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The Week in Women's Football: A-League review PII; Lawrence exclusive on Wellington Phoenix & NZ football

This week, we present part two of our review of the first third (approximately) of the expanded (18 games for each club) A-League Women 2022/23 season in Australia.

This week we will look at the five clubs below the top six in the standings: Perth Glory, Canberra United, Newcastle Jets, Western Sydney Wanderers and Wellington Phoenix, along with some input from an interview with new Phoenix head coach Natalie Lawrence. Last week we previewed the top six sides: Melbourne City, Sydney FC, expansion club Western United, two-time reigning champions Melbourne Victory, Adelaide United and Brisbane Roar (see link: The Week in Women's Football: A-League focus; Hopkins exclusive; World Cup hopes - Tribal Football).

Note: League standings are complete through Round 8 games on January 1, 2023.

2022/23 A-League Women in Australia--Season to Date Review—Part 2

Newcastle Jets—(2-1-4—7 points—Seventh)

On November 25, the Jets won their first Liberty A-League game in over 11 months with a come from behind win over the Western Sydney Wanderers (4-2). The game was a home game for the Jets but the club moved it to Tamworth, which is located 175 miles north of Newcastle and has a population of 64,000. The Women Jets played in the northern city for the first time ever. Tamworth is only 200 miles from the Queensland border and is known as the country music capital of Australia.

The A-League men's side also played that day (against Melbourne City in an exhibition match), with both matches at Scully Park. As part of a day of a Festival of Football in the Northern Inland region, the Australia Men's National Team World Cup game in Qatar against Tunisia (a 1-0 win for the Socceroos) was shown at the West Tamworth Leagues Club. The festivities were made possible by an AU$250,000 grant from the NSW Government's Regional Event Acceleration Fund.

'I don't know, maybe being American helps': attacking duo fire Jets to first win in 11 months

The Newcastle Jets celebrate their first win in over 11 months after defeating Western Sydney Wanderers 4-2 on November 25 in Tamworth, New South Wales

(Photo courtesy Newcastle Jets/A-League Women).

Australian youth national team wingback and Newcastle native Tess Tamplin explained to the media the importance of taking Women's Jets games outside of the City of Newcastle: "It's super important [to take home games to regional areas as] we are not just Newcastle CBD [Central Business District]. We are much broader and there are so many people who support us in the regional areas that we don't know about and we don't get to see because they are so far away." For the future, she would like to see more games played regionally, suggesting that: "Take home games out to rural areas so I'm hoping we get to take it out to Dubbo, which is more Sydney-side (a city of around 35,000 east of Newcastle). It's awesome and I'm super excited and it should be good."

Tamplin was right in that the Tamworth match was good for the Jets, both off the field as 2,078 fans attended the match, and on the field as the Jets won 4-2, with American import Sarah Griffith scoring a hat trick to key the Jets climb back from a 1-0 deficit in an exciting game. Long-time local forward Tara Andrews scored the other goal in the Jets' first win since a 1-0 victory over Wellington Phoenix on December 27, 2021.

Griffith hat-trick helps Jets to first win in 11 months

American NWSL loanee Sarah Griffith (in foreground) scored a hat-trick to give the Newcastle Jets their first success of the A-League Women season in a 4-2 win over Western Sydney Wanderers. (Photo courtesy Newcastle Jets/A-League Women).

The Jets then tied Perth Glory 2-2 at home on December 2 but hit a losing patch of three in a row, away to Melbourne City (5-1), Melbourne Victory (5-2) and at home to Brisbane Roar (2-0). They ended the year well with a 2-0 upset win over visiting Adelaide United, with Lauren Allen scoring twice in the last half-hour of the match to boost the Jets to another victory.

Canberra United (1-2-3—5 points—Tied for Eighth)

Canberra has eight goals in six matches, led by Matilda veteran Michelle Heyman, new signing for 2022/23 and New Zealand international forward Grace Jale, and Serbian international Vesna Milvojevic (21)—who was born in Australia and played in Germany in 2022/21 with Borussia Bocholt in the second tier—and all three have scored twice this season. Milvojevic has won two league titles in Serbia with WCL power Spartak Subotica in 2019/20 and 2021/22 and is in her first season with the Greens after playing in the league previously with Western Sydney.

