This week, we present part one of our 2020/21 Westfield W-League season review. Today we look at the four teams that have qualified for the playoffs after a very close exciting playoff race left Adelaide United out of the top four, despite setting club records for wins (7) and points (22). Spare a thought for the South Australian side, whose 22 points would have given them a semifinal spot in each of the past six seasons; in some cases a team qualified with as few as 16 points from 12 games and they are still seeking a first ever playoff spot after 13 seasons in the league.
This 2020/21 campaign saw Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory repeating in the playoffs from the previous season—Sydney FC has never missed the playoffs in their 13 W-League seasons—while Canberra United and Brisbane Roar replaced 2019/20 Champions Melbourne City and debutants Western Sydney Wanderers for 2020/21. We also present some general thoughts on this W-League season and look briefly at the average game attendance figures for this difficult year during the pandemic.
We also have the final 2023 Women's World Cup stadiums and host cities for the tournament that will be hosted jointly by Australia and New Zealand. Next week we will examine the other five W-League sides.
Australian Westfield W-League 2020/21 Regular Season Review
Note: The teams are presented below in order of their current table position in the league.
Sydney FC (9-1-2—28 points—First)
As one of two sides with no imports this season (Newcastle United is the other), their core of Jada Whyman in goal—who had six shutouts including four in a row during the first half of the season—Australian international defender Ellie Brush—though she only played five games as she tore her ACL mid-way through the season (she had stopped playing Aussie Rules football this season with the Greater Sydney Giants to concentrate on soccer and was rewarded with a fine season, including scoring one goal, until she was forced off of the pitch)—and long-time Sydney captain and iconic midfielder Teresa Polias, who was outstanding all season and was second in the league in assists with 5—two behind Isabel Dalton of Brisbane who had four—and in crosses with 64—three behind Kyra Cooney-Cross of Melbourne Victory, who had 67. Polias, who rarely scores, tallied the first goal in Sydney's 2-1 win in their final game against Melbourne Victory, clinching their third Premiership plate for the regular season championship, their first since 2010/11
Forward Cortnee Vine had an amazing season with 4 goals and 3 assists and was third in goal scoring behind Princess Ibini (5)—who had two braces during the season—and Remy Siemsen with 7, who also had two braces. Vine (22) is in her first season in Sydney after five seasons across Brisbane, Newcastle and Western Sydney; she is definitely one that coach Ante Juric should bring back for future seasons. Mackenzie Hawksby (20), in her second season with the club, totaled 2 goals and 2 assists and is a good young prospect to watch. The Sky Blues led the table for virtually the entire season and will be very difficult to stop as they head towards their second league championship in three seasons.
Brisbane Roar (7-4-1—25 points—Second)
It took the Roar some time to get their offense going, starting the season with four straight ties and only scoring twice during the first third of the season—but then the floodgates opened in their Round 5 6-0 home win over Melbourne Victory. Matilda Emily Gielnik, back from a successful fall campaign in Sweden with Vittsjo when she finished with 8 goals in 16 games, led the W-League in scoring with 13. Gielnik tied the record for most goals in a W-League campaign with Chelsea's Sam Kerr, who did it twice in 2017/18 and 2018/19. The Roar ended up leading the league in scoring with 29 goals. As they enter the playoffs though, they lose two lynchpins as Gielnik returns to Vittsjo for her second season accompanied by captain and center back Clare Polkinghorne and they both had to miss the playoff matches with the start of the Damallsvenskan imminent. Gielnik has proven her quality with Vittsjo and Brisbane after leaving Bayern Munich in Germany, where she had few opportunities to break into the starting eleven. Brisbane signed former Australian U-17 and U-20 international Sunny Franco, who had two goals this season with Newcastle Jets, as playoff support. Franco previously played for the Roar in the 2013/14 and 2014 seasons and then on a second occasion in 2016/17; she has also spent a season with Sydney FC and the Wanderers.
