W-League review: Melbourne City close in on Premiership; Wanderers leaking oil
The W-League weekend in 280 characters or less
Sydney reclaim derby bragging rights with 3-0 win over Western Sydney Wanderers, Brisbane's finals hopes take a hit after a 4-2 loss to Perth, Canberra stop the rot with 3-1 win over Adelaide, and Melbourne City step closer to the title with 4-0 derby win over Melbourne Victory.
Before we went on hiatus for Australia's Olympic qualifiers, this column suggested that Sydney FC were one of the biggest losers of Round 11 (despite the fact that they didn't actually play a game) after two of the Sky Blues' key players -- Caitlin Foord and Chloe Logarzo -- left the W-League for England's FA Women's Super League. Statistically, losing Foord was a particularly brutal blow for Sydney (she still leads the league in assists and chances created), and Logarzo's work rate in central midfield seemed almost impossible to replace.
Or so we thought. Enter, Amy Sayer and Taylor Ray. The two young Aussies couldn't have been under more pressure in their first game after the break, trying to fill the hole left by two senior Matildas and in none other than the Sydney Derby -- which Sydney lost 5-0 in the reverse fixture in Round 6. But the two teenagers put on a stellar display in midfield, showing a steadiness and wisdom on and off the ball that saw Sydney claim an emphatic 3-0 win over the Wanderers in front of an enthusiastic home crowd.
Head coach Ante Juric was thrilled after the game: "Taylor was outstanding. She hasn't played for a long time [...] I know her qualities; she's one of the smartest footballers in our team so I knew she'd fit in straight away. She plays simple, and that goes well with [Teresa] Polias and Sayer, who's a bit more expressive. So I knew it was going to work well because they're very good players [and] we've had that month which actually helped in terms of that, so I was confident in what they were gonna do but they actually showed it, which was good."
The win cements Sydney's finals spot for the 12th straight season and keeps them within touching distance of leaders Melbourne City. The Premiership title is still mathematically possible for the Sky Blues, so long as they win both their remaining games against Perth and Victory while City must lose both of their games against Wanderers and Brisbane and put a dent in their goal difference. Either way, it was a top performance from a side that hasn't shied away from playing the kids, and now the kids are getting the recognition they deserve.
Melbourne City have one hand on the Premiership trophy after a 4-0 thumping of Melbourne Victory in the final derby of the 2019-20 season. The result equals the biggest ever margin for a Melbourne derby in the W-League's history, and it's fitting that it came from a team that's just two points shy of the record-setting City side that took home the Premiership-Championship double in their inaugural season back in 2015. In fact, City probably should've gone into half-time of Sunday's game with two more goals under their belt, but Scotland international Claire Emslie scuffed two golden chances right in front of goal (even though she made up for it by scoring two of City's four goals).
The only stat you really need to know about how lopsided this game was is that goalkeeper Lydia Williams faced one shot over the entire 90 minutes. Matildas superstars Kyah Simon and Emily van Egmond got on the scoresheet once again, with the latter scoring an absolute peach from outside the box, taking her into a tie for second in the race for the Golden Boot. One point from their remaining two games should be enough to clinch the title for the team that has been undoubtedly the best in the league, even if it took them a little while to convince us of it.
Western Sydney Wanderers
Uh-oh. After their best start to a W-League campaign in their history, the wheels appear to be falling off the Western Sydney wagon. A 4-0 loss to Brisbane Roar in Round 9 was the turning-point: Wanderers have won just one of their last three games since then, including a surprising 3-2 loss to Adelaide before their 3-0 defeat at the hands of Sydney on Saturday. They now sit third in the table -- just two points ahead of Melbourne Victory and five ahead of Brisbane Roar -- and all of a sudden, the task of qualifying for their first-ever semi-final seems a little less certain.
Why? Wanderers didn't just lose three points in Saturday's derby defeat; they also lost three players who have been at the heart of their successes this season: Kristen Hamilton received a red card and automatic one-game suspension, meaning she will miss their crunch-match against Melbourne City next week, as will Ella Mastrantonio who also received a suspension due to yellow-card accumulation. On top of that, Wanderers have officially lost USWNT forward Lynn Williams, the club "parting ways" with the striker so she can focus on the Olympics (so much for competition integrity, huh?).