Perth Glory (1-2-4—5 points—Tied for Eighth)

The Glory narrowly missed out on a playoff berth last season on goal difference to Melbourne Victory. This season they have had a slow start and allowing 10 goals in their first 5 games has hurt the side (with 14 allowed in total across seven games). Last year's starter in goal, Australian U-20 national teamer Morgan Aquino (21), has only played in one game while Sarah Langman (27) has started four games in her first season with the Glory, following two seasons with WSW and four at Adelaide United.

American import forward Rylee Baisden scored a brace for the Glory in their 2-2 draw with Newcastle Jets on December 2 and has five goals to lead the Glory in scoring, tied with Melbourne Victory's Melina Ayers for the league lead. She played last season with the North Carolina Courage and previously played in the league with the Roar in 2019/20, scoring three goals in 11 games and leveraged her strong season into a spot in the NWSL. Glory head coach Alex Epakis, after the Newcastle game, said that Baisden: "had a huge influence on the game. Once she scored her first goal, her performance went to another level in other areas of her game; she's a real asset."

Western Sydney Wanderers (0-1-5—1 point—Tied for Tenth)

The Wanderers look bound for their second consecutive season of finishing second from bottom of the table (if not capturing the wooden spoon for last place). In their ten previous seasons, they have finished second from bottom or in last place in half of their seasons and only made the playoffs once, in 2019/20, when they had a core of top-quality imports from the North Carolina Courage. Their American imports are young and not experienced enough: two young Americans in goalkeeper Jordan Bloomer (25) from Racing Louisville and Tess Boade (23) from the North Carolina Courage.

Their third import is midfielder Jitka Chlastakova (29), a veteran Czech Republic international with over 50 caps, who has played at home in Prague with local sides Sparta, Slavia, Bohemians and Dukla (the latter two on loan) and for a year in Germany with USV Jena in 2019-2020; she is in her first season in Australia. She is a good addition but the club needs scoring help, and none of their imports are forwards. A goal difference of -7 after six games (3 goals for and 10 against) is not good enough and it could be a very long season for the Wanderers. WSW has to make more investments in the women's club—they should follow Western United's approach towards imports and squad building.

On the men's side, the team won the A-League title in their first season in 2012/13 and the next season won the AFC Champions League; they finished A-League runners-up for the league title on three other occasions. The women's side has not come close to those types of successes and more effort needs to be put into the A-League Women's side.

On January 1, WSW and the Phoenix deadlock 1-1 for both teams' first point of the season in Wellington.

Wellington Phoenix (0-1-5—1 point—Tied for Tenth)

After earning seven points in fourteen games last season, the Phoenix are off to a very slow start with only three goals scored, with 14 allowed after six games. Tribal Football talked exclusively with first year head coach Natalie Lawrence, a native of England who first came to New Zealand in 2011, who discussed the longer season, their first home match ever in New Zealand in their second season and shared her thoughts about the effect that the Women's World Cup will have next summer on the growth of the game in New Zealand.

When asked if the longer season in 2022/23 of 18 games rather than 14 as in 2021/22 releases pressure with their four losses in four matches and helps with her squad development and positive hopes for the rest of the season, she said: "Absolutely it gives you more time to gel. The preseason is really short, so the more games you have, the more time you have to gel. We had a short preseason (5 weeks)."

She said that their preseason games were not quite what she wanted: "We just played against boys. We weren't able to travel across to Australia to play any teams in preseason, which is something that we want to make sure that we do next season. The women's teams [in New Zealand's Women's National League] were all in their season and the best competition we could get was against different boys' teams and boys in the [Wellington Phoenix] academy. It was good, it wasn't ideal, but it was still a good level of games."

Lawrence talked enthusiastically about the club's outstanding home crowd of 5,213 fans for their first ever game in New Zealand [which was a stand-alone game and not a doubleheader with the A-League men's side], on November 19 against Melbourne City (a 4-1 loss), after the club was marooned for a year in Goolagong in South Sydney in 2021/22 because of covid international travel protocols in Australia: "It was amazing.

"There was quite a lot of buildup to the game… The crowd made a lot of noise to the point where, for the first time, the girls couldn't really hear what we [the coaching staff] are saying. We didn't have that last year. We didn't have that crowd and that noise. We had a really core little group who supported us and they would make noise but they can't duplicate 5,000. It was a pretty special event. At the end of the game, seeing the girls go over to their fan area… they were out there for so long and made sure that no one missed out on an autograph or a selfie or whatever they wanted; it was a really special moment for them… It was brilliant."

