved in the game a reason to feel good. Hakeem al-Araibi is back in Australia, and one of the first things he did after stepping off the plane was put on his Pascoe Vale shirt.

While we don't know when Hakeem will next take the pitch, when the moment does arrive it will be unmissable.

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