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The Week in Women's Football: A-League review (Part II);welcoming Bournemouth owner Foley to Auckland

This week, we present part 2 of our first review of the 2023-24 A-League Women season in Australia, after approximately one-third of the season (10 teams have played 8 games out of 22, while two have played six).

This week we examine the teams in eighth through twelfth place: Brisbane Roar, Western Sydney Wanderers, Central Coast Mariners, Adelaide United and Canberra United. We will also have news next week on A-League expansion (men and women) into Auckland, New Zealand with American ownership.

Last week, in Part 1, we looked at the seven teams currently in or tied for a playoff spot: Perth Glory, Melbourne City, Melbourne Victory, Wellington Phoenix, Sydney FC, Newcastle Jets and Western United (see: The Week in Women's Football: Examining successful A-League initiatives as crowd records set - Tribal Football).

2023-24 A-League Women Season to Date—Part 2

Brisbane Roar (2-3-3—9 points—Eighth)

The Roar started the season impressively with wins over Melbourne Victory away (2-1) and at home over reigning champions Sydney FC (1-0). In their next five games, they collected only two points out of 15 points available. With veteran talent like Australian international defender Jenna McCormick (29), who has one goal in seven games this season, and Matilda midfielder Tameka Yallop (32) on the side, there is a high expectation that this team will put together a run of wins later in the season.

Roar's Grace Kuilamu (16), who had one goal in two games, was ruled out for the season after an early season ACL injury. Their Brazilian ace Mariel Hecher (31) is also out with an ACL as well that she suffered in December of 2022—she had suffered one in Brazil in 2011—and has been a big loss to the Roar but should be cleared to play later in the season. Hecher returns to the Roar for her fourth Liberty A-League season and was named vice-captain for this season; she has 29 appearances with six goals in her previous three campaigns with the Roar.

Their American imports have played every game so far this season, with goalkeeper Jordan Silkowitz (23) recording one clean sheet, defender Leah Scarpelli (22) a force in the back and forward Mia Corbin (26) scoring three times to lead the side after scoring three goals in twelve matches last season with Parma in Italy. The Roar as a team has the second fewest goals this year with seven, one ahead of Central Coast, but does have the seventh best defense in the league—tied with Western United—having allowed only 11 goals.

Danish import forward Hannah Holgersen (26) has played in seven games thus far this season, after only playing for seven minutes in one game last season with Adelaide United. At home she had played at AGF and B93.

Western Sydney Wanderers (2-2-3—8 points—Tied for Ninth)

The Wanderers started the season with one tie and four losses from their first four games but then won two in a row, surprising Western United with a 2-0 win away on November 24 and then defeating Central Coast Mariners 3-0 at home on December 8. Sophie Harding (24) scored three goals across the two games and leads the club with six on the season, two more than she scored in 43 games (4 goals) across three previous seasons with Western Sydney (1 year) and Newcastle (2 years). Harding is tied for second in the league with Melbourne City's American Hannah McNamara, who also has six goals. American Vicky Bruce (29) has added two goals from defense after playing with Bristol City in England last season. She has also played in Denmark, Germany, Iceland and Sweden; she won a league title with Fortuna Hjorring in Denmark in 2019-20 and the second division Championship last season with Bristol.

The win over Western United ended Western Sydney's 20-game winless drought away from home in the Liberty A-League, while Western United suffered their third defeat of the season after six rounds. During Round 2, teenager Talia Younis became the youngest player in A-League history at 14 years, 11 months and 26 days, breaking a record set by Matilda and Chelsea forward Sam Kerr almost 15 years ago in 2008. Younis signed for the Wanderers in July after training with the Wanderers Academy boys' squads for four seasons. Younis came on as a substitute in her team's 3-0 loss to Wellington Phoenix on October 22, replacing Melissa Caceres in the 54th minute.

She also plays for the Junior Matildas. Younis's record held up for only a couple of weeks as Wanderers head coach Robbie Hooker brought on Ischia Brooking—who is 13 days younger than Younis was when she made her debut in Round 2—late in their Round 3 match for one minute against Newcastle Jets (1-1) away on November 4. Brooking was part of the Junior Matildas' qualifying campaign for the AFC U-17 Women's Asian Cup, playing a pivotal role and was crowned the U-16 Player of the Tournament at the National Youth Championship for Girls in Coffs Harbour last year. When the 14-year-old (and 347 days) joined the Wanderers, then-Wanderers boss Kat Smith, who has since departed the club and now is in charge of Western United, said: "Ischia is one of Australia's brightest young talents, and we at Western Sydney Wanderers see massive potential in her and believe she'll make her mark on the pro game.

