On the face of it, a delayed draw, inconsistent squad announcements and a muted marketing campaign have not given much cause for enthusiasm for the uninitiated, nor hope for change for the long-suffering. Just as well football is ultimately judged by the product on the pitch rather than its packaging off it. Thanks to the passion ignited by the Women’s World Cup, the return of the Matildas to Australian shores and the new collective bargaining announcement – as well as the likelihood of more signings right up to Thursday night’s kick-off – the 2019-20 W-League season looks set to inspire a new cluster of fans as it makes up for lost time.
Head coach: Ivan Karlović
Ins so far: Mary Fowler (Bankstown City FC), Ciara Fowler (Bankstown City FC), Julia Ashley (Linköpings FC), Mallory Weber (Utah Royals), Amber Brooks (Houston Dash), Evelyn Goldsmith (Adelaide University), Matilda McNamara (Adelaide City), Lais Araujo (Arna-Bjørnar)
Outs/yet to re-sign: Emma Checker (Melbourne City), Gunnhildur Jónsdóttir (Utah Royals), Veronica Latsko (Sydney FC), Fanndís Friðriksdóttir, Michelle Heyman, Georgia Iannella, Grace Abbey, Meleri Mullan, Lara Kirkby, Sian McLaren
Adelaide have had a tough time of it in the W-League. In their entire 10-year history, they have not finished higher than sixth – and that was last season. Their 2018-19 run took everyone by surprise, going unbeaten until round seven where they lost to eventual champions Sydney FC. Following some clever off-season recruiting in key areas of the field, Adelaide quickly became a dark horse for a top-four finish. Compared to seasons past, the team was far more balanced and threatening in the final third, but a series of poorly-timed losses towards the back-half of the season saw a first finals appearance slip from their grasp, missing out by one agonising point.
With many local players returning, head coach Ivan Karlović will be hoping to build on last season’s solid foundations. However, despite retaining stand-out centre-back Amber Brooks, the loss of captain Emma Checker, midfield workhorse Gunnhildur Jónsdóttir and top scorer Veronica Latsko has weakened Adelaide’s spine considerably. Despite recruiting Matildas starlet Mary Fowler alongside Americans Julia Ashley and Mallory Weber, a finals spot seems unlikely without another striker and a top-quality replacement for Jónsdóttir. With many clubs in the league leaning into local talent this season, it will be the Adelaide locals to keep an eye on, particularly midfielders Georgia Campagnale and Dylan Holmes, as well as goalkeeper Sarah Willacy, who recently earned her first call-up to the national side off the back of an exciting performance in 2018-19. (SL)
Head coach: Jake Goodship
Ins so far: Tameka Yallop (Melbourne City), Georgina Worth (returns from injury), Elise Kellond-Knight (Melbourne City), Isobel Dalton (Nottingham Forest), Claire Farrington (Logan Lightning), Rylee Baisden (Moreton Bay United)
Outs/yet to re-sign: Jenna McCormick (Melbourne Victory), Chioma Ubogagu (FC Taćon), Yūki Nagasato (Chicago Red Stars), Summer O’Brien, Abbey Lloyd
While the departure of coach Mel Andreatta came as something of a surprise, the appointment of Roar academy coach Jake Goodship to the top job maintains a sense of continuity within the club. The departure of newly-capped Matilda Jenna McCormick leaves a hole in the defence, but the Roar’s recruitment has a familiar flavour to it.
Skipper and stalwart Clare Polkinghorne has re-signed as both a player and assistant coach while Hayley Raso, Katrina Gorry and Mackenzie Arnold have also returned along with foundation players Elise Kellond-Knight and all-time leading goalscorer (48 in 108 and counting) Tameka Yallop from Melbourne City. Isobel Dalton has been lured back from Nottingham Forest; so too the popular American defender Carson Pickett on loan from Orlando Pride for a third season and Portland Thorns midfielder Celeste Boureille. A host of young local talent has also be promoted.
