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The Week In Women’s Football: Title holders Melbourne City open account on opening W-League weekend

The Australia's Westfield W-League begins its ninth consecutive season this weekend, with the same nine teams as last season in the semiprofessional national league.

The end-of- season playoffs will see the first placed team host the fourth placed team, and the second placed team at home against the third placed team. The winner of each semi-final will advance to the Grand Final, which will be hosted by the higher ranked of the two teams on Sunday February 12, 2017.

We look at each team's prospects (in order from their 2015/16 regular season finish) and some changes in the rosters from last season. We then present the results from Week 1.

Melbourne City (First; 12-0- 0 36 pts)

The expansion side in 2015/16 set a standard that the other W-League sides will strive to match, winning the Premiership and Grand Final without losing a game, though City's semifinal with Brisbane Roar was decided on penalties (5-4) after 120 minutes of scoreless play.

Melbourne City were only the second side to go undefeated in a season, after Canberra United in 2011/12, who had three regular season ties in their ten matches, compared with all victories for City. Melbourne City also set a league record for fewest goals allowed in a season (4), points in a season (36) and goal difference of +34.

Their two home playoff games drew a combined attendance exceeding 8,500—again a game changer for the W-League.

Australian World Cup and Olympic Games winger Steph Catley and defender Laura Alleway (both Orlando Pride) return for their second season with City, as does fellow international Larissa Crummer, who scored 11 goals last season to win the league's Golden Boot. Versatile midfielder/back Aivi Luik, who played at the University of Nevada-Reno and for years with FC Indiana, returns after a season with Notts County in the FA Super League. Luik missed out on the last two World Cup teams as a late cut and then injury respectively. Welsh international midfielder Jess Fishlock returns to the club for her second season on loan from Seattle Reign. Accompanying her from the Reign will be American defender Lauren Barnes, who played in Australia with cross-town rival Melbourne Victory in the 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons.

Erika Tymrak comes to Melbourne City on loan from FC Kansas City. Tymrak, the NWSL Rookie of the Year in 2013, has 14 goals and 11 assists in 78 games for the Blues over four seasons. Tymrak has three U.S. national team caps and one goal; she played with Bayern Munich in Germany after the NWSL's first season. This is her first season in Australia.

Australian international goalkeeper Lydia Williams joins City on loan from the Houston Dash after many seasons with Canberra United. Williams has played in the NWSL with the Western New York Flash in 2014 before tearing her ACL on national team duty; she has had her option renewed for 2017 by the Dash. Australian international Tiegen Allen (who played briefly with WNY Flash in 2014) is also a new acquisition for the champions, having played previously with both Sydney sides.

Kim Little—such a force in midfield last season—transferred recently from Seattle to Arsenal—at this point is not scheduled to play in the W-League this winter (though teams typically can add to their rosters throughout the campaign). City needs to replace her 8 goals and overall instinctive play in midfield. Beattie Goad, who scored four goals and has two W-League Grand Finals—one with each Melbourne side—is now playing with Stanford University in California and will also miss the season. Monique Iannella has also gone off to university in the States, playing at powerhouse University of Texas.

Canberra United (Second; 8-2- 2-26 pts)

Canberra United lost in the semifinals last year to Sydney FC but the two-time league champions (2011/12 and 2014/15) should be in the hunt again for a third crown. They made arguably the most notable international signing for the league this season by inking Yukari Kinga on loan from her Japanese club side INAC Kobe Leonessa. The 32-year-old defensive midfielder has 100 caps for her country with five goals and won the 2011 World Cup. Kinga played for Arsenal in the Super League in 2014. United have signed Australian international defender Ellie Brush, who was recently released by the Houston Dash after two seasons with the club, along with her former Dash teammate Stephanie Ochs, who played with Canberra United two seasons ago when they won the league title. Other NWSL vets are Australian international Hayley Raso (Portland Thorns), who returns to Canberra after spending last season with the Melbourne Victory, and Thorns teammate Celeste Boureille, who played at the University of California and in Iceland with Selfoss before joining Portland. Goalkeeper Trudy Burke returns to Canberra, where she played in seasons 5 and 6, before joining up with Western Sydney Wanderers and Melbourne City.

Jasmyne Spencer comes on loan from the Orlando Pride of the NWSL, coached by former Australian and U.S. National Team head coach Tom Sermanni, but is well known in the league after two high scoring seasons with Sydney FC. Spencer has scored 13 goals in two seasons with Sydney. Spencer played for Washington Spirit and the Western New York Flash before joining the expansion Pride this season. Spencer has 10 goals in 79 matches in four NWSL seasons.