It was a successful second season as head coach for English-born Jake Goodship, who no doubt felt some pressure after missing the playoffs last season, only the third time in the team's history. During the off-season, he turned down better-paying opportunities in the men's NPL with clubs in Melbourne and Brisbane and was rewarded by his commitment to the women's game as his side only lost one game all year, the fewest losses among the W-League's 9 teams.
Melbourne Victory (7-2-3—23 points—Third)
It has been an up and down season for Melbourne Victory, with a pair of 6-0 wins over Melbourne City and late in the season in Round 14 over Perth (when they jumped from out of the playoff spots to third and had a chance to win the Premiership early the week of the semifinals in their Round 13 make-up match at Sydney FC, when torrential rains in New South Wales postponed the first attempt—Victory ultimately lost 2-1 to Sydney FC) countered by a 6-0 shellacking by Brisbane Roar and their three losses are the most by the four semifinalists. However, making the playoffs for the third consecutive season is a worthy accomplishment for veteran women's club coach Jeff Hopkins who guided Brisbane Roar to four Grand Finals in the first four years of the W-League (winning a pair of league titles); the native of Wales is such a positive influence on his players. He played internationally for Wales and many years with Fulham in England as well as stints in Malaysia and Australia.
New Zealand international Claudia Bunge was a good new addition in midfield and contributed two goals on the season. American forward Cat Zimmerman—moved up from the local NPLW state league—had a strong season in attack with 5 goals and was a good replacement for former English international's Natasha Dowie (now AC Milan in Italy) seven goals in 2019/20 and Zimmerman missed a few games through a leg injury. Young Australians Melina Ayers (21) and Kyra Cooney-Cross (19) each ended the season with 5 goals as well, with Cooney-Cross ending the season with a late flurry of three goals in her last two games. Both Ayers and Cooney-Cross are expected to move abroad within the next year or two, with both mentioned frequently in discussions with international club coaches. Argentinian international and American-raised Gaby Garton was stellar in goal and led the league with six shutouts.
Canberra United (6-4-2—22 points—Tied for Fourth)
Canberra United slowed down after a blistering start of 11 points from their first 6 games with only one loss. They won three games with injury-time goals—two by Michelle Heyman and the other by Nicki Flannery—and held Sydney FC to a nervy 0-0 tie in their last regular season match at home to clinch a playoff spot; both Adelaide and Canberra finished their regular seasons with 22 points but the Greens advanced to the playoffs over Adelaide on the narrowest of margins in goal differential (+5 to +4). The tie against Sydney FC was only the third goalless deadlock of the season and first since Round 2.
Michelle Heyman's return to the club after a year off in retirement was stunning and she finished second in the league in scoring with 10 goals. She eclipsed 100 W-League games during the season and now is the all-time goal scoring leader again with 73 goals, replacing Sam Kerr (70 goals), who had taken the title away from Heyman originally.
The Green's defensive midfield and former U.S. international Kendall Fletcher (36) was a key addition in the back, not having played for the club since appearing in 2 games in the 2017/18 season, though she bizarrely missed two penalty kicks in just over a minute late in the road game against Perth in Round 12 on March 11, with Heyman having to rescue the three points with a late winner, and ultimately those two additional standing points were the difference in Canberra making the playoffs.
Nicki Flannery (22) was a revelation up front all season, particularly with her late winner against Melbourne City (see: The Week in Women's Football: W-League midseason review; Interview with Nicky Flannery; West Ham sign van Egmond; - Tribal Football)
and Grace Maher (21) had a goal of the year candidate from near midfield in a 1-1 tie with Brisbane. Maher, who played in in Iceland in 2019 with KR, had two goals on the season.
2020/21 Westfield W-League Final Premiership Table
GP W D L GF GA Pts
Sydney FC 12 9 1 2 26 11 28
Brisbane Roar 12 7 4 1 29 12 25
Melbourne Victory 12 7 2 3 25 14 23
Canberra United 12 6 4 2 21 16 22
Adelaide United 12 7 1 4 22 18 22
Western Sydney Wanderers 12 4 1 7 13 21 13
Melbourne City FC 12 4 1 7 11 23 13
Newcastle Jets 12 2 1 9 14 21 7
Perth Glory 12 0 1 11 7 32 1
General Thoughts on the Season
The W-League did an excellent job in running the 2020/21 season and had to deal with scheduling changes due to states (like Western Australia) not allowing teams to travel in at points during the season because of COVID-19 restrictions, a rain bomb in New South Wales late in the season which forced what became the Premiership decider between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory to be moved until after the regular season ended. At times, the constant scheduling changes became hugely confusing to followers of the league, the media and even players, but the FFA and the league did a great job while ensuring player, staff and fan safety, and their team protocols were effective for when sides had road trips.