Central Coast Mariners (2-2-3—8 points—Tied for Ninth)

Another positive A-League Women story this season has been the Mariners return to the league in over a decade. The Mariners have been competitive, with two 1-1 ties, two wins by a single goal, while two of their three loses have been by only a single goal, the only exception being a 3-0 loss away to Western Sydney on December 8.

On November 18 at home, the Mariners defeated the Phoenix 1-0 with a goal from Gosford native Annalise Rasmussen, who joined the club as an 11-year old through their NPL setup. She was the first player that the club signed for this season. The Mariners win gave them three undefeated games in a row and the win was their first at home since November 27, 2009. It was their second win of the season after a 2-1 away win in Round 2 in Adelaide as midfielder Taren King (26)—who had played six previous seasons in the league, three with Newcastle and three with Canberra—and Chinese full international forward Wurigumula (27) scored either side of halftime.

American forward Rola Badawiya (25) leads the team in scoring with two goals—she won a league title last season with Sydney FC, scoring once in 9 games for the reigning champions. Earlier this year she scored 5 times in 17 games with NWS Spirit in the State league after scoring 13 goals in 22 games for Sydney University in 2022. Veteran Matilda Kyah Simon has not played so far this season due to injury and the Mariners need her to score the goals in order to make a serious playoff run. The Mariners have scored only 6 goals all season—the fewest in the league—but their defense has been stellar, allowing only 9 goals for the third lowest total in the league, tied with Melbourne Victory and Wellington, and behind only Sydney FC (5 goals) and Perth Glory (8 goals).

A key pickup for the club just after the season started was veteran goalkeeper Casey Dumont (31), who is back in the Liberty A-League for the remainder of the 2023-24 season; she has been a member of four league champions. Dumont returns to the league following the completion of the AFLW season where she was playing for Hawthorn, having crossed football codes from Melbourne Victory at the end of 2022-23 campaign (see more in: The Week in Women's Football: Are Sydney FC the A-League's greatest? KC Current coach axe - Tribal Football). Dumont said: "I am super excited to be joining the Mariners this season. There is so much footballing talent in this team and on the Coast, so it is great to be a part of this squad. I would like to thank the Mariners for being open to allowing me to continue to be a dual-sport athlete, playing both AFL and football."

Adelaide United (1-2-5—5 points—Eleventh)

Adelaide United's first win of the season came in Found 8 when they defeated Wellington Phoenix 2-1 at home on December 16. They are tied for seventh in the league in scoring with 11 goals (with Western United) but their defense has leaked 18, the highest total in the A-League Women. English-born New Zealand international Hannah Blake (23) leads the team with two goals, tied with American Mariah Lee (27), who played last season with Sporting de Huelva in Spain after two seasons with Nordsjaelland of Denmark. The loss of English native and 2021-22 A-League Women Golden Boot Winner Fiona Worts (with 13 goals in 15 matches), despite only scoring 3 goals in 15 matches last season, was a loss particularly with her productivity with the Harbour City club this season (see last week's column: The Week in Women's Football: Examining successful A-League initiatives as crowd records set - Tribal Football).

Chelsea Dawber (23) is back in Adelaide for her seventh season with her hometown side, scoring one goal in three matches thus far this season. She has returned from her two year contract with the Chicago Red Stars of the NWSL, with one of those seasons on loan to Norrkoping of Sweden's Damallsvenskan, where she had two goals in 24 matches in the 2023 season, after playing only four matches for the Red Stars in 2022.

Dawber also spent part of last season on loan at Adelaide, where she scored four goals in 13 appearances as her Reds tally improved to 21 goals in 55 matches. Before joining Chicago in 2022, Dawber scored a career-high 10 goals in 15 games for Adelaide in 2021-22. She explained her feelings about moving home to play for the Reds again: "Adelaide is my home and I'm so happy to be back playing for the Reds. I've learnt a lot in my time away and I have also been keeping an eye on how Stents [Head coach Adrian Stenta] and the girls have been going to start the season. I'm really excited by what I have seen so far, and I know I can contribute and bring something different to the side."

Chelsea Dawber is back home with Adelaide United for a seventh consecutive season after time in the NWSL and in Sweden.

Photo courtesy of Adelaide United/ A-League Women.

Off the field, Adelaide United head coach Adrian Stenta has been promoted to full-time head coach, the first of its kind for the Liberty A-League team in South Australia. Stenta is Adelaide's first-ever full-time A-League Women's head coach as the Reds look to capitalize on the FIFA Women's World Cup, in which the South Australian city was a host site for group matches and a Round of 16 tiff. He has been in charge of the team since 2020-21, leading Adelaide to their first-ever playoff berth the following season.

