When Western Sydney coach Tony Popovic lost his captain of four years Nikolai Topor-Stanley at the start of the season to UAE’s Hatta Club, he was faced with a gaping hole in the centre of his defence.

But the ex-Socceroo central defender knows a good prospect when he sees one, and he put his faith in young up-and-coming player Jonathan Aspropotamitis.

Known as ‘Aspro’ to his teammates and fans, the 20-year-old has since established a place for himself in the heart of the WSW defence alongside Spaniard Aritz Borda, playing in 11 of their 14 matches this season and extending his total A-League appearances to 24 matches. His performances this season have earned him the December nomination for the Hyundai A-League NAB Young Player of the Year award for season 2016-17.

“It’s an honour to be recognised by the selection panel for this nomination,” said Aspropotamitis. “Each week I am working hard to improve and concentrate on the little things that can make me a better player. I am in a fantastic environment to learn and I am really enjoying my football at the NRMA Insurance Western Sydney Wanderers.”

Aspropotamitis joined the Wanderers NYL side as an 18-year-old in season 2014-15, after the Wanderers’ then assistant coach Ian Crook spotted him playing for NSW NPL club Sydney Olympic. Before Olympic, the teenager had played for Paramatta FC and Apia Leichhardt after beginning his junior football at Queens Park.

He made his senior debut in season 2015/16 before being offered a two-year professional contract, and he’s currently combining playing A-League football with his business studies course at UTS in Sydney.

Along the way he has won two Australian caps at Under 20s level.

The slightly-built defender’s youthful looks belie his strength and tenacity, and his recent sterling performance against Socceroos’ legend Tim Cahill earned him even more plaudits.

While the game against Melbourne City enhanced his reputation, the sending off of his defensive partner Borda and a subsequent three-match ban means that the youngster will bear an even greater load in Popovic’s defensive structure.

This week he is preparing himself for arguably his biggest test this season, when the Wanderers take on unbeaten bitter rivals Sydney FC in the derby match of the round.

The Wanderers, who have won just two of their fourteen matches this season, would dearly love to bring down their high-flying rivals a notch or two. Aspro and his teammates will have to contend with the most prolific attack in the league which includes the in-form Bobo, Holosko, Brosque and Ninkovic.

“Obviously they’re in great form and high-flying, unbeaten in 14 games,” Aspropotamitis said. “We’re confident, looking at how the Mariners rattled them. We can take a few things from that and implement that in our game plan.
“The form guide goes out of the window when you play a game like this. From our perspective it’s about keeping a clear mind and going into the game fully focused.”