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The Week in Women's Football: A-League regular season review; Sydney pip Western Utd

This week, we will review for the third and final time the A-League Women 2022/23 regular season in Australia.

In part 1, we examine the top seven finishers at the conclusion of the regular season, led by the four playoff teams: Sydney FC, expansion club Western United, Melbourne City, two-time reigning champions Melbourne Victory, along with Canberra United, Perth Glory and Western Sydney Wanderers. Next week, we review Adelaide United, Brisbane Roar, Newcastle Jets and Wellington Phoenix and look at future plans for the league from an Australian Professional League manager and team sources.

The playoff sides were the same as in the 2021/22 season except for expansion side Western United of suburban Melbourne, who had a triumphant first regular season by heading the table most of the way, and replacing Adelaide United who had made the playoffs for the first time in their history last season.

Note: League standings are through Round 20 games, completed on April 2, 2023.

2022/23 A-League Women in Australia—Regular Season Final Review

This season was different from past years in that a few clubs threatened at times to make a run to overtake Melbourne Victory—including Canberra United and Perth Glory and to a lesser extent Adelaide United and WSW but then would fall off the pace—but the top four of Sydney FC and the three Melbourne-area clubs remained at the top virtually all season, despite the addition of four extra regular season matches for the first time.

However, we still had a tight finish in the last week as four clubs, including Canberra United and Perth Glory, tried to knock Melbourne City and reigning champions Melbourne Victory out of their long-held last two playoff positions. In the penultimate round, Melbourne Victory drew with Brisbane Roar (1-1) while Perth Glory staged a dramatic comeback to defeat Melbourne City 4-3, with the two teams scoring six goals within a twenty-minute spell. Going into the last round, City (29 points) Victory (28 points), Canberra (28 points) and Perth Glory (25 points, the latter with two games remaining) made it a tense week for all four teams. In a make-up game on March 29, Sydney FC defeated Perth 4-2 at home to go one point ahead of Western United for the Premiership title, while Perth's hopes were severely damaged, lying three points adrift entering their last game away to Brisbane and needing lots of help from the teams above them, and they trailed in goal differential (+4) to Canberra (+5) and Melbourne Victory (+7).

Melbourne Victory tied Wellington away (2-2) in Round 20 and Canberra fought back against Melbourne City away late to tie the match (3-3) but needed a win to advance, so Melbourne Victory moved into the playoff finals for the fifth year in a row, while City remained in third.

For the Premiership title, Sydney FC clinched their third consecutive Premiership (regular season) title in a row and fifth overall. On the final weekend, Sydney and Western United both won at home but Sydney pipped the expansion club to the title by one point, after chasing Western United for much of the season.

The league did see some low three-digit attendances at times all season—including three to four hundred at late season games such as 404 for Western United vs. Canberra United (a 3-0 Canberra win) and 441 for Sydney FC vs. Adelaide United (a 3-0 Sydney FC win) with both games on March 25—which were a tad disappointing. The lowest gates of the season were in Round 11 with 247 at Melbourne City 1-0 for their 1-0 win over Western United and 201 for the Round 18 home match for Western Sydney versus Brisbane (3-1). The highest gates were the 8,838 for Melbourne Victory vs Adelaide United (2-2) in Round 15, as part of an A-League doubleheader, 5,392 in Round 5 for the Melbourne City-Western United derby (1-3) and 5,213 in Round 1 for Wellington's first ever home match in New Zealand against Melbourne City (1-4). The final league regular season average was 1,240, the fifth highest total in league history, with 2,139 in 2017/18 still the record.

Sydney FC (13-1-4—W-D-L—40 points—First)

The Sky Blues had a strong season but surprisingly lost at home on March 11 to last place Wellington Phoenix 1-0, but it ultimately did not hurt them in capturing the Premiership title for the third consecutive season and fifth overall. During the season they had a six and five game winning streak but, towards the end of the season, one point out of six in mid-March—including that 1-0 home loss to the Phoenix and then a 1-1 tie away to Melbourne City—nearly cost them the regular season title. Australian WNT pool player Jada Whyman led the best defense in the league, which allowed only 15 goals, and she had seven shutouts in the twelve matches she played in.

