This week, Tim Grainey runs his expert eye over Australia's W-League after the season kicked off last weekend.
Just a few weeks after the U.S.-based NWSL finished its second season, Australia's W-League launched its seventh season last weekend, finishing before the Christmas holidays.
The Grand Final will be held on December 21, earlier than typically, so that some of the grounds and training pitches will be available to teams participating in the 2015 Asian Cup (men's) in January. The eight team W-League was launched in 2008-09, with strong lobbying by then National Team Coach Tom Sermanni, who felt that the national team's program needed a country-wide league to continue to grow and build on their quarterfinal finish at the 2007 Women's World Cup in China, where they courageously battled eventual finalist Brazil, before losing 3-2.
Australia's W-League has become a popular home for off-season North American players from NWSL, including some that are not regulars at home. Some Europeans find their way down under as well. A team-by-team review follows:
Current champion Melbourne Victory returns impressive Australian winger Stephanie Catley after her successful season with Portland Thorns, as well as Australian national goalkeeper Brianna Davey and Turkish international midfielder (and Melbourne native) Gulcan Koca. American defenders Elli Reed and Lauren Barnes (who was a late addition last season for the Victory) arrive from Seattle as does Washington Spirit and U.S. international midfielder Christine Nairn. The Victory lost influential Welsh midfielder Jess Fishlock, who joined Frankfurt on loan after leading Seattle Reign to the NWSL final last month. Also gone are New Zealand midfielder Katie Hoyle and Australian forward Caitlin Friend, who are both now with Notts County in the FA WSL.
2013 League runners-up Brisbane Roar return arguably the biggest star to ever grace the Australian league, current FIFA player of the year and German international goalkeeper Nadine Angerer, who will miss a few weeks due to final German WWC qualifiers. She joins a solid core of Australian returnees: Tameka Butt is an experienced goal scorer, tallying 4 last season and 8 in 2012/13; Butt spent her offseason in Japan with Iga FC Kunoichi as did Elise Kellond-Knight, while Roar captain Claire Polkinghorne was with Japanese power INAC Kobe Leonessa. Australian international midfielder Katrina Gorry won a NWSL title with FC Kansas City this season, scoring once in nine games.
Always strong Canberra United won the premiership last season but fell to Brisbane in the playoff semifinals. Americans Lori Lindsey (Washington), Stephanie Ochs (Houston) and Kendall Fletcher (Seattle) return to the side along with Spirit goalkeeper Chantel Jones, who played for Perth Glory last season, replacing Australian international goalie Lydia Williams who was injured in July while with the Western New York Flash. Australian international forward Michelle Heyman is expected to lead the frontline, having scored 7 goals last season and is the league's all-time leading scorer with 42.
Sydney FC looks to regain the crown they won in 2012/13 and brought in American Jazmyne Spencer from Western New York Flash and Samantha Johnson from Chicago, who both played about half of the time for their NWSL sides. Some new Aussie acquisitions include defender Tiegen Allen (Western Sydney and was just released by Western New York after playing sparingly in 2014) and international midfielder Servet Unzular (Western Sydney). Some significant departures from last season may hurt the Sky Blue, particularly English international forward Jodie Taylor, who led the W-League last season with 10 goals and has not returned after a successful season with Washington Spirit. The departures of Australian forwards Samantha Kerr and Caitlin Foord to Perth will also hurt their attack. Other departures are Australian defender Danielle Brogan and New Zealand international defender Anna Green, who are now with Notts County.
The Western Sydney Wanderers - such a tremendous on and off the field success on the men's side - look to make the playoffs for the first time in their third season in the W-League, after finishing seventh last season. The Wanderers have turned over their roster considerably from last season, bringing in American Keelin Winters who captained the Seattle Reign from her midfield spot and goalkeeper Sham Khamis from Sydney; both should be useful acquisitions. Gone are Newcastle Jets bound forward Emily Van Egmond (who was recently released by the Chicago Red Stars of NWSL) and midfielder Tori Huster (Washington Spirit), as well as fellow American forward Shawna Gordon, who won a North American W-League title last summer with L.A. Blues and is now in Sweden with Umea.
Perth Glory looks to return to the playoffs for only the second time in seven seasons, having qualified in 2012/13. Two transfers from Sydney should boost the squad: Caitlin Foord after a season with Sky Blue FC and Sam Kerr, who had a tremendous season with Western New York, where she scored 9 goals. Former Canadian U-20 national team captain Shelina Zadorsky joins from the USL's W-League Ottawa Fury; she previously played at the University of Michigan under former U.S. National Team head coach Greg Ryan. Glory returnees include Australian international forward and Swedish league veteran Kate Gill-who scored six goals last season--and midfielder Collette McCallum, who spent time with Lincoln (now Notts County) Ladies in 2012.
Adelaide United--Though the team from South Australia finished in sixth place in 2013/14, they won more games (3) and achieved more points (13) than they ever had in five previous league seasons. Former Australian international goalkeeper Melissa Barbieri, long-time English Premier League player (and international for both the Three Lions and Australia and a native of Adelaide) Kristy Moore and Norwegian international forward Lisa-Marie Woods are all back along with new defensive signing Katrine Pedersen from Norway's Stabaek, who played with Fulham a decade ago when they were fully professional and has over 200 caps for Denmark. Katie Holtham of Notts County joins Adelaide, after playing for Perth a few years before.
All Newcastle Jets won last season was the wooden spoon, as they had one tie and 11 losses in their twelve matches. The Jets brought in three Americans-two of whom had played with them before in 2012/13-Tori Huster (Washington Spirit/Western Sydney Wanderers), Angela Salem (Western New York Flash) and her Flash teammate Katherine Reynolds. Australian international goal scorer Emily Van Egmond (whose father coached the men's Jets A-League side for years) arrives from Western Sydney and the Chicago Red Stars. Australian international midfielder Georgia Yeoman-Dale is an important signing from Canberra.
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 your copy today.
Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey
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