W-League review: Kyah Simon's recovery is a boost for Melbourne City and Matildas
The W-League weekend in 280 characters or less
City extend their unbeaten streak with 4-0 thrashing of Canberra, Newcastle's game against Adelaide is rescheduled due to heat and smoke, and Western Sydney record their first loss of the season after a 4-0 drubbing at home to Brisbane Roar.
Kyah Simon has had A Week. On Wednesday, the veteran striker was recalled by Australia for their Olympic qualifiers in February -- her first call-up since the pre-World Cup camp held in Turkey last May. Prior to that, the Melbourne City attacker hadn't featured in a Matildas game since Nov. 2018. Injuries have plagued her career for both club and country for a number of years now, but rehab and appropriate load management has seen Simon begin to show glimpses of her former self.
On Thursday, those glimpses were on show as Simon scored a brace against Canberra United to help lift Melbourne City to the top of the W-League ladder. While City naturally took some time to get going this season, they're now playing like the well-oiled machine we know them for, which has coincided with Simon's gradual return to fitness and form. If she can continue her rise and avoid the injury troubles that have plagued her for years, it can only be a good thing for the Matildas' Tokyo 2020 qualification hopes.
Is it just me, or have we been waiting for a Brisbane Roar performance like this all season? They haven't struggled for goals so much as they've struggled to keep other teams from outscoring them; Brisbane have only earned a clean sheet twice so far this season, and all but one of their matches has featured two or more goals. The last match between Brisbane and Western Sydney was one of those games: even though they looked dangerous, they weren't able to keep their opposition out of their own net.
There were signs that it might not be Brisbane's day once again after Tameka Yallop, arguably the Roar's best attacking player this season, pulled out of their reverse fixture against Western Sydney on Sunday through injury. But Yallop's absence seemed to force her teammates to step up, and it worked. While the first half was a tense, cagey affair, the second exploded into life from the opening whistle, and almost all the momentum went Brisbane's way. A combination of the Roar's incessant attacking pressure and Western Sydney's uncharacteristic defensive frailties saw Brisbane score four goals in 20 minutes, including two in two. It's one thing to put four past the team that beat you 3-1 the first time around, but to do it away from home and to keep another clean sheet against the team many expected would storm to the Premiership undefeated is something else.
The Roar will take more than just three points back to Queensland: they're now back in the top four, Matildas veteran Elise Kellond-Knight earned her first start of the season and looked superb alongside Katrina Gorry, goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold had one of her best stints between the sticks, Allira Toby has found her shooting boots after scoring a brace, and youngsters Hollie Palmer and Leah Davidson repaid their head coach's faith in them by combining beautifully for the Roar's third goal. The second half of this season is shaping up to be a cracker.
When your first touch of a game is picking the ball out of your own net, you know you're in for a bad time. Canberra United goalkeeper Sham Khamis became all too familiar with what a bad time feels like after her side's 4-0 demolition on Thursday night at the hands of Melbourne City. What's worse is that two of those four goals were penalties; both of which were given away by ... Sham Khamis.
The former Sydney FC goalkeeper has a bad habit of taking out strikers -- even once famously doing it to her own sister, Leena Khamis, when they played for rival teams last season. The first penalty on Thursday was given in the 31st minute after Khamis tripped over Scotland international Claire Emslie, earning a yellow card and conceding soon afterward to put Canberra 2-0 behind. The second came 15 minutes later when Khamis took out Emslie again; the winger had nipped the ball away from the goalkeeper, who'd flown off her line and barrelled into the Scot. Penalty. 3-0. Heads drop. Canberra head home with nothing but a game against the defending Champions Sydney FC to look forward to on Monday night, because apparently they haven't suffered enough already.
Western Sydney Wanderers
There's a reason Icarus remains one of Greek mythology's most relatable characters. Despite repeated warnings, some people (or, in this case, teams) can't seem to help but fly too close to the sun. After two wins in the past two league games -- in which they scored nine goals without reply -- followed by a 1-0 defeat of China's national team during their bye last weekend, Western Sydney were undoubtedly flying high. But as the story goes, even the smallest amount of hubris can be one's downfall. And fall the Wanderers did, experiencing their first and biggest loss of the season to date. The loss of Lynn Williams to international duty didn't help, of course, but to implode as spectacularly as they did in the second half suggests something a little more serious than just a single missing player.