Australian-born defender Deborah-Anne De La Harpe was capped by the Republic of Ireland in their 0-0 tie with China in February; she started and played during the first half. De La Harpe had played for Australia at the youth level and spent two seasons at Perth before joining Sydney this season.

American forward Madison Haley (24) led the side in scoring with eight goals to finish tied for fourth in the league in scoring. Australian international Princess Ibini (23) added seven goals. Australian national team forward Cortnee Vine (24) was outstanding all season, scoring seven goals with eight assists. Vine had a brace in second half injury time in the Round 20 4-0 Premiership-clinching victory over Newcastle. Youngsters Mackenzie Hawkesby (22) had six goals and five assists—including a brace in the April 1 game against Newcastle—while Rachel Lowe (22) and Sarah Hunter (19) all contributed to a balanced attack with four goals each. Sydney FC led the league in team scoring with 43 goals.

Western United (13-0-5—39 points—Second)

High-flying Western United were pipped to the Premiership title by Sydney FC on the final weekend but, despite not claiming a first title for the club, they had a fine season by using a base of NPLW players from Calder United, along with their coach Mark Torcaso, who has shown a path to early success on the field for future A-League Women expansion sides.

After losing consecutive games during the first week of February to Perth Glory (3-1) and Newcastle Jets (2-0), both at home, Western won three of their next four including wins over title challengers Melbourne City (2-1) at home and going to Newcastle and defeating the Jets 6-0; in the latter they were up 4-0 by halftime, playing 72 minutes against ten women after a Jet defender was sent off, followed by a 3-0 road win over Brisbane.

Against Newcastle, Western had a brace from 19-year-old Khali Johnson, with goals from Australian-born Serbian international Tyla Vlajnic (who has three goals this season and crossed the city after eight seasons with Melbourne City), Hannah Keene (her 11th of the season and she ended up winning the Golden Boot title with 13 goals) and Canadian forward Danielle Steer (23), her second goal of the season, who played at the University of British Colombia in Vancouver and whose mother is Australian.

American international Jess McDonald (35) added veteran savvy and two goals in her nine games on a temporary loan during the first half of the season. Fellow American defender Sydney Cummings scored four times—she plays internationally for Guyana. Another American, Hannah Beale, played in 18 games in goal with five shutouts. Their 20 goals allowed was second in the league to Sydney F.C.'s 15. Western was definitely driven by its offense with 38 team goals, second only to Sydney FC's 43 in 2022/23.

Matildas midfielder Chloe Logarzo (28) returned to Western United on a permanent deal until the end of next season. Logarzo left Western at the conclusion of her loan deal in February, returning to parent club Kansas City Current ahead of the 2023 National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) season. However, after being released by Kansas City, she re-joined Western United for their final games. Logarzo said: "I'm extremely excited to re-join the girls and the Western United fans. I feel very blessed that the team are here to support me in any and every way possible. The girls have been doing an incredible job and I'm looking forward to supporting and driving the team to get the very best out of every single person." She has been capped 49 times by the Matildas and represented Australia at the 2019 World Cup, 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games and the 2018 AFC Women's Asian Cup. The midfielder also won two Liberty A-League Championships with Sydney FC in 2013 and 2019; she also spending time at Newcastle Jets. She scored three goals in six games with Western, including an outstanding brace against Melbourne City in December, but was limited in her playing time due to a foot injury.

Mark Torcaso should definitely be selected as the 2022/23 A-League Women Coach of the Year for planning and guiding Western United to just a point short of the Premiership title in their first season, particularly since this was the first time that the season was expanded from 14 to 18 games.

Melbourne City (9-3-6—30 points—Third)

City seemed always in control of a playoff spot but still needed a point on the last day against Canberra United to secure that spot. At one point, City was in the race for the Premiership title but four points out of five games late in the season, including losses to the other ultimate playoff teams, left them third and on the road for the first round of the playoffs.

Rhianna Pollicina (26) led the team with eight goals and Chilean international Maria Rojas had 5 (in only 8 games), while 19-year-old Brylee Henry had four goals and was a revelation this season, in her third season in the league and first with City after two years with the Wanderers. American Emina Ekic, who was injured while on loan from Racing Louisville, also had four goals—from only six games.