Australian international forward Ashleigh Sykes scored 7 goals last season and has 24 in her W-League career. Sykes won the Julie Dolan Medal last season as the W-League's best player. Sykes has played all 8 previous seasons of the W-League with Canberra and spent the off-season in Japan with Nadeshiko League 2 side AS Harima Albion, a small club based an hour from Osaka. Sykes talked about her first club experience abroad to the website: “It was great to see a different style of football. The first couple of teams in our league were really strong. Overall the W-League is a little bit better [keep in mind that Sykes played in the second tier in Japan]. Everyone [in Australia] has a good understanding of football which comes down to the good coaching we have. There is high quality technique in Japan, so they are different styles of games. Culturally Japanese are so nice and welcoming, and I met a lot of new friends over there. It was a nice place to live. It was good to experience a new lifestyle and new style of football also."

Michelle Heyman (the W-League's all-time leading scorer with 55), who played with the Western New York Flash in 2015, powered Canberra last season with five goals, second on the team to Sykes' seven tallies. Hannah Brewer comes from Melbourne City and has played with Newcastle, Melbourne Victory and the Seattle Sounders in the now-defunct North American-based W-League.

Sydney FC (Third; 6-1- 5 for 19 pts)

Sydney FC, like Canberra and Brisbane, is aiming to be the first W-League side to win three titles and finished runners-up to Melbourne City last season, falling in the Grand Final by a 4-1 scoreline. Kyah Simon, who scored Sydney's loan goal in the Grand Final and had three goals during the regular season, is back from the Boston Breakers. Other Australian internationals with NWSL ties include Caitlin Foord (Sky Blue FC), who returns to Sydney FC after two seasons in Perth, and defender Alanna Kennedy, who won a NWSL title last month with the Western New York Flash. Australian international defender Georgia Yeoman-Dale is an experienced addition from Newcastle. Returnees include Australian youth internationals Natalie Tobin in midfield and Princess Ibini at forward.

Former Australian international midfielder Servet Unzular (ex-Pali Blues in the USL's W-League) returns to the Sky Blue's after a year off and is a significant addition but look for other notable signings to come to replace the departure of Australian Tiegen Allen (Melbourne City) and American Jasmyne Spencer (Canberra United).

Brisbane Roar (Fourth; 5-1- 6 for 16 points)

Brisbane bounced back from missing the playoffs for the first time in the 2014-15 season, arguably giving Melbourne City their toughest match of the season in the semifinals, losing on penalties. The Roar struggled during the first half of the season—at one point they had only 2 wins with 5 losses but rallied down the stretch with three wins and a tie in their last five matches, clinching the playoff berth on the last weekend by tying Newcastle Jets at home, when a loss would have given the Jets the playoff berth.

Katrina Gorry (who won the 2014 NWSL title with FC Kansas City) is back after helping the Matildas to the quarterfinals of the Rio Olympics last summer. Striker Emily Gielnik has re-signed with Brisbane Roar FC after spending the off-season on load with Urawa Red Diamonds in Japan and had previously played for Liverpool (in 2012) and Ottawa Fury (in 2013). Midfielder Sunny Franco returns to Brisbane following a season with Sydney FC while goalkeeper Georgina Worth has joined the Roar from Canberra United. The Roar have added some international flavour into the squad with American midfielder/defender Maddy Evans (ex-Penn State) from the Orlando Pride, who played three previous seasons with Boston Breakers, and Danish defender Nina Frausing-Pedersen, who won a FA Super League title with Liverpool in 2014, played with Turbine Potsdam in Germany in 2015 and most recently was with Rosengard of Sweden, though she only played one game as an injury fill-in. Frausing-Pedersen played collegiately at the University of Texas and the University of California.

Adelaide United (Tie for Fifth 3-4- 5 for 13 points)

Last season, Adelaide fell just short of their first ever playoff berth in their eight previous seasons in the league and tied their club record for most points in a campaign (13). This side, now managed by the A-League Reds instead of the South Australian federation, is desperate to make the playoffs, following in their brothers' path, who won the A-LeaguePremiership and Grand Final last season (3-1 over Western Sydney Wanderers).

Brazilian international defender Monica Hickmann Alves arrives on loan from the Orlando Pride—the first Brazilian to play in the league. Monica played 16 games with the Pride and has 40 caps for Brazil, including playing on the 2014 Copa America Femenina winning side and the 2016 Rio Olympics fourth place side. The Reds will be boosted by a trio of Chicago Red Star players, who will bring cohesion and skill to the side: Danielle Colaprico, Sofia Huerta and Katie Naughton. Danielle Colaprico (ex-University of Virginia) was the NWSL Rookie of the year in 2015 and recently spent time training with the U.S. National Team. Sofia Huerta (ex-Santa Clara University) is an experienced Mexican/American with international youth experience for Mexico but has indicated her goal to play for the full U.S. national team. In two years with the Red Stars, she has scored 13 goals and 5 assists in just two seasons. Katie Naughton (ex-University of Notre Dame) was a rookie for Chicago this season and played 16 matches, mostly as a central defender.

Newcastle Jets (Tied for Fifth; 3-4- 5 for 13 points)

Like Adelaide, the Newcastle Jets are desperate to follow-up on their near miss of the semifinals last season, finishing three points behind the Roar. They have only made the postseason once in their history after their second place finish in season one (2008/09) but came close the last two seasons, missing the postseason by 1 and 3 points respectively.

Head Coach Craig Deans played in the NSL and A-League, winning titles with Perth Glory as a defender. Deans must replace Australian international forward Tara Andrews who is taking the season off. Andrews was a revelation in two seasons with the Colorado Pride of the now defunct American W-League, winning the Most Valuable Player title in 2015. Andrews had three goals last season and 26 since beginning with the Jets in 2009/10 as a 15 year old.

A strong returnee is Australian Olympic Games member in Rio Chloe Logarzo. The 21-year-old played in 8 games for Eskilstuna United of Sweden, starting 7 since arriving after the Rio Olympics. The 2017 Swedish league season starts in the spring, but expect to see Logarzo continue to play in Europe, mostly likely again in Sweden. Logarzo scored 8 goals for the Colorado Pride of the W-League in 2014.

American forward Jen Hoy, who played at Princeton University, joins the Jets after four seasons with Chicago Red Stars with 13 goals in 69 games. Hoy will be looked upon to have the same scoring impact that her Red Stars teammate Vanessa DiBernardo had last season with Perth (6 goals in 8 games) since Newcastle only had 9 goals in 12 games in the 2015/16 campaign—the lowest total of any team in the league. Hoy needs to have a strong season down-under or this team, which was focused on signing trialists from Australian State League teams, could struggle greatly. Hoy will have a friendly face on the back line with defender Arin Gilliland—the second year Red Stars defender was a finalist for Defender of the Year this past season in the NWSL. Defender Megan Oyster and goalkeeper Kelsey Wys join the side on loan from the Washington Spirit.

Deans' has a young side and a prime example is Tara Pender (19), who traditionally plays on the right wing and was recruited by the Western Sydney Wanderers last year. She only played one game for the Wanderers and coincidently it was against the Jets. Elizabeth O'Reilly, 24, joins the side from Sydney University and last played in the W-League during its first season in 2008/09 for the now defunct Central Coast Mariners FC, when she was just 16 years old. O'Reilly said to “I went to college after it and played for the University of Wyoming. It was an awesome experience; over there you get treated like a professional. Coming back this year into the W-League it has really stepped up and changed since when it started, the professionalism has really increased….It has been my goal to get back into the W-league and I am excited and thankful to have been recruited into the team. I think we will have a real chance this season, I don't think many people rate us and I think we will be a good underdog team."

Western Sydney Wanderers (Seventh; 3-3- 6 for 12 points)

The Western Sydney Wanderers—such a tremendous marketing and playing success on and off the field on the men's side, including an Asian Football Confederation Champions League title in 2014—look to make the playoffs for the first time in their fifth season in the W-League, after finishing seventh in 2015/16. The Wanderers have a new coach in Rich Byrne, a U.K. native who has coached at home, in New Zealand and in Australia.

Bryne will be assisted by former Matilda's midfielder Leah Blayney, who played at Auburn and Central Connecticut State University and had a short spell with the Boston Breakers in WPS and Eskilstuna of Sweden. Forward Helen Peinos and defender Caitlin Cooper return for their fourth season with the club.

The Wanderers signed four Americans on loan: forward Katie Stengel from the Washington Spirit—who did well in a short time with Bayern Munich, midfielder Kendall Fletcher from the Seattle Reign and who played last season at Canberra, defender Alex Arlitt (ex-Louisiana State University) from FC Kansas City and Paige Neilsen (ex-University of North Carolina) who played two games for the Seattle Reign and then joined Apollon Limassol of Cyprus on loan. This quartet could help push the Wanderers into the postseason for the first time.

Perth Glory (Eight; 3-2- 7 for 11)

The Western Australian club fell off the proverbial cliff last season after posting their best ever season in 2014/15, winning the Premiership (league table) before falling to Canberra in the Grand Final by a 3-1 score. Chicago Red Stars midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo returns after a sensational mid-season loan spell that resulted in 6 goals in 8 games played, bursting onto the W-League scene by scoring three braces.