This is to take nothing away from Brisbane, who muscled their way into the game and found answers to Western Sydney's questions all over the park, including -- and especially -- in midfield, where the combination of Elise Kellond-Knight and Katrina Gorry, both recently recalled to the Matildas squad, demolished the usually resolute quartet of Amy Harrison, Ella Mastrantonio, Denise O'Sullivan, and Kyra Cooney-Cross, as though the veteran midfield pair were playing solely to prove why Ante Milicic had picked them ahead of their opposition counterparts. Brisbane had clearly learned their lesson from the reverse fixture in round 3 where a Kristen Hamilton hat trick left them sore and sorry, for the Roar kept the American quiet almost the entire game.
Elsewhere, the Wanderers' defensive unit that had up until now conceded the equal-fewest goals in the league fell apart like fairy floss in a puddle of water. Western Sydney are still almost guaranteed a finals spot but their goal difference has taken a hit, and with Sydney FC just one point behind, their two remaining games against Sydney and Melbourne in rounds 12 and 13 respectively have become must-wins if they want any chance of a home semifinal.
Here's the tea
Fox Sports needs to do better
When "Hersday Night Football" was first introduced to the W-League last season, it was exactly what women's football needed: its own space in a crowded summer calendar. The Thursday night slot was ideal; there was no competition from other games or leagues vying for the public's attention and the 7:30 p.m. kick-off meant temperatures were cooler and crowd figures would be -- theoretically -- higher.
Most importantly, "Hersday Night Football" games were given the same broadcasting perks that every A-League game currently receives: a half-hour preview show leading into kick-off as well as half-time and full-time analysis discussions. It was also a fantastic platform to showcase a number of former W-League and Matildas players who were invited on as guests and co-commentators including Amy Chapman, Michelle Heyman, Grace Gill, Natasha Dowie, Amy Harrison, Georgia Yeoman-Dale, Caitlin Foord, and Kate Gill. In a football media landscape dominated by male voices, "Hersday Night Football" was the perfect opportunity for women to have an equal footing both on and off the pitch.
That is until Fox Sports decided to can the show altogether in round 8, and without so much as a tweet that it had done so. Television viewers noticed that the game between Brisbane Roar and Melbourne City -- a tight tussle that had all the drama and narrative you could want from a football match, with the added bonus of being in front of the biggest home crowd for a Thursday game so far this season (2,693) -- began simply with a lineup announcement as the players took to the field. No desk, no past footage, no preview, no interviews -- nothing that we'd come to expect from the game's main broadcaster.
It's an open secret that Fox Sports have been undergoing big budget cuts and internal restructures lately, with a number of long-time servants to Australian football being shown the door. And it's perhaps no surprise that, when the time came, women's football was first on the chopping block. The likely explanation is that television audiences weren't high enough to justify the continued expenditure, but the irony is that Fox Sports has done little else outside of broadcasting games to actually grow one of their main football products in the first place.
A brief glimpse of their website, for example, shows nothing about the W-League. The "football" tab itself is worse considering it's meant to be specific to the game; it doesn't have a section for women's football at all (not even the Matildas, despite there being a specific section about the Socceroos). Hilariously, however, there is a tiny advertisement at the top of the page for Suncorp's "Team Girls" program, which aims to increase the number of girls playing sports in Australia. The last W-League-specific article was published on Dec. 20, almost a month ago.
Football's popularity problem in Australia is complex. There are no easy answers; things must be weighed up against all other things. I get it. But if you aren't doing anything to promote one of your main football products and then take a torch to the coverage you do have of it because nobody is watching, who is really to blame?
Is there a gif of that?
There was a lot of talk around the World Cup about what Emily van Egmond can't do, particularly when she's not played in her regular position.
Well let's all sit back and take a moment to appreciate what she can do when she is.