Holly McNamara (20) had four goals in eight games last season and was the Young Player of the Year but was out with and ACL injury since February 2022. She scored once and provided two assists in the final regular season tie versus Canberra United (3-3), which allowed Melbourne City to clinch third. A Canberra United win would have seen City fall to a tie for fourth with Melbourne Victory, but City would have advanced to the playoffs with a superior goal differential (+13 to +7), which would have cost the Victory their playoff spot.

McNamara came back against Newcastle Jets and was able to play in five regular games this season. New Zealand international forward Hannah Wilkinson added five goals in 13 appearances while Canadian international and Olympic Gold Medal winning defender Julia Grosso added one goal in 18 games.

Melbourne Victory (7-8-3—29 points—Tied for Fourth)

Melbourne Victory had eight deadlocks this season, the most of any club in the league, but their three losses, the lowest total in the league, kept them in the playoff frame throughout 2022/23 season. On February 26, they crucially fought back from a 2-1 deficit to tie the Adelaide United Reds after Chelseas Dawber gave the visitors a 2-1 lead after 27 minutes, ten minutes after Meisha Westland (22—who played last season with Melbourne City) scored her first ever A-League Women goal in the 17th minute. American Catherine Zimmerman scored the winning goal in the 71st minute, on an assist from Melina Ayers, who opened the scoring in the game in the sixth minute with her sixth goal of the season at that point.

The game on February 26 attracted a season high crowd of 8,838 for Pride Day—which was also a doubleheader between the same sides on the men's side—at AAMI Park in Melbourne. Victory was without Alex Chidiac, who returned to Racing Louisville for pre-season after playing for the Matildas in their winning Four Nations Cup friendly tournament side.

Ayers led the squad with nine goals and Morrison was third with four goals; the team had the sixth best team scoring record in the league (29 goals) and tied for third in team defense (20 goals). Goalkeeper Casey Dumont had five shutouts in 16 appearances.

Alex Chidiac was phenomenal on loan from Racing Louisville, scoring six goals with five assists in 13 games—but unlike last season when she came on loan from the Japanese WE-League, she had to leave for NWSL preseason training before the playoffs.

Jeff Hopkins said: "She was totally outstanding on the field and off the field with us and we definitely will miss her. But we understand that we've got to get on with things…what we're looking for now is for not just one or two players, but the whole team to step up and just give us one or two per cent more. If they can find that hopefully the team will grow and the opportunities 'Chids' is leaving gives certain players (the chance) to step-up and make us a better team in the long term."

Alex Chidiac (left) celebrates a goal in 2022/23 with Beattie Goad (far left).

Photo courtesy Melbourne Victory Women.

Unfortunately, about the time Chidiac returned to the NWSLS, Matilda Elise Kellond-Knight was lost for the rest of the A-League Women season and any hope for a WWC spot this summer after rupturing her left Achilles tendon during training. MV head coach Jeff Hopkins said: "We're all incredibly hurt and saddened by the news of Elise's injury. She has been an incredible contributor to our side, on and off the field, and we're undoubtedly going to feel her loss as we head into the pointy end of the season. Now is the time for us to come together and support Elise at this difficult time and let her know that everyone at Melbourne Victory is with her for every step of her recovery."

Defender Beattie Goad (25) returned to play with Melbourne Victory after going abroad, initially for four years at Stanford University in the States. She then played with SV Meppen in Lower Saxony, Germany and then UDG Tenerife in Spain; she came back home to the Victory for the beginning of the 2022-23 Liberty A-League campaign. Goad first joined the side as a 16-year-old in 2013/14. She played in 18 games this season with one goal and hopes to add to her three Matilda caps that she earned during two European tours before the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021.

MV lost one game out of 16 to end the season with eight ties after opening the season with two consecutive losses. A Round 18 deadlock at Canberra was absolutely crucial, particularly as Tiffany Eliadis (27) scored the equalizer with two minutes remaining. If Canberra had won that match, they would have ultimately been in the playoffs.

On April 1, in their last game in Wellington, the Victory left the door open to Canberra to leapfrog them as they surrendered a 2-0 lead they had built within the first half-hour on goals by 17-year-old Alana Murphy and Melina Ayers. However, the Phoenix pulled back the two goals in the final 15 minutes, with Ava Pritchard (20) scoring her third goal of the season in the 75th minute. Then Grace Wisnewski (20) scored nine minutes into second half injury time to potentially cost the Victory a playoff spot (see more below under Canberra United).

