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The Week in Women's Football: A-League season-end review

This week, we look at part 1 of our season-end review of a very competitive 2023-24 A-League Women season in Australia, after the completion of the 22 game regular season. We feature the top six teams who made the expanded playoffs: Sydney FC, Melbourne City, Western United, Melbourne Victory, Central Coast Mariners and the Newcastle Jets. Next week, we will look at the teams which finished in seventh through twelfth place: Western Sydney Wanderers, Wellington Phoenix, Brisbane Roar, Perth Glory, Canberra United and Adelaide United. We also present the playoff format for the A-League Women postseason.

2023-24 A-League Women Review—Part 1

Last season, the three Melbourne area sides: City, Victory and Western United, all advanced to the playoffs along with 2022-23 Premiership winners Sydney FC. This season, these four teams repeated along with the 2023-24 expansion side Central Coast Mariners and the revitalized Newcastle Jets in the expanded six team playoffs for 2023-24. Interestingly, if the league had continued with a four team post-season format, the same four teams as last season would have qualified, with the expanded playoffs in 2023-24 providing berths to the Mariners and Jets, as well as motivation for the Wanderers and the Phoenix, who missed out on goal difference and by only five points, respectively.

After massive turnover among the top six throughout the season, the playoff spots were effectively set during Round 21, except for the race for the last two spots, which went down to the last day of the season, while the Premiership title was also not determined until the final matchday.

Melbourne City (12-5-5—41 points—First)

In rounds 14-18, City captured only two points out of 15, with a 3-1 loss at home to Western United, a 3-1 loss away to Canberra United, a 0-0 draw at home against reigning champions Sydney FC, a 1-1 tie also at home against Adelaide United, and then a 2-0 loss at Brisbane Roar on March 2. The nadir of their season was probably their Round 17 match on February 18, when they scored the only two goals—one by Daniela Galic (17) and an own goal by Tijan McKenna (19)—in a 1-1 tie with bottom side Adelaide United at home in front of a crowd of only 263 fans. City then hit a purple patch with two wins and a tie in Rounds 19-21 with all shutouts—defeating Newcastle 2-0 and Central Coast Mariners 3-0 victories (both at home) and tying Victoria State rival Melbourne Victory in an away match (0-0).

Melbourne City then won the Premiership title in the last A-League Women game of the season with a 2-1 win over Perth in West Australia, when 15-year-old Shelby McMahon scored the winning goal in the 89th minute. City thus captured their third Premiership title—their first since 2019-20—to go with four league titles

Melbourne City brought in an international goalkeeper with WWC Finals experience late in the season—Barbara (35) of Brazil—to finish the season. She earned 69 caps for Brazil, including five WWC and four Olympic Games Finals teams, winning a Bronze Medal in Beijing, China in 2008. She also won the 2018 Copa America Femenina. At the club level she joined Melbourne City from Flamengo in Rio and has played in Italy, Germany and Sweden.

Barbara replaced Canadian international Lysianne Proulx (24), who was signed by Bay FC of the NWSL in a record outgoing transfer fee (for an undisclosed amount but reportedly over $75,000) for the Liberty A-League Women. In her first season with City, she played every minute of the club's first 14 games and made some stellar saves at times. She played with Torreense of Portugal in 2022-23 after finishing at the University of Syracuse.

Also moving to the U.S. was City defender and Australian youth international (who was capped at the senior level in 2024) Kaitlyn Torpey (23) for $75,000 transfer fee (a record fee before Proulx's move) and she signed a two year contract in early February with the NWSL club. She was City's Players' Player of the year in 2023-23 and played in 48 games for the club (with six goals and five assists) and 91 in the league since turning pro at 16, including five years with Brisbane Roar. These A-League transfer fees, though important and notable, are far below the record fee paid for an Australian when midfielder Kyra Cooney-Cross moved to Arsenal of the WSL from Swedish club Hammarby for around $550,000 last September.

The club finished third in the league in team scoring with 40 goals, behind leaders Melbourne Victory (44) and Newcastle Jets (43). New Zealand international Hannah Wilkinson (31) led the side with nine goals, followed by American-raised Bosnia and Herzegovina International Emina Ekic (24) with seven, while Australian U-20 international Daniela Galic (17), Matilda Holly McNamara (21) and Australian Rhianna Pollicina (20) all had six tallies (McNamara scored 10 times in 17 games in the off-season New South Wales State League with APIA Leichhardt and Pollicina scored nine goals in 18 games this past season with APIA Leichhardt).

