by Jeremy Walker
Growing up behind the headquarters of Football NSW, Sydney FC forward Jaiden Kucharski was destined to become a footballer.
The 20-year-old attacker, who was born in Westmead, spent the majority of his youth career at the Football NSW training base – Valentine Sports Park.
And with countless young footballers across the state aspiring to train at the world-class facility, Kucharski already had one foot in the door.
I got lucky, we literally live right behind Football NSWJaiden Kucharski
“We’re like a two minute drive from Valentine,” said Kucharski. “And then obviously Glenwood’s right around the corner, on the opposite side.
“So my local club, Glenwood Redbacks, I was at when I was five or six, and then from there I got into the private academy for a year or two, and then went straight into the Football NSW SAP Project 22.
“I think I was there at Valentine for about six out of seven years of my youth career!”
And Football NSW certainly aided Kucharski’s development on the pitch, eventually helping the youngster to join the Sydney FC Academy at age 13.
In Sky Blue, Kucharski grew from strength to strength, going on to represent the U16 Socceroos at the 2018 AFC U16 Championship in Malaysia – helping Australia to qualify for the U17 FIFA World Cup.
However, the centre-forward’s best season at youth level came in 2022 for Sydney FC First Grade NPL, where he netted 18 goals in just 19 games to win the NPL NSW Men’s First Grade Gold Medal (Player of the Year).
“When I started the season I was quite open with the coach,” explained Kucharski. “I just wanted to have a really good season. If that was going to be my last season at Sydney I wanted to top it off and leave the club doing something good for myself.
“So I didn’t really expect to get any individual accolades, I kind of was speaking about top goalscorer, just a joke in training with the staff!
“I had nothing to lose really because I didn’t want to stay in the NPL for another year after that. I wanted to get a [professional] contract, I wanted to try to move on and better my hand … so I tried my hardest and worked hard for the team, I think the boys really helped, we had a really good core group of boys.
“And then obviously ended up getting the Player of the Year, which I thought I deserved honestly! But there were a lot of players – you had Roy O’Donovan, Alec Urosevski, Seiya Kambayashi from Manly, you have heaps of boys that could have got that award and I was just happy to get that.”
Last season’s heroics at the youth academy certainly proved successful for Kucharski, earning the striker a two-year scholarship contract with the Sydney FC first team.
The centre-forward then made his Sky Blues debut in the Australia Cup win over the Central Coast Mariners last July – scoring a penalty in the shootout to help Sydney FC advance to the Round of 16.
Kucharski would then go on to make 10 appearances in the Isuzu UTE A-League (so far this season) – assisting on league debut for fellow academy graduate Adrian Segecic to help the Sky Blues to a thrilling 3-2 win at Macarthur Bulls last October.
“I was waiting for my debut for a while!” Kucharski said. “It ended up coming in round four, so it was quite early in the season, I wasn’t expecting my debut so quickly.
“It was good that the coaching staff allowed me to come on and then the boys getting me involved quite early and then with Sega [Segecic], we scored a similar goal against APIA a couple weeks before.
“So we know where each other are and it was just good for him to finally get his first A-League goal and get my first A-League assist on debut.
“It’s just good to be in each other’s history.”
A goal made in the Sky Blues academy, Kucharski’s attacking prowess has undoubtedly benefited from the offensive brand of football practised in the youth system at Sydney FC – with an individual-first approach aiding both player and team development.
“Obviously you have your main team goals,” said Kucharski. “You try and play as a team, you try and have your key values as a team.
“And then you have that individual focus where the coaches talk to you and give you some key goals to work on and really focus on the games where you need improving.
“Then once you improve that, they give you something else to work on, so you’re really trying to better your game week in, week out by helping the team.
“If you get better yourself then naturally you bring something more to the team.”
With Kucharski now eyeing more minutes in Steve Corica’s senior squad, players in the Sydney FC Academy can certainly look to Kucharski for inspiration.
And with the attacker’s youth pathway in Sky Blue taking him all the way to the first team – Kucharski knows how to rise through the ranks to make it to the top.
“I think you just got to stick at it,” Kucharski said. “I had a lot of injuries through my youth career, a lot of niggles, a lot of setbacks where other players go ahead and then a lot of players come down.
“You just see how many players come through the academies and teams, you have so many boys that go in and out. Some boys are here one year then they go away and they come back and they develop. People have got different ages they develop at, so you just have to stick at it.
“Stay focused, stay positive and take all the criticism you can get to try and better your game.”