Canberra United (8-5-5—29 points—Tied for Fourth)

Canberra United has a good run of results at the end of February and early March, led by Michelle Heyman, the all-time A-League Women goalscoring leader. On February 25, they won their third game in a row and fifth in seven unbeaten matches (with two ties) as Heyman scored twice in a 3-0 win at home against Western Sydney. On March 4, Michelle Heyman scored a hat trick in 4-2 home win over Adelaide United. She finished second in the 2022/23 Golden Boot race on 12 goals, one behind Western United's Hannah Keane. Heyman now has 94 goals in A League Women and is the all-time league leader among goal scorers.

Heyman captured another record by playing in her 158th A-League women match in the 3-0 win over Western United at home in Round 19, eclipsing former Sydney FC midfielder Teresa Polias, who is now an analyst on A-League Women games.

Heyman said after the match: "It kind of makes me feel a little old, to be honest! But [I am] also super proud of myself to be able to stay healthy and to be in this league. I feel grateful I was able to play in 2008 for the first game ever, and now to still be here, and still be competing at my age, I think is a pretty special thing. I've just been loving it. The girls are really special and they made today really special for me."

She started in her 159th game in the regular season finale against Melbourne City.

Serbian international midfielder Vesna Milivojevic (21) was a tremendous signing this season as she scored eight goals—with two consecutive braces to close the season—with Australian U-20 international Grace Maher (23) adding four goals. Chengshu Wu (26) had two goals this season from ten games and played for China against Ireland in February in Spain (0-0). Nicky Flannery (24) had one goal in 17 games and made a nice return this season, showing her game awareness and speed is back after missing all of last season due to an ACL injury. Canberra was fourth in the league in scoring (35) and tied for eighth in goals allowed with Wellington (30). Chloe Lincoln (18) was a revelation this season, playing in 14 games and posting four shutouts.

Midfielder Sasha Grove (18) and goalkeeper Chloe Lincoln (18) played for the Young Matildas in Kyrgyz Republic, where the team advanced to the 2024 Women's U-20 Asian Cup final round of qualifiers for eight teams in June. The Australians won both of their preliminary group matches against Guam (13-0) and the hosts (7-0), while Iraq withdrew before the tournament.

Canberra United legendary defender Ellie Brush decided to retire at the end of the season.

She won two Grand Finals and three League Championships and said: "After playing for such a long time, I feel the time is right to finish my playing career. Football has played such a massive part in my life, and I have loved every minute of it. I have some amazing memories of my time both here in Canberra and elsewhere and will always have fond recollections of my time playing in Canberra. This club means a huge amount to me on both a professional and personal level. We achieved so much as a team, winning titles and playing some amazing matches in front of the passionate and, outstanding, Canberra crowd."

Brush was an original member of Canberra United and their first ever captain. She played in 145 league matches, 113 for Canberra United, and scored an impressive 22 league goals, a high tally for a central defender. This was her tenth season with Canberra and she also played at Sydney FC (two seasons), Western Sydney Wanderers (one season) and for the Houston Dash for two seasons in the NWSL, as well as a season in Norway with Alvadsnes.

A real negative cloud hung over the club for weeks as the Greens were being deducted three competition points following the use of a fourth substitute in the 93rd minute during the 2-1 home victory over Sydney FC at McKellar Park on Saturday February 11. United allegedly contravened regulations that stipulate clubs can only make substitutions within three specified blocks unless a substitution is regarded as a 'concussion substitute.'

Canberra United CEO Ivan Slavich commented: "It is extremely disappointing to learn that the club will lose three competition points over this matter. We believe that we have not committed any violation of matchday regulations because of advice we received from the match officials during the fixture." The club planned to appeal the decision and Slavich added: "Without the appeal going our way, we're out of it. That'll happen this week, hopefully we'll know before our next match. Basically, it's a little bit out of our hands … we're depending on some other results going our way."

On March 23, following a successful appeal, Canberra United had the three points reinstated. The appeal process found that the club did breach the regulations but that the APL did not have the authority or power to issue the points deduction sanction.