Wanderers' upcoming game against City looked like the tastiest of the season before this recent collapse put the odds squarely in City's favour. Western Sydney will now likely finish their season with a must-win game against Perth Glory while also hoping that Victory and Brisbane don't overtake them on the ladder. Western Sydney were the story of the season, but now that narrative may have to be re-written into something with a more tragic ending.
Sticking with the "teams whose finals aspirations are in serious doubt" theme, Brisbane didn't do their campaign any favours after losing 4-2 away to Perth on Sunday afternoon. It was the definition of a game of two halves, with Perth running into the half-time break 3-0 up thanks to a double from American import Morgan Andrews and a delightful long chip from her compatriot Crystal Thomas. Like Western Sydney, Brisbane came into the clash with three key players missing: Hayley Raso and Allira Toby have moved on to greener pastures in England and Spain respectively, while midfield lynchpin Katrina Gorry missed out due to suspension. This saw Brisbane have to shuffle things around a bit, moving standout defender Carson Pickett to the left-wing while starting brand-new signing Shea Connors up front.
The lack of chemistry for the Roar was obvious from the opening whistle, with Perth's commanding centre-back partnership of Kim Carroll and Ari Romero keeping Brisbane at bay until an unfortunate error from their goalkeeper saw them concede on the half-hour. There was a bit of poetic justice for former Roar player Ayesha Norrie, though, who again exposed goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold's high line and slotted Perth's fourth in stoppage time. The Glory now jump above Newcastle into seventh, while Brisbane remain three points outside of the top four with Canberra and Melbourne City still to come. Squeaky bum time.
There's not much more to say about Adelaide United other than questions now should be asked of both the club and the coaching set-up. While the men's team has been doing relatively well season after season, even sacking their head coach when there's even a sniff of missing out on finals football, it appears the W-League side is an afterthought.
Ivan Karlovic has the worst win percentage in the competition at 26 percent (nine wins from 35 games) and yet, bizarrely, remains at the helm. There are a number of promising young players coming out of South Australia including Charlotte Grant and Matilda McNamara, but the pinnacle of the sport in their state appears more likely to stunt their growth than to foster it.
As Canberra United have recently done with their sacking of head coach Heather Garriock after consecutive disappointing seasons, continued failure in the W-League ought to carry more serious consequences than simply feeling bad about yourself and promising to try better next time.
Young player to watch
Taylor Ray (Sydney FC)
There is a neat circularity to the return of Sydney FC midfielder Taylor Ray to the W-League this season. Last campaign, Ray suffered the second ACL tear of her short career, crumpling in a heap in Round 11 against the Western Sydney Wanderers in the league's second Sydney Derby, which the Sky Blues won 3-0. Fittingly, it was the same opponent -- almost to the round -- that saw Ray make her triumphant comeback for Sydney this past weekend, helping her team to the same 3-0 scoreline as last time.
The Young Matilda is widely regarded as one of the most naturally-gifted No. 6s in Australian women's football, but two serious knee injuries within two years have thrown up all number of physical and mental challenges (check out this brilliant profile by Liana Buratti). The 18-year-old slotted perfectly into Sydney's midfield in the absence of Matilda Chloe Logarzo, playing with a confidence and understanding that belies not just her age but also the difficult rehabilitation path that got her back on the field.
Ray was absolutely glowing when talking to media after the match: "I'm actually buzzing, I'm so excited. It's been like 13 months for me, so to get back out there with the girls, it's an incredible feeling. And to wear my name again on my shirt, but especially to wear this badge, is the best thing.
"I think I've been nervous for about two weeks now but it was all worth it. I just put the nerves aside because once you step onto that pitch, you forget everything and just focus on your job and what has to be done on the day [...] I just put everything towards it because I love this game so much; it's my passion."
If Ray can stay fit and take care of her knees, there's little doubt she will be in discussions for a senior Matildas spot over the next decade.
Is there a gif of that?
Whether for club or country, Emily van Egmond just can't stop scoring. Both Melbourne City and the Matildas would not be where they are without the classy No.10, whose freedom to operate in a more attacking role in both teams has been crucial in their successes over the past few weeks. Let's just sit back and admire her most recent ridiculous endeavour on a football pitch.