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The Week in Women's Football: A-League top 6 review; chat with Jaclyn Sawicki on that Philippines NZ WC shock

This week, we look at part 1 of a very competitive 2023-24 A-League Women season in Australia after 14 games, or approximately after two-thirds of the season is completed, featuring the top six teams who at this point would make the expanded playoffs. also talked exclusively with Western United and Philippines international captain Jaclyn Sawicki on Western's second season in the league and her reflections on a very special Women's World Cup performance against New Zealand last summer by her nation. Next week we will look at the teams currently in seventh through twelfth place: Central Coast Mariners, Newcastle Jets, Wellington Phoenix, Brisbane Roar, Canberra United and Adelaide United.

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 Sydney FC. After approximately two-thirds of the season (14 games for every team except for Western Sydney Wanderers and Canberra United who have played 13) Melbourne City, Western United and Sydney FC would again make the playoffs in 2023-24, along with Perth Glory, expansion side Central Coast Mariners and equally surprising Western Sydney Wanderers.

This season has been more competitive with one of the closest playoff races ever in the history of the league, with Wellington Phoenix, Melbourne Victory, Newcastle Jets and Brisbane Roar all within three points or fewer of sixth place Western Sydney; Wellington and Newcastle in particular have surprised observers with their play this season and they have both spent time in the top six and still have a solid chance at a playoff berth, though as the season goes on they may need help from other teams. The NWSL consistently talks about being the most competitive league in the world from top to bottom, but after some years of a real gap between the top 4-5 teams and the rest in the A-League Women, this season has seen a lot of movement among the top six, surpassing expectations from many pundits and throwing handicappers into turmoil.

The A-League Women has also received a nice bump after the 2023 WWC last summer in attendance—the league average per game this season is 2,314 compared with 1,233 in the regular season in 2022-23—and some new imports in the league have done well and helped their teams, notably Chinese international Wurigumla of Central Coast Mariners, Venezuelan international Mariana Speckmaier of Wellington Phoenix (see link) and Philippines international Sarina Bolden, who joined Newcastle Jets this season after a short spell with Western Sydney last season just ahead of the 2023 WWC Finals, along with a trio of internationals in Perth: former English youth international forward Millie Farrow and the Philippines international pair of midfielder Quinley Quezada and defender Jessika Cowart.

See our previous first third of the season 2023-24 A-League Women Reviews: The Week in Women's Football: Examining successful A-League initiatives as crowd records set - Tribal Football and The Week in Women's Football: A-League review (Part II);welcoming Bournemouth owner Foley to Auckland - Tribal Football).

Melbourne City (9-2-3—29 points—First)

City has been the most consistent side in the A-League Women this season, putting together a six game unbeaten run early in the season and then a four game unbeaten streak of late, though that ended surprisingly on the road in a 1-0 loss to Western Sydney Wanderers on January 13 in Round 12. After a home win over Wellington Phoenix (2-1) on January 19, they lost again in Round 14 to city rivals Western United (3-1) on January 24. City leads the league with 31 goals scored but have surrendered 22 goals for eighth best in the twelve team league (tied with Brisbane Roar).

On December 27, American forward Emina Ekic (who plays internationally for Bosnia-Herzegovina) scored a hat-trick while New Zealand international Hannah Wilkinson (31) and Australian Rhianna Pollicina (26) added singles for City's 5-3 win over Brisbane in in Round 10, in front of a strong crowd of 2,314 at AAMI Park in Central Melbourne. Fellow American Mia Corbin scored two and Matilda Jenna McCormick scored her second goal of the season for the Roar. On January 5, teenager and Young Matilda Daniela Galic scored a hat-trick within a 19 minute spell (along with one assist) as City defeated Adelaide 5-0 in South Australia. At 17 years and 203 days, Galic's hat-trick makes her the second youngest player after Tara Andrews (now retired from the Newcastle Jets) to score a hat-trick in the Liberty A-League. Galic has five goals on the season—she scored two goals in 17 games last season for Melbourne City.