Their playoffs hopes came down to a final road game at Melbourne City on April 2 as Melbourne Victory surrendered a late 2-0 lead in Wellington to pull only one point ahead of Canberra in the table. The next day, in a hugely exciting game, New Zealand international Grace Jale scored for Canberra in the 14th minute, two minutes after her Football Ferns teammate Hannah Wilkinson scored for City. City built a 3-1 lead by the hour mark but Vesna Milivojevic scored in the 80th and 88th minute but couldn't score again during a nail-biting injury time period. The tie—combined with Melbourne Victory's tie in Wellington—saw the Victory qualify for the playoffs on a narrow goal differential of +7, compared to +5 for Canberra.

Perth Glory (8-4-6—28 points—Sixth)

A 1-1 draw at home at Western Sydney in Round 16 on March 5, the first ever deadlock between the clubs in 18 matches (Perth had won 10 and WSW 7 in previous games) put a real crimp in the club's playoff chase and wonderful late run of four consecutive wins in mid-January and February. Americans Cyera Hintzen (6 goals) and Riley Baisden (5 goals) accounted for over a third of Perth's goals (31); which was the fifth highest team total in the league, while allowing 26 for sixth in the league.

Midfielder Hannah Lowry (19) had a career high four goals in her fourth season with Glory while New Zealand international Hannah Blake (21, who was born in England) had three goals in her first season at Perth, tied with forward Alana Jancevski (20), who is in her second season in Perth, and American Gabrielle Coleman (24), who scored a goal in each of the last two games. Coleman played previously in Iceland and at Mississippi State and Oklahoma State Universities.

Morgan Aquino (21), in her sixth season with the club, played in seven matches and had three shutouts, while Sarah (Willacy) Langman had two shutouts from 11 games and completed her fifth season with the team, after playing with Western Sydney for the last two campaigns.

Perth's makeup game loss 4-2 at Sydney from January 21—played the last week of the regular season—came back to haunt the club (see more in: The Week in Women's Football: Reviewiing expanded A-League team by team - Tribal Football) and left them just short of the playoffs for the second consecutive season (this year missing by one point and a few goals after being eliminated last season on goal differential—again to Melbourne Victory).

At the end of the 2022/23 season, defender Kim Carroll (35) announced her retirement, with 159 A-League Women appearances with both Brisbane Roar and the Glory. She won a league title with Brisbane in the league's first season of 2008/09, made two Grand Finals with Perth and had 58 caps with the Matildas.

Kim Carroll—in foreground middle—celebrates with her Perth Glory side in 2019.

Photo courtesy of A-League Women.

Glory Head Coach Alex Epakis said: "Kim has been a long-serving asset to the women's game and to the wider context of Australian football. Her decision to retire at the end of the season is one which I respect and I am very pleased she has been able to make this decision on her terms and on her timing… She has undoubtedly had a tremendous impact on the game, both on and off the field, whilst playing a role in ensuring that the women's game moves forward."

Western Sydney Wanderers (5-4-9—19 points—Seventh)

Western Sydney Wanderers had five wins, their second highest total since their playoff season of 2019/20 (7 wins) and also for points (19), compared with 22 points in 2019/20, but the team did play four more games. It still is a marked improvement from their one win and seven points gained last season.

WSW head coach Kat Smith: "To come in and, from where the club was, try and create something; to bring a core group together to look to the future, to bring some stability, that's going to come with time. Players and the staff need to take stock and be proud of the progress that we've made because you don't come into training every day not to have growth. It's nice that while there are other measures and metrics you can use to monitor that, at the end of the day it's about results."

There is some momentum to build on and Philippines international Sarina Bolden brought energy to the front-line late in the season, but only scored once. Matilda Amy Harrison (26) and Olivia Price (26) tied for the team lead in goals with three and WSW's 16 team goals was tied bottom of the table with the Adelaide and Brisbane. Price has 95 regular season A-League Women appearances for Sydney FC, Canberra and Wanderers since the 2014 season.

The Wanderers 23 goals allowed kept them in games and was tied for fourth best in the league, which belied their final seventh place finish. American goalkeeper Jordan Bloomer, who came on loan from Racing Louisville, was a solid acquisition with four clean sheets in 14 matches.

Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham is on the global game of women's football. Get your copy today.

Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey

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