Being handed the first-round bye gives Brisbane an extra week of preparation, a boon in a league in which pre-seasons are short and sharp. While the Roar are top four regulars their challenge this season will be to convert this to premiership winning material as they did back in 2017-18. Brisbane are known for their consistency in the league, which unfortunately has also manifested as consistently failing to reprise their top two league finishes as playoff grand finalists. Could the 2019-20 season be the one to change this narrative? (ER)
Head coach: Heather Garriock
Ins so far: Elise Thorsnes (LSK Kvinner), Katie Stengel (Newcastle Jets), Leena Khamis (WSW), Patty Charalambous (Apollon Ladies), Emma Stanbury (NWS Koalas), Ashlie Crofts (Blacktown Spartans), Hayley Taylor-Young (Canberra United Academy), Camila Martins Pereira (Orlando Pride), Simone Charley (Portland Thorns), Kaleigh Kurtz (North Carolina Courage), Annalee Grove (Brisbane Roar Academy), Jessie Rasschaert (Belconnen United), Rebekah Horsey (Lions FC)
Outs/yet to re-sign: Ellie Carpenter (Melbourne City), Denise O’Sullivan (WSW), Refiloe Jane (AC Milan), Rhoda Malaudzi (Apollon Ladies), Rachel Corsie (Utah Royals FC), Maria José Rojas (SK Slavia Praha), Rosie Galea, Nickoletta Flannery (Newcastle Jets), Melissa Maizels (Melbourne Victory), Natasha Prior, Aiofe Colvill, Meaghan McElligott
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. From their illustrious 2011-12 premiership-championship double to finishing a disappointing eighth last season, Canberra have perhaps felt the brunt of increasing professionalism more than any other W-League club, unsupported as it is by the support an A-League counterpart can bring.
Despite a wealth of talent and experience across the park in 2018-19, Canberra just never found their groove. Winning only three games and drawing four, including a wild 4-4 draw with Perth Glory, their season was marked by an inconsistency of strategy and an ineffectiveness in the final third. Although South African striker Rhoda Malaudzi provided some spark, United had the second-lowest goals scored in the league, only two more than wooden-spooners Western Sydney.
The return of Norwegian international Elise Thorsnes, alongside the recruitment of former Newcastle Jets striker Katie Stengel and Under-23 USWNT winger Simone Charley, may provide an answer up front, while experienced Brazilian centre-back Camila and American Kaleigh Kurtz offer solid replacements for Rachel Corsie and Ellie Carpenter. However, with such a large turnover of players in the off-season, it’s looking like 2019-20 will be another re-building year as Garriock brings through the fruits of the Canberra United Academy and as the club attempts to keep stride with their increasingly lucrative competition. (SL)
Head coach: Rado Vidošić
Ins so far: Emily Van Egmond (Newcastle Jets), Ellie Carpenter (Canberra United), Emma Checker (Adelaide United), Claire Emslie (Orlando Pride), Milica Mijatović (Arna-Bjørnar)
Outs/yet to re-sign: Tameka Yallop (Brisbane Roar), Elise Kellond-Knight (Brisbane Roar), Jasmyne Spencer, Rebekah Stott, Adriana Jones, Helen Caceres
Having emerged from the 2018-19 season failing to make the playoffs for the first time in their history, three goals adrift from a place in the top four, Melbourne City will be champing at the bit to get the new season underway. Unhampered by the AFC Women’s Club Championship commitments of their cross-town rivals, devoid of the post-marquee hangover of Perth Glory and having beaten Sydney FC at both times of asking last term, Rado Vidošić’s side will look to capitalise on the perceived weaknesses of fellow top four contenders.
They got off to a slow start last term – a single win in their first five outings ultimately cost them playoffs football – but the fixture list has been kind to them this time around with their first three games against Newcastle Jets, Canberra United and Adelaide United. These opening matches also offer something of an awkward homecoming tour for three of City’s signings, as experienced Matildas Emily van Egmond (Newcastle Jets), Ellie Carpenter (Canberra United) and Emma Checker (Adelaide United) all joined the former champions for new challenges.
As in previous seasons City have a squad built from a blend of top local and international (often British) talent – this season they have added Scottish forward Claire Emslie, scorer of her country’s first World Cup goal in June and who could form a fearsome combination with Carpenter down the right. Meanwhile, the retention of captain Steph Catley, on loan from Reign FC, as well as the services of Lydia Williams in goal (with Melissa Barbieri backing up as player-coach) sees a strong, experienced City squad line up this season – with a huge point to prove. (ER)
Head coach: Jeff Hopkins
Ins so far: Jenna McCormick (Brisbane Roar), Annalie Longo (Canterbury United Pride), Melissa Maizels (Canberra United), Emily Menges (Portland Thorns), Darian Jenkins (Reign FC), Rosie Sutton (WSW), Polly Doran (Calder United), Emma Robers (Calder United), Hayley Hanson (Houston Dash), Amy Jackson (Melbourne City)
Outs/yet to re-sign: Emily Gielnik (Bayern Munich), Kyra Cooney-Cross (WSW), Ella Mastrantonio (WSW), Annabel Martin (Newcastle Jets), Bethany Mason-Jones, MelindaJ Barbieri (injury)
Victory’s hopes of repeating their inaugural premiership win comes with an additional hurdle this season: the AFC Women’s Club Championship. Facing the premiers from Japan, China and South Korea at the end of November, Jeff Hopkins will be required to make some big decisions just as the season gets underway, possibly sacrificing a game or two’s worth of W-League power to excel in the international competition, or vice-versa.
