Happy Birthday Mate

Exciting Melbourne Victory attacking midfielder Mate Dugandzic could celebrate his 20th birthday in style this week by winning his first start for the reigning Hyundai A-League champions in Saturday night's grand final re-match against Adelaide at Etihad Stadium.

Exciting Melbourne Victory attacking midfielder Mate Dugandzic could celebrate his 20th birthday in style this week by winning his first start for the reigning Hyundai A-League champions in Saturday night's grand final re-match against Adelaide at Etihad Stadium.

And if Dugandzic does find himself in coach Ernie Merrick's starting XI for what will be Adelaide's first visit to Melbourne since last year's 1-0 grand final loss, it will cap off a meteoric rise for the talented youngster.

Incredibly Dugandzic - who played his junior career with St Alban Saints - did not have a contract to play anywhere at the start of this year before being snapped up by state league and former National Soccer League club Melbourne Knights.

And from there things have snowballed rapidly for Dugandzic, whose lightning pace and skill either down his preferred right or the left more than helps compensate for the fact he weighs barely more than 60kg.

"Luckily I got signed up by the Melbourne Knights early this year and then at the end of their season I got offered a contract by the Victory youth team," Dugandzic said.

"And then the senior team needed a couple of boys to come in and fill some spots and luckily I was one of those boys and Ernie ended up picking me up and I ended up getting a first team contract."

Dugandzic has created a huge impression in his substitute appearances for the Victory so far and his attacking presence after coming on at half-time against Newcastle last week was one of the main reasons Melbourne turned a 1-0 half-time deficit into a 3-1 win.

Certainly Dugandzic, who turns 20 on Thursday just two days before the Adelaide clash, has already caught the eye and approval of Victory's star striker Archie Thompson.

"He has got so much speed and talent and he is only a little fellow so once he puts a bit of bulk on he will be flying," Thompson said of Dugandzic.

"Last week when Ernie bought Mate on he just added that bit more pace up front and it made it easier for us to find space."

While Dugandzic, who looms as the logical replacement for the injured Tommy Pondeljak this week, is certainly not taking the prospect of his first start for the Victory for granted, his burgeoning football career has already meant a few life changes.

His university studies (he was studying Occupational Health and Safety) are now on hold as he comes to terms with working every day alongside Melbourne's international stars such as Thompson, skipper Kevin Muscat, Grant Brebner, Carlos Hernandez and newcomers Marvin Angulo and Sutee Suksomkit.

"It has all happened quite quickly after especially only signing (a first team contract) about six or seven weeks ago," he said.

"But now we will have to wait and see what happens on Saturday (as to whether he is in the starting line-up for the first time) but it's going to be a massive game."