Sydney FC (11-6-5—39 points—Second)

Sydney FC has made the playoffs during each of their sixteen seasons in the Liberty A-League Women and, going into the last game, had a chance to win their fourth Premiership (regular season) title in a row and fifth overall, to go with four league titles.

Caley Tallon-Henniker (18) scored in her first ever A-League Women's game in second-half injury time, from an inspired cross-field pass from Cortnee Vine, to seal the 2-0 win over WSW away on March 2 in Round 17, with Makenzie Hawksby scoring Sydney's first goal from the penalty spot in the 67th minute. Tallon-Henniker scored 5 goals in 22 State League games in the off-season for Football New South Wales Institute. This win was the start of a four game winning streak for Sydney; in Round 18 on March 9, Cortnee Vine had a brace in Sydney's 3-1 win over Western United at home at Leichhardt Oval in front of 3,442 fans. Vine scored another double in their 4-2 away win in Wellington the next week and one in Sydney's Round 20 3-0 win at home against Adelaide United on March 24 in front of a crowd of 3,137.

Sydney FC finished the season with two consecutive losses to cost them the top spot in the playoffs, losing 1-0 away to Canberra United and then their final chance for their fourth consecutive Premiership when they lost 4-0 at home to Melbourne Victory on March 31 on the last day of the season, when their opponent Melbourne Victory needed at least a tie to make the playoffs.

Vine led the side with 10 goals followed by English import Fiona Worts (27), 17-year-old Madeleine Caspers and Mackenzie Hawkesby (23), who each had three goals, but Worts was lost for most of the second half of the season with an injury. As a club, Sydney was not prolific in their goalscoring as they had 31 goals to finish tied for seventh with the Central Coast Mariners. Sydney FC did have the best defense in the league, allowing only 15 goals and Australian full international pool player Jada Whyman led the league with nine shutouts, five more than the next highest mark in the league, playing in all of their games this season.

Western United (11-3-8—36 points—Tied for Third)

A 3-0 win over Wellington in Week 17, combined with a 1-1 Melbourne City tie at home with Adelaide, sent Western to the top of the table for the first time this season. The club won their sixth consecutive game in a row in Round 18 with a 4-2 home win over Canberra United on March 1 as Hannah Keane scored a hattrick, with the other goal coming from Chloe Logarzo, who also added an assist.

In Round 19 on March 9, their long win string came to an end as they lost 3-1 at Sydney FC in front of 3,442 fans; their previous loss came on January 14 at home against Syndey (1-0). There was a bit of a concern to their followers when Western United lost their next two games, at home to Newcastle, again by a 3-1 scoreline, and away to Western Sydney by the same 3-1 score. They then tied Central Coast Mariners 1-1 away in Round 22. If Western United had picked up a few more points in those last four games rather than one from 12 points available, they could have ended up with a first round bye for finishing first or second in the final table. As it was, they finished in a tie for third with Melbourne Victory on 36 points, but has the higher playoff seed as they won 11 games versus 10 for the Victory.

Late in the season Western United learned that Goalkeeper Hillary Beall's loan agreement was withdrawn, as she was traded from Racing Louisville to the San Diego Wave, and the Wave wanted her back for pre-season training. Western United General Manager of Football Mal Impiombato said: "Hillary has been an integral part of our journey in the Liberty A-League and we would like to thank her for her valued contributions across the club. As a leader amongst the group, Hillary was integral in setting the foundations of our program off the field, while her performances on the field were crucial in helping us reach the Grand Final in our inaugural season." As well as being named Western's Player of the Season last term, Beall was also crowned Liberty A-League Goalkeeper of the Year, named in the PFA's team of the season, and won the 'Save of the Year' trophy at the Dolan/Warren A Leagues awards night after the 2022-23 season.

Danish international goalkeeper Kathrine Larsen (30) joined late in the season from Brondby in Denmark and had played in Sweden and Norway. Larsen had eight full international caps and was a backup on their 2023 WWC Finals side last summer, which fell to the Matildas 2-0 in the Round of 16. Western United head coach Kat Smith said: "We are delighted to welcome Kathrine into our squad and I'm extremely excited to begin working with her. Coming into a crucial part of the season, her experience at the highest level will be another boost for our group and I am sure she will have an immediate impact. Having gone to the recent World Cup and played in elite competitions for club and country, we look forward to seeing her quality on the pitch and having her help drive us towards success this season."