Australian Holly McNamara (21), along with Ekic and Wilkinson, lead the side with six goals and are tied for seventh in the Golden Boot Race, while Galic and Rhianna Pollicina both have five goals.

Western United (7-2-5—23 points—Tied for Second)

In their last six games, Western United has won four times, tied once, with only one loss—by 1-0 at home to Sydney FC in Round 12—after finding it difficult to put together a consistent run of results earlier in the season. Their early season inconsistencies no doubt was in part due to an early season coaching change, with former Western Sydney yead coach Kat Smith stepping in for Mark Torcaso, who decided to step aside to concentrate on his new job as Philippines WNT head coach.

In Round 9, the second year franchise Western United defeated then league leaders Perth Glory 1-0 at home on an early goal by Matilda Chloe Logarzo (29). Western then tied Canberra United 1-1 away before a tremendous 4-1 victory at AIMI Park against the Victory in Round 11, with Logarzo scoring two goals within nine minutes starting at the hour mark—one from the penalty spot—and adding an assist, for WU's best loss-free run of the season. Japanese import Keiwa Hieda (23) and Adriana Taranto (24) scored goals early in the game for Western.

Western United's undefeated streak ended in Round 12 with a 1-0 loss at home to Champions Sydney FC, from a 70 minute goal by 2023 WWC Finals Matilda team member Cortnee Vine. Western has 5 losses, tied with Western Sydney and Central Coast, for the most among the top six.

Logarzo, capped 49 times by Australia,, missed last year's FIFA Women's World Cup, failing in a rush to recover from multiple injuries, and worked as a television analyst during the tournament. Logarzo told the A-League website Keepup after the World Cup: "My journey getting, potentially, into the Matildas for this World Cup was quite extensive and long. It was a two-year battle coming back from an ACL and picking up a little foot injury, it was devastating. This isn't the end of all our journeys. This is just a part of what happens as professional athletes. It's one that is hard to swallow and one we will probably never really get over in a personal aspect. We've seen the passion off the field [by the Australian fans] and that gives us something else that we can take back onto the field and take back to the girls. It gives us more of an edge to have a little fire in our belly for all the other tournaments coming up."

Logarzo has five goals in 13 games and surpassed her previous best in A-League Women when she scored four goals for Sydney FC in 2018-19. Logarzo has also played in the NWSL, WSL, Norway and Sweden. Adriana Taranto and American Hannah Keane both have four goals for joint second on the side in scoring. Australian U-20 international Khali Johnson (19) and Heida are tied with three goals on the season. talked to Western United team captain Jaclyn Sawicki, a native of Canada and also the Philippines national team captain, about differences for Western this season versus their hugely successful expansion year in the league in 2022-23, as well as her reflections on what the Philippines achieved last summer at the World Cup and the path for future success.

Last season, Western United won 13 games and lost 5 for 39 points to finish second in the regular season and then advanced to the Grand Final, where they lost to Sydney FC. They started the 2022-23 season with seven consecutive wins and their longest streak without a win was two matches; they led the league for 13 of 18 weeks. Though they currently are tied for second with Sydney FC after 14 matches, their longest winning streak has been two games (in Round 13 and 14) while their five losses—the same as last season—have all been followed by a win and in general have not been as consistent as last season in terms of multiple wins in a row.

Western United team captain Sawicki explained what has been different for the club this season: "Based off of the results of season one, the girls wanted to come back and see what we could do in season two and make sure that it wasn't a fluke what we did and back each other and make it to a Grand Final again. People might argue that we had a better season one, given the consecutive wins that we had, but regardless of the results, each of the players have been progressing and evolving together and it has been great to see the core group that grew up in Melbourne and is still at Western United [building off of a very young NPL-W side Calder United]."

A big difference as well this season was also the early season coaching change (see above): "Obviously we had a new coach come in—Kat Smith—so I think, with any team, a coaching transition can be difficult but it can be a good challenge for the team and all the girls went in with a very open mind. She [Smith] right off the bat expressed her coaching philosophy and the style of play she is looking to integrate and we took that on board. We knew maybe there would be a few more games where we were trying to find our form but over the last week or two we have been figuring it out with each other, with Kat guiding us and it has been feeling good so far."

