Nikolai Topor Stanley is hoping to make his mark on the A-League this season. Photo: Darren Pateman
Erasing the ''sting'' of a grand final loss. Using it as a springboard back to Europe. Overcoming a second knee reconstruction. This A-League season has three very different meanings for its three Canberrans.
Western Sydney Wanderers defender Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Adelaide United signing Steven Lustica will open their campaigns against Central Coast and Perth Glory respectively this weekend, while Kofi Danning needs to prove his fitness before the Brisbane Roar sign him, having torn his anterior cruciate ligament.
Saturday's grand final rematch between the Wanderers and Central Coast Mariners at Bluetongue Stadium is an immediate reminder for Topor-Stanley of last season's lost opportunity.
Steven Lustica. Photo: Bradley Kanaris
The 28-year-old almost enjoyed a fairytale story in the Wanderers' inaugural A-League season, but lost the decider to the Mariners 2-0.
''The sting of the loss, we're going to carry that until we vindicate ourselves,'' Topor-Stanley said.
''But we've got to push that aside and focus on what's important - what [coach Tony Popovic] had us doing in pre-season and putting that into practice in games.
Kofi Danning. Photo: Melissa Adams
''We have to improve on last year, we can't put in what we did last year and expect the same result.
''It's going to be even harder this year and the quality is always rising.''
Topor-Stanley enjoyed a sensational season as vice-captain of the Wanderers, placing him on the fringes of a Socceroos recall. He played two games for Australia in 2008, but hasn't been on the international stage since.
The former Tuggeranong United junior was part of the A-League All Stars side that lost 5-1 to English giants Manchester United in July.
Topor-Stanley said it was a great experience that was important for the growth of the Australian game.
''I've always had the motivation to represent my country, I've always said there's no higher honour,'' he said.
''During a World Cup year there's always surprise packets in the squad and I'm just trying to focus on being consistent with the Wanderers and winning games and putting myself in the best opportunity to perhaps get a chance.
''But if not I haven't lost anything, I'm just trying to better myself and be the best I can be.''
Lustica makes his debut for Adelaide on Sunday.
He signed with Croatia's Hajduk Split two years ago after he was named National Youth League player of the year while at the Gold Coast, but he spent last season on loan to the Roar.
Due to limited opportunities, he's signed a one-year deal with the Reds.
During his time overseas, the 22-year-old played against Spanish mega-club Barcelona in a friendly and Italy's Inter Milan in the Europa League. Focused on being Adelaide United's attacking midfielder this season, he's hoping it will lead to a return to Europe.
''Obviously for now I'm just concentrating on this season and not looking too far ahead, but I'd like to go back overseas,'' Lustica said.
''It was a great experience at Hajduk Split for the last two seasons, I got a taste of European football and that motivates me even more now.
''I played in some big games, against Barcelona, Inter Milan and some other European games.''
Danning is sidelined for the start of the season, returning from a second busted knee.
The speedy winger tore his ACL while playing for Belgian club CS Vise earlier this year and returned to Brisbane to do his rehabilitation.
Both Vise and Brisbane are owned by Indonesian conglomerate the Bakrie Group, making a return to the Roar likely. But the club wants to see how his knee recovers before signing him.
The 22-year-old has recently returned to running and he hopes to be playing by the end of the year.
''[The start of the season] gives me a bit more motivation to push myself and get back, to try and get back earlier, but not put too much pressure on myself,'' Danning said. ''But just to give me that little push to keep me motivated and not get down.''