2020-21 W-League Attendance
2020/21 Westfield W-League average per game attendance in this odd COVID-19 driven season was unofficially 1,074—approximately the same as in 2015/16—and the lowest since that season (six years ago), but two games had to be moved into AAMI Stadium from other venues because of field quality issues and held without fans because they had not gotten approval from the State in time for the AAMI venue. One of these games was the Round 7 Melbourne City 0 vs. Sydney FC 2 rematch of last season's Grand Final, along with Melbourne Victory1 vs. Western Sydney Wanderers 0 in Round 11. The record for average attendance in a season was 2,139 in 2017/18. Overall, in a COVID-19 affected year, the attendance figures are solid, given that so many Australian internationals were not playing in the league this season as they were signed with European clubs whose seasons overlapped with the W-League, which started over a month later this year to match the A-League kickoff. It provided more opportunities for double-headers but prevented virtually all NWSL loanees, particularly as their pre-seasons started six weeks earlier this year as they added an in-season competition—the 2021 Challenge Cup. COVID also limited the number of internationals who came to the league, particularly since travel restrictions for travelers from abroad resulted in some not knowing when and if they would be allowed back into the country if they left for a national team camp or game. A huge plus on the season was the crowd of 5,159 for Adelaide's last game of the season—a critical 3-1 win over Western Sydney in Round 13 on March 21—a record for the club in a standalone women's league game in South Australia.
FIFA Selects 9 host cities and 10 stadiums in Australia and New Zealand for the 2023 Women's World Cup.
Earlier this week, FIFA selected the host cities and stadiums for the 2023 Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand:
- Adelaide – Hindmarsh Stadium (18,435 capacity)
- Brisbane – Brisbane Stadium (52,263)
- Melbourne – Melbourne Rectangular Stadium (30,052)
- Perth – Perth Rectangular Stadium (22,225)
- Sydney – Stadium Australia (70,000) and Sydney Football Stadium (42,512)
- Auckland / Tāmaki Makaurau – Eden Park (48,276)
- Dunedin / Ōtepoti – Dunedin Stadium (28,744)
- Hamilton / Kirikiriroa – Waikato Stadium (25,111)
- Wellington / Te Whanganui-a-Tara – Wellington Stadium (39,000)
Five cities and six stadiums were selected in Australia and four cities/stadiums in New Zealand so both nations are really sharing this tournament, unlike the 2026 men's World Cup tri-hosted by the U.S., Mexico and Canada, with the Americans set to hold about 70% of the matches.
Auckland (Eden Park) will stage the opener and Sydney (Stadium Australia) the Final and each nation will also be home to a semifinal. Of the original bidders before the two nations won the right to host the tournament in the summer of 2020, Newcastle Stadium in New South Wales and Lauceston in Tasmania for Australia and Christchurch in New Zealand were not selected to host matches, but could be in line for a team's training camp or even exhibition matches prior to the tournament. It was unlikely that all 12 bidding cities would have been included—just for cost reasons, even before COVID 19 hit. Speaking on the venue announcement for global women's event in 2023, Gianni Infantino, FIFA President, said, "Building on the incredible success of France 2019 both on and off the pitch, the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 and 9 Host Cities across Australia and New Zealand will not only showcase the world's very best players, but will also provide a powerful platform to unite and inspire people, transform lives and create a lasting legacy for women's football in Australia and New Zealand and around the world."
This is exciting news and reminds us that the 2023 WWC is a little over two years away and should be a blockbuster event and warmly received in both nations.
Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham on the global game of women's football. Get yours copy today.
Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey