We review the recently completed regular season of the Westfield W-League and set the scene for this weekend's Grand Final.
The Australia's Westfield W-League completed its ninth regular season last weekend in the semiprofessional national league.
In end-of-season playoffs, which began this past weekend, Premiership winners Canberra United fell at home to 2015/16 champions Melbourne City 1-0 on Jess Fishlock's 107th minute goal while second placed Perth Glory overwhelmed third place Sydney FC 5-1 and will host the Grand Final next Sunday (February 12th) in the Western Australian city.
The W-League teams combined for a record 191 goals (an average of 3.97 a game), surpassing the 189 scored in 2012/13 (without Melbourne City participating).
We review each team's season (in order from their 2016/17 regular season finish). We also discuss a possible new franchise for the Westfield W-League next season— that has a history with the W-League.
Canberra United (First on Goal Difference)
Record: 7 wins, 2 draws, 3 losses for 23 pts
Canberra United won their third Premiership (regular season title) after their 2011/12 and 2013/14 crowns and have only missed the playoffs once in 9 seasons (in 2012/13—eliminated by only two points). The Greens lost in the semifinals last year to Sydney FC but the two-time league champions (2011/12 and 2014/15) are poised for a third crown. Kinga played for Arsenal in the Super League in 2014. Ashleigh Sykes had 12 goals to win the Golden Boot, including four in a week 12 dismantling of Perth Glory (7-2), while 17-year-old U-20 Matilda Nickoletta Flannery added four and Houston Dash American loanee Stephanie Ochs had three. Sykes won the Julie Dolan Medal last season as the W-League's best player and could repeat that success. Her twelve goals tied Kyah Simon's total with Sydney FC in 2010/11 and trails only Michelle Heyman's (Canberra United) 15 goals the following season. Japanese 2011 Women's World Cup Champion Yukari Kinga had a strong season in the back for United, chipping in three goals.
Perth Glory (Second on Goal Difference)
Record: 7-2-3 for 23
In the very last seconds of the last Westfield W-League match of the season, Caitlin Douglas' goal in injury time gave Perth a 1-0 victory and vaulted them into second place ahead of Sydney, who lost in Adelaide 5-2 and fell from first to third. Perth hosted Sydney in the semifinals two seasons ago in this same situation and won 3-0 to advance their only Grand Final appearance. The Western Australian club bounced back to 2014/15 Premiership winning form after missing the playoffs last season. Sam Kerr (Sky Blue FC) was healthy all season and scored 10 goals while Rosie Sutton added six and American midfielder Vanessa Di Bernardo (Chicago Red Stars) chipped in four. Arianna Romero, a Mexico 2015 Women's World Cup defender who was with the Houston Dash in 2014, had a productive season, and is looking to return to Europe after a summer in Iceland.
Sydney FC (Third)
Record: 7-1-4 for 22 pts
Sydney FC used balanced scoring from Australian U-20 youth international and rising star at 17 years of age Remy Siemsen (6 goals), 2011 and 2015 Women's World Cup veteran Kyah Simon (4 goals) and Leena Khamis (3 and 38 for her career dating back to year 1 of the W-League) to make the playoffs. A last round loss to Adelaide United away (5-2) cost the Sky Blues their 3rd Premiership title (after 2009/10 and 2010/11). Simon will not return to Boston Breakers for the 2017 season—a move to Europe for her is likely. Nigerian international and 2016 African Women's Cup of Nations winning striker Francisca Ordega (Washington Spirit) was a late season addition and added depth to the front line.