Larsen played in the win over Canberra and the loss to Sydney, but for Rounds 20, 21 and 22, Australian goalkeeper Alyssa Dall'Oste (23) stepped back in as a starter. She plays in the off-season with Calder United in Victoria State.

After a slow start, American forward Hannah Keane led the side with 10 goals, Australian international Chloe Logarzo (29) had nine and Adriana Taranto (25) added five. Unfortunately, Keane sustained a ruptured patellar tendon in her right knee in their Round 21 loss to the Wanderers and was out for the post-season. Adriana Taranto was also lost for the season with an ACL tear in mid-March. Western as a team finished with 37 goals for fifth in the league—but allowed 34 for eighth best in the league; the club has always been known as an attacking side which can stretch their defense and their late season four game winless streak accounted for ten of those goals.

Melbourne Victory (10-6-6—36 points—Tied for Third)

Melbourne Victory used braces from American McKenzie Weinert (25) and Australian international Emily Gielnik for an important 4-0 home win over Western Sydney in Round 17 to put the Victory firmly in the top four at that point of the season, moving up from outside of the playoffs just a few weeks before. Gielnik's second goal was from over 40 meters and was her 50th in the A-League Women. After the game, Weinert returned to the NWSL and the Seattle Reign. Last season, she made two appearances for the Reign as a national team replacement player during the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup. She had an outstanding season in Australia, with five goals and one assist in 17 games.

In a crucial game to make the playoffs on the final day of the regular season, MV defeated Sydney FC 4-0 in front of 4,387 fans at the Leichhardt Oval in the Harbor City to clinch a playoff spot (a tie would also have knocked Western Sydney out) as Australian international Alana Murphy (18) and Rachel Lowe (23) scored first half goals while Emily Gielnik (31) and Alex Chidiac (25) added two goals in the second half. The win vaulted head coach Jeff Hopkins' side into a tie for third, but they were seeded fourth as Western United had 11 wins to ten for the Victory, even though the latter side had a much better goal differential (+15 vs +3). Melbourne Victory made the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season, winning two Grand Finals during that stretch.

The Victory led all the teams in scoring with 44 goals and their defense was solid as well in allowing only 29 goals for third best in the league (tied with Melbourne City). Rachel Lowe (23) and Emily Gielnik (31) were the dominant scorers on the side with 12 goals and 8 goals respectively, accounting for 20 of the team's 44 goals or 45% of the team's scoring in the league, followed by Weinert and Japanese import Kurea Okino (24) and American import Kayla Morrison (27), with three each.

Late in the season, Emma Checker (28) announced that she was retiring from football at the end of the 2023/24 season. She made 149 appearances in the league with Adelaide United, Canberra United, Melbourne City and Melbourne Victory (three seasons in two different spells), also playing domestically in Korea, France, Iceland and Sweden. Checker has also represented the Matildas eight times, making her debut as a 16-year-old in 2012 against Hong Kong. Checker explained her decision to retire: "It felt like it was the right time for me to step away from the game and begin a new journey. I've had an incredible opportunity come up for me in my life that would mean I couldn't not give my all to football and I've had to make this decision. I feel like I owe it to those in my life to change my priorities."

Central Coast Mariners (10-5-7—35 points—Fifth)

The Mariners put together a late season five game undefeated run from Rounds 16-20, with four consecutive wins (two as 2-0 shutouts over Adelaide United at home and Brisbane Roar on the road) to surge into the playoffs for the second time in their three seasons (they played two seasons in 2008/09 and 2009 and then stopped the women's team for financial reasons, before coming back as an expansion team this season). They have been such a positive story this season with their performances. This crucial streak started on February 10 at home as Central Coast Mariners tied Melbourne Victory 1-1 in front of 4,226 fans, with Australian international Peta Trimis (17) scoring her third goal of the season to offset Matilda Emily Gielnik's second of the season for Melbourne. Trimis scored three goals for the U-20's in AFC U-20 Women's Asian Cup, which doubled as 2024 U-20 Women's World Cup Qualifying tournament, as Australia finished third after a 1-0 win over Korea Republic, while Korea DPR defeated Japan 2-1 to win the title. All four sides qualified for this summer's U-20 WWC Finals in Colombia.