Canberra United (1-1-4—4 points—Twelfth)

As for bottom side Canberra United, Njegosh Popovich's team are simply leaking too many goals, having conceded 16—with only Adelaide surrendering more (18)—though their offense has been strong as is typical, with their 15 goals scored the third best total in the league and only two behind Melbourne City's top figure of 17. Their first win of the season didn't come until Round 5 with a 5-1 blasting at home over Brisbane Roar, with Australian-born and raised Serbian international Vesna Milivojevic (21) scoring a hat-trick, part of her league leading total of eight goals thus far. As with Sydney FC, the Greens have two games in hand and still could make a late playoff push but must improve their defense.

To that effort, they brought in American defender Sarah Clark, who played sparingly in 2023 with the North Carolina Courage, with two appearances during the mid-season Challenge Cup and one assist, after signing in June as a National Team Replacement Player. She played at Purdue University and the University of Virginia and her uncle is Mike Clark, who played at Indiana University and for years for the Columbus Crew of MLS.

All-time A-League Women Leading scorer Michele Heyman has three goals and extended her all-time tally to 97 and is on line to go into triple digits later in the season. Nicky Flannery is back after missing last year with an ACL injury and has one goal and two assists this year.

Expansion News—A-League Men and Women are expanding to Auckland, New Zealand

As we projected last year after an interview with an A-Leagues executive, (see: The Week in Women's Football: Are Sydney FC the A-League's greatest? KC Current coach axe - Tribal Football), Auckland has been announced as the next expansion franchise for the A-League men for the 2024-25 season and women for the 2025-26 season. Bill Foley is the founder and general partner of Black Knight Football Club, which owns AFC Bournemouth in the Premier League and has a significant investment in FC Lorient of France's Ligue 1.

He is also the founder and owner of the National Hockey League's 2023 Stanley Cup champion Las Vegas Golden Knights. Foley said: "It's an honor to bring a top football club to Auckland. Building a championship team from expansion has been my most exhilarating professional achievement, and I aim to do the same for the fans of New Zealand and particularly the community on the north island. It's a special place and an area that I know will embrace this team."

Andrew Pragnell, Chief Executive of New Zealand Football, said: "The expansion of the A-Leagues into Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, and the league becoming truly Australasian, is a step change moment in the development of football in New Zealand. This is an exciting day and we welcome Bill Foley to the wider football system in this country. Bill has seen the potential of Auckland as a football city and is here for the long haul to help grow and develop the sport.

"The relationship between New Zealand Football and Football Australia has never been stronger and it has been great to see the benefits of co-hosting the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 spread far and wide. This expansion has been in part made possible by these positive trans-Tasman football relations and we look forward to this continuing over the coming years. We are truly stronger together and the region as a whole benefits from football development when we are aligned."

The new Auckland franchises will also expand the reach of the A-League Women, which is a trans-confederation league between the AFC (Australia) and Oceania (New Zealand).

Auckland had an A-League men's franchise for two seasons—the New Zealand Knights—from 2005-07, but folded due to financial troubles; ultimately the Knights paved the way for the Wellington Phoenix to join the A-League, which has been competitive in the men's league and is having a fantastic third season in A-League Women (see last week's column: The Week in Women's Football: Examining successful A-League initiatives as crowd records set - Tribal Football). This new franchise, with the addition of a women's team a year later, should be much more solvent and leverage the success of the Women's World Cup Finals earlier this year in the city and its reputation as a world class sporting destination, particularly for Rugby.

Matildas Roster for December Friendlies in Canada

Matildas head coach Tony Gustavsson, who was reported to be a finalist for the U.S. WNT head coaching job for which English native and Chelsea manager Emma Hayes was appointed in November (see: The Week in Women's Football: Examining USA's bank-busting deal for Chelsea coach Emma Hayes; South Africa ends World Cup bid - Tribal Football), named four A-League Women players for their two friendly matches in Canada in December for his 23 women squad. Melbourne City's Holly McNamara, Brisbane Roar's Tameka Yallop, Melbourne Victory goalkeeper Lydia Williams and Emily Van Egmond, on a short term loan from San Diego Wave to Newcastle Jets, were all named while Brighton and Hove Albion's Charlie Rule was given a full invitation after she joined the Olympic qualifiers in October as a train-on player. Defender Aivi Luik has recovered from injury to assist BK Häcken to second in the Swedish Damallsvenskan and into the group stage of the UEFA Women's Champions League.

Australia faced Canada on Friday December 1 in Langford (Vancouver Island) and Tuesday Dec 5 in Vancouver and BC Place Stadium, in the stadium that hosted the 2015 WWC Final. Canada won both games, winning the first 5-0, as Nichelle Prince (28), who finished her seventh season with the Houston Dash in 2023, scored a brace in the first half, with single goals by Cloe Lacasse (30), who has two goals this season in nine matches with Arsenal of the WSL after her high-profile summer move from Benfica in Portugal, as well as Simisola Awujo (20), who was born in the U.S., played for the Americans at the U-17 level and played collegiately at the University of Southern California, and Adriana Leon (31), who has two goals in eight matches in her first season with Aston Villa of the WSL.

