Archie 'looking a million dollars'

Coming off his least interrupted pre-season in four seasons, Archie Thompson is fitter than ever, according to Melbourne coach Ernie Merrick and ready to fire when Hyundai A-League season five kicks off against the Central Coast Mariners on August 6 at Etihad Stadium.

Coming off his least interrupted pre-season in four seasons, Archie Thompson is fitter than ever, according to Melbourne coach Ernie Merrick and ready to fire when Hyundai A-League season five kicks off against the Central Coast Mariners on August 6 at Etihad Stadium.

Thompson's pre-season build-ups have been hampered by both his international commitments and injury in the past three seasons, making it difficult for him to be at his peak for the first match. In 2006, Thompson was involved in Australia's World Cup campaign, while in 2007 it was the Asian Cup which took his focus ahead of the season.

Last year it was the Beijing Olympics for the mercurial striker, ruling him out of the first two games. But according to Merrick, there are no excuses this season and that his marquee man is looking fit and fabulous.

"Archie is looking fantastic. I've never seen Archie looking slimmer," Merrick said. "He's got to run around in the shower now to get wet. He's looking a million dollars, Archie and every game he's played, he's been great."

Thompson and Danny Allsopp have forged the most successful strike partnership in the Hyundai A-League over the past four seasons and with both players in the midst of a strong pre-season, Merrick predicts their best could be yet to come.

"He and Dan are combining better than ever," he said. "It's a great competition between the two. Then you have Tommy Pondeljak, and Nick Ward, settling in so well."

When you combine those names with newly-re-signed midfielder Carlos Hernandez, Merrick could not be more pleased with his attacking options.

"To re-sign Carlos (Hernandez), who has only had two weeks training with us and has some more work to do, is great. He's back, he's signed on for three years, he's happy as ever, smiling every time he trains. He's looking good. But he knows he has to work to do as he is behind the rest of the boys."

The one striker who has had trouble with injuries in the off-season, Ney Fabiano, is making steady progress from an ankle injury suffered on the recent tour of China.

"He's looking very fit, and he's training harder than ever even though he can-t weight bear to much," Merrick said. "We don't want to rush that, because he's split the fibula and tibia at the bottom there. You can't rush him back."

With Jose Luis Lopez returning to his Costa Rican club last week, Merrick confirmed that Victory, which has two spaces left on its roster, is looking for a replacement, most likely a defender.

"It hasn't changed from that priority of finding a centre back. The first option is to find a centre back within Victoria or within Australia. The second option is to, if we can afford, look overseas now that we have a visa vacancy," he said.

Melbourne's next pre-season match is against Wellington Phoenix in the South Island tourist town of Queenstown on Saturday.