In Round 17 on February 18, Kyah Simon scored her first goal of the season in a come-from-behind 3-1 away win over Perth at Macedonia Park, cementing the Mariners in the top six at the time while Perth tumbled out of the playoff reckoning for the first time all season. Australian forward Annalise Rasmussen (18) also scored her first of the season along with a goal from Australian defender Bianca Galic (24). On March 9 in Round 19, the Mariners won their third game in a row (2-0) against Brisbane in Queensland as Kyah Simon scored her second goal in three games and Wurigumula of China scored her second goal in two games. In Round 20, the Mariners defeated Canberra 4-1 with two goals from American forward Rola Badawiya, and singles from Wurigumala and Simon (from the penalty spot).

Wurigumula led the club with eight goals on the season while American forward Rola Badawiya has seven goals. Kyah Simon had three goals, but only played in nine games after coming back from a long-term injury, and Australian U-20 internation Peta Trimis had three goals in 17 games in her first year in the A-League Women. Trimis scored 10 times in 23 matches for Bulls Academy in the New South Wales State League last season. As a team the Mariners scored 31 goals—tied for seventh in the league with Sydney FC—but their defense was stellar, allowing only 24 goals, second in the league to Sydney FC. Goalkeepers Sara Langman (28) and Casey Dumont (32), who returned to the league after playing Aussie Rules football in the AFLW with Hawthorn after six seasons with Melbourne Victory, split the duties with 10 games (3 shutouts) and 9 games (2 shutouts) respectively, while Courtney Newbon (23)—who spent the last two seasons at Perth Glory—had one shoutout in four matches before moving to Melbourne Victory, where she played in 12 games and had two shutouts for MV.

First year A-League Women head coach Emily Husband talked to about putting together a professional side in seven months (see our story when she was appointed last year: The Week in Women's Football: Are Sydney FC the A-League's greatest? KC Current coach axe - Tribal Football). Husband grew up in Yorkshire, England and played youth football at her childhood club Leeds United, and senior football at Huddersfield Town. She started coaching while in her teens and then coached at Princeton University in New Jersey in the United States. She also coached at both Leeds and Chelsea in England as well as a one-season stint in the Liberty A-League as Vicki Linton's assistant in an all-female Canberra United coaching staff in 2020-21 when they made the semifinals. She joined the Mariners from Sydney University, where she won the Minor Premiership (regular season) title in 2022 and was the NSW NPL 1 Coach of the Year.

This season, Husband is one of only two women leading Liberty A-League clubs. The other is Kat Smith at Western United, who came on board early in the season when Mark Torcaso decided to focus on the Philippines Women's National Team job that he took on after the 2023 WWC last summer. In all her years as a footballer, Husband never played for a female coach. The closest she ever came to finding a female role model to look up to were PE teachers at school.

She explained that: "Pretty much every club now will have a female coach somewhere within their ranks but 90% of the time they're with U-14's, U-15's, U-16's and once you get into the senior end, that's when it starts to be dominated by men. For me, it's got to start in the National Premier Leagues. It's just about people putting faith [in] and going against the narrative to give female coaches the opportunities. Yes, the ratio isn't as high as we'd like it to be in terms of female and male coaches but you get a lot of female coaches in the youth [leagues] that never seem to progress into senior football, and you have to ask the question: 'why?' The NSW NPLW [State League] is somewhere I've coached for multiple years, and during the six years I worked there, I can only name three female coaches that took on a women's senior team: myself, Heather Garriock [who coached at Sydney University and with Canberra United for three seasons from 2017-18 through 2019-20, when she was released after missing the playoffs each year] and Ash Wilson [Newcastle Jets from mid-season 2019-20 through mid-season 2022-23, never finishing higher than eighth in an underfunded women's team].

"For me, that's where it starts. All three coaches went on to progress to the A-League. We've really got to be looking at why more coaches currently in the youth system haven't been looked at for that type of opportunity in senior football. That's ultimately where you're going to pick your next breed of coaches from, the NPL [clubs] around the country."

Husband was named Central Coast head coach in March 2023, but couldn't shift her full focus to the Liberty A-League squad until the end of the 2023 NPLW season in September. One month after the end of her stint as Sydney University head coach, the 2023-24 Liberty A-League season began.

She explained: "At the time we only had one player signed—Annalise Rasmussen. Your thoughts immediately turn to: 'What sort of a culture do I want to build, and what sort of playing style do we want to have?' It was a huge few months. It wasn't just the recruitment of players, it was the recruitment of staff, policies, procedures, and processes. Your mind goes to everything but at the same time, I was trying to continue finishing the season off as strong as I could do at Sydney University. Most coaches come in and the foundations are laid, and it's just about what you can put on top of that to bring a good brand of football to a club."

She certainly has done that in a stellar first year for the Mariners, no matter what happens in the playoffs.

Newcastle Jets (10-3-9—30 points—Tied for Sixth)

A 3-0 home win over Brisbane in Round 17 on February 17 in front of 1,938 fans was an emphatic win and made a statement that they were bound for the playoffs. Philippines international Sarina Bolden scored a hat trick with all of the goals in the match. With her effect on the team this season, she should be a finalist for the Julie Dolan medal for the 2023-24 Player of the Year. Then the Jets earned only one point out of six points in Rounds 18-19, with a 1-1 tie at home against Perth and a 2-0 loss away to Melbourne City hurting their playoff hopes.

The Jets though sewed up a playoff spot—albeit narrowly—with three consecutive wins to end the regular season: 3-1 away to Western United, 3-2 at home against Melbourne Victory and then absolutely overwhelming Adelaide United 8-0 before a vibrant South Australian season crowd of 3,092, with Lana Gooch and Melina Ayers scoring two goals each on March 29. Newcastle began the afternoon in seventh place on the table but ended the game in fifth, jumping both Western Sydney Wanderers and Melbourne Victory, with the Wanderers ultimately missing the playoffs on goal difference, as their 8-0 win took the Jets goal differential to +7 compared with 0 for the Wanderers, though their opponents each had one game left to play at that point.

Captain Cass Davis (29) scored the first and winning goal in the 27th minute in her 150th Liberty A-League Women match. The game broke the Jet's previous best winning margin of 7-1 against Adelaide in 2011. The 8-0 win was the largest in Newcastle Jets' history for both the men's or women's side and the equal third biggest victory in either A-League, with the record in the women's league being Sydney FC's home 11-0 win over Perth Glory in 2011-12, followed by Perth Glory's 10-1 away win over Western Sydney in the 2014 season and tied with Adelaide United's 10-2 win at home against Western Sydney in the 2016-17 season.

The next day, Wellington Phoenix shocked Western Sydney 2-0 in New Zealand to clinch a spot for the Jets, with Melbourne Victory traveling to Sydney on the last day of the season on March 31, defeating Sydney 4-0 to clinch a playoff spot as well, and moving up to fourth place ahead of the Jets and the Mariners.

The Jets had more losses with nine than any of the other five playoff sides and the fewest ties with three—tied with Western United among the top six—which hurt them in terms of moving further up the table. This is the club's third playoff spot in 16 seasons in the league and first since 2017-18.

American goalkeeper Isabel Nino (24), who came from the University of Michigan, played in all but one regular season game, with two shutouts. In the 8-0 thumping of Adelaide. Nino was suspended for a red card in the Round 21 3-2 win over MV in the 91st minute so Tiahna Robertson (21) made her A-League Women debut, signing just three days before, and posted the shutout in arguably one of the most important games in the 16-year history of the women's side..

Sarina Bolden (27) led the side and tied for second in the league with 12 goals in only 17 games (tied with Sophia Harding of Western Sydney with 12 from 20 games and Rachel Lowe of Melbourne Victory with 12 in 22 games) as she was acquired after the season started, with all three trailing Michelle Heyman of Canberra United with 17 goals. On the Jets, Lauren Allen (27) scored six goals, one more than she had last season. Forward Melina Ayers (24) scored five goals in only 11 games after moving over from Melbourne Victory in the offseason. Current Australian U-20 midfielder Lara Gooch (19) had four goals. Midfielder Libby Copus-Brown (26) also scored four goals, which was a career high after only scoring two goals across her previous seasons in the league, with six at Newcastle and two with Western Sydney. Sarina Bolden led the league in assists with nine.

A-League Women Playoff Format

In the playoffs, on April 13, the one game Elimination Finals start, with third place Western United hosting the sixth place Newcastle Jets. On April 14, fourth place Melbourne Victory is home against fifth place Central Coast Mariners. For the two-leg semifinals, Premiership champions Melbourne City will play the lowest seeded Elimination Finals winner, while second place Sydney FC will play the highest seeded Elimination Finals winner. The dates are to be determined as the higher place teams in the two semifinals can chose whether to host the first leg or the second leg. Away goals will not be utilized to decide winners in the case of ties—there will be overtime and then penalty kicks if needed. The Grand Final will be held on May 4 between the semifinal winners.

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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