Squad depth has never been a concern in the W-League given the short season length, which Victory demonstrated in their most recent run by using the fewest number of players across the whole league, including nine who started almost every game. But the AFC competition will require Hopkins to dip into his bench to a greater extent than he has done before, a decision made more difficult after losing winger Emily Gielnik, who joined Bayern Munich in August, as well as talented youngsters Kyra Cooney-Cross and Annabel Martin.
Key to Victory’s success will be finding replacements for their departing internationals, particularly central enforcer Dani Weatherholt and reigning Julie Dolan medallist Christine Nairn, the midfield puppet-master of Victory’s sensational 2018-19 run. The recruitment of new Matilda Jenna McCormick and Portland Thorns defender Emily Menges offer solid centre-back replacements for American Sam Johnson and the injury-delayed Laura Brock (née Alleway), while Kiwi international Annalie Longo and Reign FC forward Darian Jenkins are exciting additions to an attack centred around captain Natasha Dowie. Overall, it’ll be the midfield and the bench that will make or break their season. (SL)
Head coach: Craig Deans
Ins so far: Larissa Crummer (return from injury), Nickoletta Flannery (Canberra United), Lauren Allan (New Lambton), Annabel Martin (Melbourne Victory), Nicole Simonsen (WSW)
Outs/yet to re-sign: Emily van Egmond (Melbourne City), Arin Wright (Chicago Red Stars), Cortnee Vine (WSW), Britt Eckerstrom (Portland Thorns), Katie Stengel (Canberra United), Taylor Smith (Reign FC)
Talented youth and local pride are this season’s watchwords for the Jets who, as with Canberra and Perth Glory, are in something of a rebuilding phase. Opting to reward local and academy talent instead of chasing big-name internationals, there are plenty of familiar faces in Newcastle’s squad from last term.
Signing Annabel Martin from Melbourne Victory will bolster the defence (as will the return of Larissa Crummer from her horrific leg break at the start of the year), while the acquisition of Nicki Flannery from Canberra will bolster attacking options. Looking locally, Lauren Allan has been rewarded for a prolific WPL season with her first W-League contract. On the senior side of the club, Matilda Gema Simon retains her co-captaincy role with 73-straight-games-and-counting ever-present Cassidy Davis, while player of the year Claire Wheeler becomes the leadership group’s third musketeer, replacing former local hero Emily van Egmond.
The question on the lips of the fans is whether there is enough in this squad to compensate for losing players of the calibre of Van Egmond, goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom and defender Taylor Smith. With the squad perhaps lacking enough of that next level of player to help their rookies adapt to life in the W-League and consistently challenge their more fancied opposition, 2019-20 could prove a challenging season.
And yet. Coming up against former favourite Van Egmond’s new club Melbourne City in the very first match might just be the start the Jets need to kickstart a season of surprises. (ER)
Head coach: Bobby Despotovski
Ins so far: Celia Jiminéz Dolgado (Reign FC), Morgan Andrews (Reign FC), Arianna Romero (Houston Dash)
Outs/yet to re-sign: Sam Kerr, Nikki Stanton (Chicago Red Stars), Katie Naughton (Chicago Red Stars), Rachel Hill (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Mautz (Chicago Red Stars), Eliza Campbell, Abbey Meakins, Abbey Green, Stacey Cavill
Perhaps the biggest story of the upcoming season is who won’t be there: Sam Kerr. The void left by the Matildas captain and reigning golden boot winner cannot be overstated; not only was Kerr responsible for half of Perth’s 34 goals last season, but she also takes with her the second and third top goal-scorers of Glory’s 2018-19 campaign in Rachel Hill (six goals) and Alyssa Mautz (five). The problem is that their style and system has, for so long, been built around the one player, and now that this player has moved on, those left behind are having to find a new approach.
Simply out-scoring other teams is no longer an option, so Despotovski may look to focus on shoring up Perth’s defence given they conceded the third-most goals last season and only made third spot by virtue of having one of the best strikers in the world. The signing of Mexican international Arianna Romero from Houston Dash and Spanish international Celia Jiminéz Dolgado from Reign FC offer a solid starting-point defensively, while Dolgado’s NWSL teammate Morgan Andrews could cover for Nikki Stanton in midfield, but it’s in the final third that they’ll struggle. Like Canberra, this could be Perth’s re-building year, bringing through the likes of locals Leticia McKenna, Jenna Onions, and Alexia Moreno to build around in future seasons. (SL)
Head coach: Ante Juric
Ins so far: Ellie Brush (Northern Tigers FC), Mackenzie Hawkesby (Sydney Olympic FC), Veronica Latsko (Adelaide United)
Outs/yet to re-sign: Danielle Colaprico (Chicago Red Stars), Savannah McCaskill (Chicago Red Stars), Amy Harrison (WSW), Lisa De Vanna (Fiorentina)
It says a lot in the context of this season’s W-League that losing players of the calibre and stature of Lisa De Vanna and Savannah McCaskill is cause for mere disappointment rather than alarm for Sydney FC.
There is a wealth of attacking talent at Sydney’s disposal: they’ve signed Adelaide United goal machine Veronica Latsko, who netted twice against the Sky Blues last season, while the teenage tyro Mackenzie Hawkesby has been coaxed from cross-town rivals Wanderers and opened her account with two goals in a pre-season hit out against Newcastle. The retention of Caitlin Foord, now the league’s pre-eminent forward (with 10 goals and five assists last season) and attacking midfielder Sofia Huerta means Ante Juric has at his disposal a fearsome attack with an eye for the back of the net both now and in the future.
Re-signing the recently crowned NWSL goalkeeper of the year Aubrey Bledsoe while also marshalling the likes of Alanna Kennedy and dual-code athlete Ellie Brush, along with retaining the services of captain Teresa Polias and Chloe Logarzo in midfield, gives the side an incredibly strong spine.
If Juric can get his formidable squad to gel quickly, starting with their mouth-watering Big Blue opener against Melbourne Victory on Sunday, Sydney FC will look to be pace-setters this season from the off. For the playoff ever-presents, a premiership and championship double this term might not be an outlandish goal. If the components click into place, this could be a big season for the blue half of Sydney. (ER)
Western Sydney Wanderers
Head coach: Dean Heffernan
Ins so far: Ella Mastrantonio (Melbourne Victory), Kyra Cooney-Cross (Melbourne Victory), Amy Harrison (Sydney FC), Sam Staab (Washington Spirit), Lynn Williams (North Carolina Courage), Denise O’Sullivan (North Carolina Courage), Kristen Hamilton (North Carolina Courage), Alexandra Huynh (Souths United), Cortnee Vine (Newcastle Jets), Vesna Milivojevic (Bankstown City), Abby Smith (Utah Royals)
Outs/yet to re-sign: Remy Siemsen (Sydney FC), Leena Khamis (Canberra United), Kylie Ledbrook, Rachel Lowe (UCLA), Georgia Yeoman-Dale, Nicole Simonsen (Newcastle Jets), Lo’eau LaBonta, Elizabeth Addo, Caitlin Cooper, Maruschka Waldus, Talitha Kramer, Sydney Miramontez, Caitlin Jarvie
If there was ever a time for Western Sydney to announce itself on the W-League stage, this season is undoubtedly it. New head coach Dean Heffernan has heeded the club’s call to begin a new chapter in its history, first signalled by the completion of a world-class training facility in Blacktown, and then carried through by the men’s excellent start to the A-League season. After a series of disappointing campaigns which saw the W-League side finish no higher than sixth since their inception in 2012, the Wanderers are finally looking like the force they always had the potential to be.
With the signing of three current NWSL champions in Lynn Williams, Denise O’Sullivan, and Kristen Hamilton, coupled with breakout Under-23 US national team defender Sam Staab, Heffernan has thrown down the gauntlet for all other clubs to respond to. Complementing these world-class athletes is an array of local talent, including Young Matildas stars Kyra Cooney-Cross and NSW NPLW golden boot winner Susan Phonsongkham.
Combined with a few clever poaches such Amy Harrison from Sydney FC and midfield enforcer Ella Mastrantonio from Melbourne Victory, Western Sydney are building a team that, at least on paper, balances youthful vibrancy with gritty experience and a proven determination to win. Like Melbourne City’s introduction to the league in 2015, this Wanderers season could mark the start of the next mini-dynasty in Australian women’s football, becoming the new rising tide that lifts all boats. (SL)