Midfielder Quinn of OL Reign, scored the only goal in Vancouver as Australia was shut out once again; with the focus being on Christine Sinclair playing her last international for her country. The game attracted a record crowd for a Canadian women's national team friendly of 48,112. Sinclair (40) first played for the full national team as a 16-year-old and finished with 331 caps and a world record (men and women) of 190 international goals. She was named Canada's Soccer Player of the Year 14 times, won and Olympic gold and two bronze medals. She played in six Women's World Cups and scored in five of them. She is expected to play one more NWSL season with the Portland Thorns but she is also very likely to leverage her long career and legacy to help the new professional women's league in Canada [Women's Premier Soccer League or WPSL] to launch in 2025 and other efforts to drive more resources to the women's game. She will be missed within Canada, CONCACAF and the world game.







Mackenzie ARNOLD


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Football Ferns tie and lose to Colombia away in their two last friendlies of the year.

The Football Ferns are still winless since their shocking 1-0 win over Norway to open the Women's World Cup Finals this past summer in Auckland. In December they tied Colombia (0-0) on December 2 before falling three days later 1-0, with both matches in Bogota. Daniela Montoya (33), who was on her national team that made the quarterfinals this summer before losing to eventual finalists England (2-1), scored the only goal of the game. She had 8 goals in 18 games this season with Atletico Nacional, after joining from Junior of Barranquilla, where she played in 2022. In September, New Zealand played two friendlies against another CONMEBOL side in Chile, losing 3-0 and 2-1 in Santiago de Chile and Quillon, respectively.

The Ferns brought in three new players into the 24 player team for the Colombia friendlies: Wellington Phoenix midfielder Macey Fraser (21), Sunderland midfielder Katie Kitching (25), who is with English Championship side Sunderland AFC (currently in second place) after lining up last season with London City in the English Women's Championship after five years of college at the University of South Florida, and Canberra United forward Ruby Nathan (18) Fraser and Nathan were part of the New Zealand side at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in August 2022 in Costa Rica and both made their A-League Women debuts this season.. With a few minutes left in the first match, Katie Kitching was introduced for her debut, becoming Ford Football Fern number 205. Nathan came on for her first cap for the final 12 minutes of the second game.

Head coach Jitka Klimková also named five players who returned to the side after not being part of the September 2023 squad for the Chile games: Wellington Phoenix's Mackenzie Barry, Adelaide United's Hannah Blake, HB Koge's Daisy Cleverley, St John's University's Ava Collins and Glasgow City's Meikayla Moore. Forward Hannah Wilkinson (Melbourne City) was unavailable for these games as she was serving a two game suspension following her red card against Chile in September.

Head coach Jitka Klimková made one change to her starting line-up from the first match against the South American side, with Kate Taylor coming in at centre back for Rebekah Stott, who was unavailable due to illness. Taylor joined Katie Bowen in central defense, who was making her 100th appearance for the Ford Football Ferns, just the 12th player to reach that milestone. Bowen also captained the side for the game.

The full 24-player squad was:

Mackenzie Barry (7 caps) Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand
Hannah Blake (6 caps) Adelaide United, Australia
Katie Bowen (98 caps) Inter Milan, Italy
Daisy Cleverley (31 caps) HB Køge, Denmark
Ava Collins (11 caps) St John's University, USA
Brianna Edwards (0 caps) Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand
Victoria Esson (20 caps) Rangers, Scotland
Michaela Foster (8 caps) Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand
Macey Fraser* (0 caps) Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand
Ally Green (5 caps) AGF, Denmark
Jacqui Hand (17 caps) Åland United, Finland
Betsy Hassett (150 caps) Stjarnan FC, Iceland
Grace Jale (21 caps) Perth Glory, Australia
Katie Kitching* (0 caps) Sunderland AFC, England
Anna Leat (11 caps) Aston Villa, England
Meikayla Moore (63 caps) Glasgow City, Scotland
Ruby Nathan* (0 caps) Canberra United, Australia
Grace Neville (6 caps) London City Lionesses, England
Ali Riley (159 caps) Angel City, USA
Indiah-Paige Riley (14 caps) PSV Vrouwen, Netherlands
Paige Satchell (46 caps) London City Lionesses, England
Malia Steinmetz (25 caps) FC Nordsjælland, Denmark
Rebekah Stott (95 caps) Melbourne City, Australia
Kate Taylor (10 caps) Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand

*Debut Ford Football Ferns call-up.

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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