Sawicki explained specifically how Smith's style of play has been different from Mark Torcaso's: "For the most part some things are carried over from when Mark and Helen [Winterburn, a native of England who left to take a full-time position with Central Coast Sports College in New South Wales and is in the Australian national youth teams coaching pool] were coaching us. Right now our mentality is aggressive; let's press as high as possible as we can and let's make sure we are connected when we are doing it. In the past, I think we tended to sit off a little more and wait for opposition mistakes to happen but now we are doing everything we can to force it and create our own magic further up the pitch."

Another change this season is the very turbulent nature of the league table (see above), compared to last year, in which the top four (the three Melbourne clubs and Sydney FC) broke away and other than late pushes from Canberra United and Perth Glory, had a sizeable gap over the other league sides.

Sawicki said: "The table has been crazy and this season it will come down to the wire, which is a good thing, which is what you want to see. Perhaps it's every club wanting to invest more in who they are signing and bringing internationals in and ensuring that they are doing whatever they can to put their best foot forward. I'm not sure exactly what it is but I know every game feels do or die and if you are not 100%, you have a chance of not coming out with three points… Wellington is a good example, they were third in the table for pretty much most of the first half of the season and you lose [they had a recent string of four consecutive losses] and you find yourself near the bottom of the table. Every game really counts right now and all the points matter. It's exciting, you want a professional league to be competitive; I'm enjoying how competitive it is this season." had to ask Sawicki about the Philippines phenomenal 1-0 defeat of co-host nation New Zealand in their second group match, a loss that ultimately prevented the Football Ferns from advancing to the knockout stage for the first time ever, saying that: "I get goosebumps just thinking about it. A lot of us [players] never dreamed of qualifying for a World Cup and never dreamed of participating in a World Cup and to get to it and win one game was huge for all of us.

"Just to see the [fan] support that flew all the way to New Zealand and got behind us at that game, while you are playing a host nation at the World Cup, was truly indescribable. It will be a highlight of our careers for the rest of our lives for sure."

She had told us early in 2023 that the New Zealand match was their primary focus in training with their coaches and they just nailed that one in a stirring and tense match that was one of the memorable matches of last summer's tournament.

Sawicki has talked to Tribal before about how important that qualifying for last summer's Finals was to the growth of the game in the Philippines, with U-17 and U-20 youth national teams being restarted and continuing to hold camps to find diaspora around the world, with another one being held in California late in 2023: "Just with that kind of exposure, even for a short amount of time, it attracted younger players to maybe making a decision to try to play for the country they were born in or their blood [diaspora]. It attracted young players to want to represent the Philippines.

"It's good because it makes our player pool greater and internally makes it more competitive and builds a better base for our senior team as well. Really, our senior team has only been consistently together for about two years now, which is super young in the world of national teams. The only way the national team is going to grow is with a development base. Look at the Matildas—some of these players have been playing for the national team for [over a] decade. We don't have anyone like that—there has to be a core foundation in order to be successful."

We asked the Philippines captain what needs to happen to continue the success of 2023 and be in a position to qualify for the next World Cup Finals in 2027 and she said: "In any female sport, continued investment is needed; we need to be playing games, we need to be participating in the FIFA windows, to get that competitive exposure, training and game play in against top nations in the world. That is the only way that we can prepare ourselves to play in big matches. We know qualifying for the World Cup is not an easy task so as much as we can, we need to be supported and just be treated like the professionals that we are. We wake up doing this job. This is what we want to do and we've sacrificed a lot and committed a lot of time to representing our country."

We finally asked her about her future playing plans after the A-League Women season is over this spring, and she said that: "It's open-ended right now. It gets tricky at the end of an A-League season as your body feels it needs time off and I have been going straight since before the World Cup. I do want to stay fit for the national team during the A-League off-season but I will play it by ear right now."