Primarily a provider in NWSL, it will be interesting to see if she repeats her goalscoring vein in the Western city now that opposing teams most likely will be marking her more closely. Australian international forward Sam Kerr returns from a strong season with Sky Blue FC and should be a key in leading the attack. New additions to the W-League from abroad include three with NWSL experience. Forward/midfielder Alyssa Mautz comes on loan from the Red Stars and has played 71 regular season games for the Red Stars over four seasons with 9 goals and 5 assists. Midfielder Nikki Stanton arrives after 3 seasons in a substitute role with Sky Blue FC, playing 25 games with only 7 starts.

Arianna Romero, a Mexico 2015 World Cup player who was with the Houston Dash in 2014, landed this past summer in Iceland, turning down an NWSL offer to play in Europe.
Last year's coaching tandem is back for the Glory. Head coach Bobby Despotovski, who played striker for Perth Glory for years in the NSL—the predecessor to the A-League—and won a few caps for Australia. Despotovski again has ex-Matilda Collette McCallum as his assistant coach. McCallum played 50 W-League games for the Glory Women and made 81 appearances for Australia, scoring 11 goals for the Matildas. McCallum, born in Scotland, played for Lincoln City for a short time in 2012 and in the United States.

Melbourne Victory (Ninth; 2-1- 9 for 7 points)

Melbourne Victory didn't post their first win last season until their sixth game of the season in a 3-1 win in Perth. Expect this season to be more like other seasons, when they have made the playoffs five consecutive seasons (2010/11 through 2014/15) and won a Grand Final in 2013/14.

New loan players from NWSL include defender Samantha Johnson from Chicago Red Stars. Johnson, who has been a mainstay in Chicago's defense for the past three seasons, played in the league for Sydney FC in 2014/15. Goalkeeper Bianca Henninger—a Mexican full international and U.S. youth international—comes on loan from the Houston Dash. Other NWSL imports who are returning include U.S. international Christine Nairn from the Washington Spirit for her third consecutive season with the Victory and English international forward Natasha Dowie from the Boston Breakers. Dowie was a late season acquisition last season for the Victory and scored 2 goals.

Australian international wing back Caitlin Friend returns to the side. Selin Kuralay played at Florida State University and for the Hampton Roads Piranhas of the USL's W-League a decade ago. She was a 2004 Athens Olympic Games team member and played in the first two U-19 (now U-20) World Cups in 2002 (Canada) and 2004 (Thailand). Gulcan Koca has been a Victory mainstay since the second season (2009/10) and is an international for Turkey. Forward Melinda (Mindy) Barbieri scored two goals last season for Victory as a 15-year-old and the U-20 Matilda is a young talent to watch.

Week 1 Results

Round 1 games in the Westfield W-League, with Canberra United having the week off with a bye, included wins by Brisbane, champions Melbourne City and Perth.

On Saturday November 5, Brisbane Roar won at home 2-1 versus Sydney FC before a stand-alone W-League game record crowd of 3,105 at Spencer Park in Brisbane. Allira Toby scored on her Roar debut in the second half with her first touch of the ball on a header and Australian international striker Katrina Gorry scored the winner for the Roar. Toby played during the offseason for semi-pro side Brisbane Olympic and last season for

Adelaide United. Sydney FC's Caitlin Foord scored the league's first goal of the season early in the second half.

On Sunday November 6, Adelaide United and Melbourne Victory 3-3 tied in Adelaide before a strong crowd of 2,013, in an exciting game which included six minutes of injury time at the end of the second half. Stella Rigon and Adriana Jones—who joined from Newcastle Jets this season—and Brazilian defender Monica (on loan from Orlando Pride) scored the Adelaide goals while Natasha Dowie (Boston Breakers) scored a brace for Victory and Selin Kuralay (ex-Florida State and former Matilda) added a third goal for the Victory, who came from behind three times in the match.

The vibrant play of both sides and a point gained can be interpreted as a good sign for both teams; Adelaide managed their first tie (with two wins) in 14 games in their series with the Victory while Victory scored three times, after only scoring 10 goals all last season—two by Dowie as a late season addition.

Also on November 6, Melbourne City defeated Newcastle Jets 1-0 at home in front of 633 fans. Marianna Tabain scored an early goal—the 28 th of her W-League career and 8 th for City—as the reigning champions continued their remarkable string of never having lost a W-League match.

The third game on Sunday was in Perth's NIB Stadium when the home side Glory defeated Western Sydney Wanderers 4-2 at NIB Stadium in Perth before a solid crowd of 2,011, behind two second half goals by Sam Kerr (Sky Blue FC). Caitlin Doeglas and Rosie Sutton added first half goals by Perth, countered by tallies from Jo Burgess—the former Australian international who returned to the Red and Black after two seasons off, having retired from the game--and Helen Petinos.

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

Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey

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