Melbourne City (Fourth)
Record: 6-2-4 for 20 pts
Melbourne City started this season the same way they ended 2015/16, adding to their regular season unbeaten and untied record of 12 games, cresting at a league record 16 wins in a row until the wheels fell off. They lost to Canberra 2-1 at home in Round 6 which started a string of six games without a win, but beating Brisbane 3-1 in Round 13 in a crucial match kept their playoff hopes alive. Rebekah Stott, who signed that same week to play with the Seattle Reign for this coming season in the NWSL, scored two goals in the second half to secure the win. Stott had only scored once before in the league (in 2012) while with crosstown rivals Melbourne Victory. Stott had played youth internationals for Australia before declaring at the full level for New Zealand, where she was born. Jess Fishlock of Wales scored 6 goals but Scottish international Kim Little was a loss from last season, having joined Arsenal after the NWSL season. Winger Bev Yanez joined from Seattle and was an influential late pickup while Australian international Aivi Luik had a strong season in the middle after a season at Notts County in the FA Super League. Australian World Cup and Olympic Games wing back Steph Catley and defender Laura Alleway (both Orlando Pride) and Australian international goalkeeper Lydia Williams helped City to a league record low of 14 goals allowed on the season. Larissa Crummer missed much of the season due to injury but was signed by the Reign for the 2017 NWSL season. The 21-year-old Australian World Cup veteran won the Golden Boot last season with 11 goals for the Grand Final champions City side. Fishlock started the season as player/assistant coach to manager Joe Montemurro - who played in the National Soccer League in Australia and for minor league sides in Italy - and guided the team to last season's Premiership and Grand Final titles. Montemurro took an assistant's position with City's men's A-League side last month and Fishlock took over as manager.
Newcastle Jets (Fifth)
Record: 4-3-5 for 15 points
Newcastle (15 points) faced Melbourne City (17 points) at home in the final round with the last playoff spot at stake, but a 2-0 City victory left Newcastle in fifth and just short of a playoff for the third consecutive season. Newcastle has not made the playoffs since the first W-League season in 2008/09. Newcastle's late drive to the playoffs, built off an undefeated run in their previous four matches (two ties), was surprising given that club's all-time leading scorer Tara Andrews (who won a USL scoring title and Most Valuable Player award with the Colorado Pride in 2015) took a year off from the league. Over the years, the Jets have been selective in importing talent from abroad—most notably they had two time German Women's World Cup winner Ariane Hingst in 2011/12 (who is now on the coaching staff at German power club VFL Wolfsburg) as well as Americans Caprice Dydasco from the Washington Spirit (2015/16) and her teammate Tori Huster (2012/13-2014/15), Angela Salem of the Boston Breakers (2012/13-2014/15) and former WPS player Alison Lipsher (2010/11), who now is an assistant coach at Trinity College in Hartford Connecticut.
This season, their two imports from Chicago Red Stars were hugely impactful: forward Jen Hoy (5 goals) and defender Arin Gilliland (4 goals) contributed half of the club's season goals (18) with three of Gilliland's goals coming in a 3-1 road win over Sydney FC in Round 13. Australian international (1 cap in 2007) Jenna Kingsley tied with Hoy with the team lead in goals (5).
Adelaide United (Sixth)
Record: 3-5-4 for 14 points
Adelaide were undefeated in their last five matches (three ties) and if they had not started the season so slowly, or had fewer ties—a league high five—and one or two more wins, they would have made the playoffs for the first time. Their first win of the season didn't come until round 12 and it was a stunner, as they scored 10 goals against Western Sydney Wanderers on January 14th. Chicago Red Stars' forward Sofia Huerta and Australian youth international Adriana Jones each scored a hat trick, Rachel Quigley scored twice and Alexandra Chidiac and Ally Ladas added singles. Western Sydney actually held the lead in the 17th minute through an own goal by Adelaide's goalkeeper Sarah Willacy from Helen Petinos' corner, before Quigley and Jones—from the penalty spot—gave Adelaide a narrow 2-1 lead at home at the break. The second half saw an explosion of goals for Adelaide (eight) while Erica Halloway scored the Wanderers' second near the hour mark; the final score was 10-2. Adelaide's' previous largest margin of victory was over Newcastle 5-1 last season and the 10-2 victory was the third highest margin of victory all-time in the W-League, behind Sydney's 11-0 victory over Perth Glory in 2011-12 and Perth's 10-1 victory over the Western Sydney Wanderers in the 2014/15 season. The 10 goals scored tied Sydney's game with Perth for most goals by one team in a game. Adelaide United finished with 31 goals, only two behind leaders Canberra (33). The Red's 31 goals are thirteen more than they have ever scored in a single season, surpassing the 18 they finished with last season.
Burgeoning 21-year-old star Adrianna Jones of Australia led the team with 9 goals (tying for third in the league with Natasha Dowie of Melbourne Victory) while Mexican/American forward Sofia Huerta (Chicago Red Stars) was a close second with 8 goals. Rachel Quigley added 5 goals. Brazilian international defender Monica Hickmann Alves came on loan from the Orlando Pride—the first Brazilian to play in the league—but missed some games in December while away on national team duty.