When asked about what impact the 2023 Women's World Cup will have on the growth of the game in Australia, Lawrence said: "When it comes to the World Cup, Wellington as a host city has some amazing games; the USA-Netherlands is going to draw such a big crowd and there will be a crazy buzz around the city. Then you have New Zealand playing the Philippines [in the Group Stage] in a game where they [Football Ferns] will look to get three points from. The buzz around the city for teams on show here is amazing. You can already kind of feel it. I think people fully realize what will embark on our shores here and I think it is going to be epic."

She continued to elaborate on what the World Cup will bring to New Zealand football: "What that means for women's football in New Zealand and Wellington is a greater appreciation for the sport and for the women that play it, the women that are a part of these teams, how far and they have come and what a big event this is [and] to have it in New Zealand. I think people are fully aware of how big this event is and it gives our game more exposure, acknowledgment and respect for the women that play the game."

Note: Wellington will host nine matches in total at Sky Stadium—known locally as The Cake Tin—including a Round of Sixteen and Quarterfinal Match. Other Group Stage matches include:

  • Spain versus Costa Rica
  • Japan versus Spain
  • Sweden versus South Africa
  • Sweden versus Italy
  • South Africa versus Italy

Finally Tribal asked Lawrence about the possibility of other New Zealand cities, such as Auckland, Dunedin, Christchurch, etc. joining the A-League Women in the next three to five years, and she replied that: "I think it would probably start with a men's side before investing in a women's side. I think there is more work to be done here [in Wellington] first before the need for another one [team]. We probably need to invest a little more in the women's side here and having one in the country is quite unique—you can look at that investment as a whole country thing rather than a just a city-wide thing. It will probably happen on the men's side one day and I imagine the women's [side] would follow, but probably a little further down the line."

As far as the local, fully amateur Women's National League, Lawrence said: "I'd like to see it become more and more competitive. We have brought a couple of players out of that league into our team and they have done really well. If the young players are given a chance, coupled with older, experienced players that can add that competitive nature and—they get quicker, faster and stronger [with] football played at a good pace—it will continue to develop as a league in its own right but also develop as a feeder into the Phoenix and the [national women's team Football] Ferns. I think there are some really good plans in place [for the league] and hopefully that continues on."

Note: In the National Women's League, Eastern Suburbs won the league title this year with a 4-0 Grand Final win over Western Springs, with both teams appearing in their first ever title match, and both sides are based in the Auckland metropolitan area. Eastern Suburbs topped the regular season table with 12 wins and 2 losses in 14 games for 36 points, with Western Spring finishing second with a 9-2-3 (W-T-L) record for 29 points. The one Wellington-based side in the league—Capital Football—finished seventh out of eight teams with 3 wins and 3 deadlocks for 12 points in 14 regular season matches. The Wellington side has won two league titles and finished runners-up on seven other occasions, with the latest coming in 2020.

Natalie Lawrence has coached at U-20 national team level as an assistant coach and was with the Football Ferns for a European tour in May (a 2-0 defeat in Oslo to Norway and then a 0-0 tie with Wales in Spain). She said that the coaching staff for the finals in July have not been determined and is "up in the air" but she is very important to the Football Ferns with some many players on the Phoenix side from the full and youth national team. As the head coach of the nation's only Division 1 team, I would expect that she will have an integral role with the national side next summer for the historic Women's World Cup, as New Zealand looks for its first win in WWC Finals history, with only three ties from 15 matches across five different tournaments.

The Phoenix drew 1,541 to their second game on November 26 for a 4-1 loss to Western United but then drew 4,535 to see a narrow 1-0 loss to Adelaide in Wellington. On New Year's Day they attracted 1,943 for their 1-1 tie against Western Sydney Wanderers. Their attendances have been a hugely positive story this season for the team and the league.

Note: For more detailed information on A-League Women team rosters, please see our previews from November 2022: (The Week in Women's Football: A-League Preview - including big name transfers ins & outs - Tribal Football and The Week in Women's Football: A-League Preview PII - plus Matildas update - Tribal Football).

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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