Jaclyn Sawicki, as a captain at the club level—helping Western United to the Grand Final as an expansion team last year and well positioned for a repeat playoff spot this season, after two recent road wins over fellow Melbourne sides Victory (4-1) and City (3-1) —and captaining her national team for their historic 1-0 win over co-host New Zealand last summer, is a valued and experienced player for both teams and a leader and advocate for the growth of the game in the Philippines. In her quiet, thoughtful way, she has been a key element to two successful teams over the past two years and it will be fascinating to follow her in her future club career and with the Philippines in the lead up to 2027 WWC qualifying.

Sydney FC (6-5-3—23 points—Tied for Second)

In Round 10 on December 28, Sydney defeated Wellington 1-0, thanks to U-20 Australian international Jynaya Dos Santos' (18) goal 12 minutes from time in front of a strong holiday crowd of 4,866 at Allianz Stadium. Sydney is tied with Melbourne City with the fewest losses in the league with three and has allowed the fewest goals allowed the fewest goals in the league (11). They went seven games unbeaten in the second third of the season (four ties) but goal scoring is still a problem and they are joint bottom of the league for team goals with Adelaide United on 16. Matilda Cortnee Vine (25) and English import Fiona Worts (27) each have three goals to lead the club, but Worts is lost for at least three months after knee surgery at the turn of the year, while Vine has been struggling with a hamstring injury.

In Round 13, Zara Kruger (17) scored her first A-League Women goal in the 96th minute to give Sydney a 2-1 win over the Newcastle Jets. She played the last two seasons with Brisbane Roar and in the off-season, she plays state league football with Queensland Lions.

Sydney has never missed the playoffs in their history and should make it 16 years in a row, despite their struggles on offense.

Perth Glory (6-4-4 W-D-L—22 points—Fourth)

After starting the season with four consecutive wins and a tie, they have stuttered a bit in the second third of the season, with only six points gained from 21 possible in seven games from mid-December through the end of January, with only one win during that spell—2-1 away against Central Coast Mariners on December 20. On January 7, they lost at home to surprising Western Sydney (1-0) and then tied Melbourne Victory (1-1) away on January 11, thanks to a Melbourne own goal. They still sit in the top six in the table and are in a strong playoff position, though they lost to then bottom side Adelaide United 2-1 away on January 26 in Round 14.

Former English youth international Millie Farrow (27), who left the North Carolina Courage after the 2023 season, leads the club with six goals. New Zealand international Grace Jale (24), Australian youth international Hana Lowry (20) and Australian youth international Susan Phonsongkham (22)—who had 14 goals in 19 games for New South Wales NPLW side Bankstown City last summer and scored five goals in 14 games with KR in Iceland in 2022—each have three goals and Glory is tied for seventh in the league for team goals with 18, along with the Wanderers and the Roar, and is tied with Central Coast for the second best defense in the league with only 15 goals surrendered. Morgan Aquino—who seemingly has been in the league forever (she has been on Perth's roster for seven years but did not play a game for three seasons) but is only 22—has been outstanding this season and has four shutouts. Aquino has been capped at the U-19 level and, with her stellar play, could be a Matilda call in at some point in the near future.

Central Coast Mariners (6-3-5—21 points—Fifth)

The Mariners have played very competitively in their first season back in the league since the franchise's women's team was shut down after year two of the A-League Women (after the 2009 season) for financial reasons. The Mariners, along with Wellington, Newcastle and Western Sydney, have staked claims to serious bids for playoff spots and shows how competitive the league has become this season.

Seventeen-year-old Peta Trimis scored two goals in three games—both wins, including the winner in the Mariners 2-1 win over Wellington away on January 12. She had 10 goals in 21 games earlier this season with the Bulls Academy in the New South Wales NPL W. Her play could see her rise up onto Australia's youth national teams' radar.

Since December 15, over six games the Mariners had only one loss, with three wins and two ties, earning 11 points out of 18, until they fell to Western Sydney at home (2-1) on January 21, but bounced back to defeat Newcastle Jets away 2-0 on January 27 in Round 14.

The Mariners late win over Sydney FC (2-1) on January 17 had tremendous drama. Central Coast Mariners goalkeeper Sarah Langman received a red card with 22 minutes left in the game after receiving her second yellow card given for when she tripped a Sydney attacker just outside of the box. Her earlier yellow card was for time wasting. Since starter Casey Dumont went out of the game at halftime in some obvious pain, and with Langman dispatched, the Mariners had to use defender Ash Irwin (23)—in her first season in the league—in goal and she did well until making a mistake in the 92nd minute shot on Mackenzie Hawkesby's long shot, fumbling the ball into the goal. Now with the score 1-1, it looked like Sydney had rescued a point from a difficult NWS derby.

However, the Mariners captured full points thanks to a 99th goal from Chinese international Wurigumula, who followed up on a penalty kick that Sydney FC and Matilda pool player goalkeeper Jada Whyman (24) had blocked, and slotted the ball into the net—after Sydney defender Tori Tumeth was whistled for handball in the Sydney penalty box. The win lifted the Mariners into fourth spot on the Liberty A-League table from a tie for eighth, just one point behind Sydney in third at the time. Wurigumula has five goals on the season while American forward Rola Badawiya has four goals

Midfielder Briana Woodall (25) was born in the U.S. but plays internationally for Mexico at the youth national team level; she has played in only two games for less than 30 minutes in total after coming to the side following Round 3. She was born in Texas, played collegiately at Oklahoma State and Sam Houston State Universities. She played for the Houston Aces of the WPSL and then in Austria with SC Rheindorf Altach in the ÖFB Frauen Bundesliga. She signed with Club Leon in the Mexican Liga MX Apertura last fall, but did not play in any games.

Western Sydney Wanderers (6-2-5—20 points—Sixth)

The Wanderers have been on a tear since being in a tie for ninth after one third of the regular season and now have a legitimate chance for the playoffs (which would be only their second post-season in 12 years in the league). WSW didn't win a game until Round 5, but that win started a string of three undefeated matches (with one tie), but after a 1-0 home loss to Adelaide two days before Christmas, they won four consecutive matches including wins over playoff contestants Melbourne Victory (2-0 at home), Perth Glory (2-0 away, with Sophie Harding scoring a brace), league leaders Melbourne City (1-0 at home) and Central Coast Mariners (2-1 away).

Harding has 8 goals in 13 games, tied for third with Melbourne Victory's Rachel Lowe—who both trail Canberra United pair Vesna Milivojevic and Michelle Heyman (9 goals each) by one goal—followed by Australian midfielder Holly Caspers (24) with three goals and American defender Vicky Bruce (29), who has played professionally in England, Germany, Cyprus, Denmark, Sweden, Scotland and Iceland and at Davidson College in North Carolina, with two goals in 13 matches. Western Sydney needs to continue their scoring in the final third of the season, as their 18 goals is tied with Perth Glory and Brisbane Roar for seventh best in the league, but their defense has allowed only 16 goals, fourth best in the league (with Wellington Phoenix) behind Sydney FC's seven and Perth Glory and Central Coast Mariners, who both have allowed 15 this season.

Midfielder Holly Caspers (23) scored the Wanderers only goal in the 87th minute in their shock 1-0 win over Melbourne City on January 13. This is her second season with the Wanderers after starting her A-League Women career with Canberra in 2021-22.

American goalkeeper Kaylie Collins (25), on loan from the Orlando Pride of the NWSL and who played at the University of Southern California, has an edge in games played compared with veteran Australian goalkeeper Sham Khamis (28), with Collins playing in eight matches to five for Khamis.

Western Sydney still draws among the lowest crowds in the league, but they are more competitive this season than in past years, shocking Melbourne Victory at home on December 30 in front of only 696 fans. Their season average of just over 1,100 in six games across three home grounds. Amy Harrison (27) and Alexia Apostolakis (17) scored within 7 minutes of the halftime break to give Western the 2-0 win.

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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