Brisbane Roar (Seventh on Goal Difference)
Record: 4-1-7 for 13 points
Brisbane missed the playoffs for only the second time in their history (after the 2014-15 season). Matilda World Cup veterans Tameka Butt (6 goals) and Katrina Gorry 4 goals (who won the 2014 NWSL title with FC Kansas City) led the team in scoring but the Roar's total of 15 goals was just ahead of Western Sydney Wanderer's 14 for fewest goals scored in the season.. Butt is second in all-time W-League goals with 48, behind Canberra's Michelle Heyman (57).
Western Sydney Wanderers (Eighth on Goal Difference)
Record: 4-1-7 for 13 points
The Western Sydney Wanderers ended up with their highest point total in 5 years and had some signature victories, including a 2-1 win over defending champions Melbourne City in Round 7 and a 2-1 road win over Newcastle in Round 8, followed by a devastating loss to Adelaide United 10-2 in Round 12, and 3-0 defeat away to Brisbane Roar in Round 11, both of which effectively ended their quest for the playoffs. American forward Katie Stengel from the Washington Spirit—who did well in a short time with Bayern Munich—had a successful first season down under with 6 goals. Fellow American Kendall Fletcher had two goals and has quit the Seattle Reign after three seasons to begin a three-year program to obtain an Advanced Diploma in Ministry from the Hillsong International Leadership College in Sydney, Australia. Fletcher played in the States' previous professional league—Women's Professional Soccer (WPS)—from 2009 to 2011 with the Los Angeles Sol, Saint Louis Athletica, and Sky Blue FC and then played two years in Sweden's Damllasvenskan with Vittsjo in 2012 and 2013. She played with the Reign from 2014-16, scoring 5 goals and 3 assists in 66 matches. Fletcher was named to the 2014 NWSL Best XI, and the 2015 NWSL Second XI, both seasons helping Seattle win the Regular Season title and appearing in the final. Defender Alex Arlitt (ex-Louisiana State University) from FC Kansas City missed most of the second half of the season with a knee injury.
Melbourne Victory (Ninth)
Record: 2-3-7 for 9 points
Melbourne Victory won the wooden spoon by finishing in last place for the second consecutive year but gained four more points over least season. They were exciting to watch, led by Boston Breakers loanee and English international Natasha Dowie who had 9 goals, more than half the team total (17), with U.S. international midfielder Christine Nairn (set to rejoin her original NWSL side the Seattle Reign after three seasons with the Washington Spirit) second with 2. Kristie Yallop from Mallbackens of Sweden was a late season addition from Sweden. Goalkeeper Bianca Henninger—a Mexican full international and U.S. youth international—missed some games with a leg injury.
Central Coast Mariners Could Return to the Westfield W-League in 2017/18
For the 2017/18 season, the Central Coast Mariners is hoping rejoin the W-League. They played during the Westfield W-League's first two seasons, making the semifinals in 2009/10. Alumni include all-time W-League leading scorer Michelle Heyman, fellow Australian 2015 Women's World Cup forward Kyah Simon, American Kendall Fletcher, who is retiring from the NWSL to enter ministry college in Australia, and former U.S. international goalkeeper Jill Loyden. Mariners CEO Shaun Mielekamp explained: “Since I've been in the role, we've been talking about what we need to do to get into the W-League, so it's a good 18 months in the making. We're at the pointy end of decision making of whether it will or won't go forward and we're very close; it could be as early as next season. Part of our mandate if we want this to happen is updating the facilities at the stadium, and we've had some positive talks with council to overcome that in time….We need to show that we can generate strong female pathways because we can't expect to bring in a team built around players from other regions. Our connection with grassroots on the Coast is important too so we can show we have a solid academy structure, and we can also use our partnership with the North Shore Mariners so we have a bigger funnel of talent to build from." The Men's A-League side will fully fund the franchise, whereas when the league launched, most A-League clubs—including the Mariners—assisted with the brand and some marketing support.
Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribalfootball. His latest book is Beyond Bend it Like Beckham on the global game of women's football. Get your copy today.
Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey