With the Liberty A-League Women past its half way stage, the battle for Finals football, which sees the top four teams in the final league table play-off to win the title, is hotting up. Here is a club-by-club progress report of the season to date.
ADELAIDE UNITED: The South Australian side made the Finals for the first time in their history last season, and, with a similar squad turning out this time round, many people thought they’d be right in the mix again.
However, despite a promising opening few weeks, the wheels have badly come off. A combination of other teams significantly strengthening their squads, and a failure of last years’ red hot scoring duo Chelsie Dawber and Fiona Worts to find the net sees, Adrian Stenta’s side are down in the bottom three. The Reds are currently on a run of six successive defeats, and have only scored twice in that run. Right now, lower mid-table would appear to be all they can hope for.
BRISBANE ROAR: Garrath McPherson’s team are pretty much running as they were expected to.
Not quite strong enough to be part of the best teams of the competition, yet they are one of three sides competing for the last spot in the Finals. As with last year, the Queenslanders took a while to get going, but once the Matildas’ midfield maestro Katrina Gorry came back from her post Damallsvenskan break, and with Shea Connors firing on all cylinders, the Roar are proving to be stubborn opposition, particularly on home soil. With Hensley Hancuff having a strong campaign in goal, Brisbane are capable of beating anyone on their day, but lack the consistency to make the top four.
CANBERRA UNITED: The lime green machine are frustratingly inconsistent. This is a team that lost 5-0 two weeks in a row and then went on to win their next two, one of which was a sensational victory over perennial Grand Finalists Sydney FC.
At their best, Canberra are a joy to watch. No-one delivers a set-piece like Grace Maher – she’s not known as ‘Amazing Grace’ for nothing. With the returning Nicki Flannery, back from an ACL up front with all-time league top scorer and Canberra talisman Michelle Heyman, the team have plenty to worry teams up front. Defensively, they are not quite as strong, and that is likely to be their undoing. However, they are always fun to watch.
MELBOURNE CITY: Consistent, full of exceptionally talented young players, with several experienced heads to guide them through the 90 minutes, Dario Vidosic’s side are looking good for a place in the Finals once more.
City play a possession based game, which can strangle the life out of most teams in the league. But as Vidosic himself has identified, his team need to spend more time in possession in the opposition half of the pitch.
Whilst up front Hannah Wilkinson is not finding the net as regularly as last season, they will welcome back Chilean magician Cote Rojas after the international window. The South American sensation’s big bag of tricks will add to the exceptionally raw, but exciting talent of 16-year-old midfielder Dani Galic and Perth native Leticia McKenna who have both been in prominent form along with Young Matildas star Bryleeh Henry. City are looking good.
MELBOURNE VICTORY: Adversely impacted by injury for the second season in a row, Victory, led by former Crystal Palace and Fulham player Jeff Hopkins face an intriguing battle to make the Finals.
The Grand Final winners for the last two years currently hold fourth place, the last Finals qualification spot, but they have played more games than five of the seven teams below them – several of whom hold two matches in hand on the Melbournians.
On their day, Victory have potentially the strongest squad in the competition, but with midfield maestro Alex Chidiac heading back to the NWSL, how Hopkins plugs that gap will largely determine his team’s fate.
Chidiac is a one-off. The vision and guile she displays in the midfield is making her a leading international player as well. She is not immediately replaceable in any team.
NEWCASTLE JETS: Another season of missed opportunities for the Jets. The New South Wales side always look to have a team of potential, but they never quite step up to the mark.
Once more a team that could be around mid-table are involved in a scrap to avoid the wooden spoon. Jets have leaked goals alarmingly at times. A perfect microcosm of their season came last weekend when they travelled to Perth Glory, had more possession, more shots on goal and six times as many corners, yet they lost 4-0. Head coach Ash Wilson stepped aside a fortnight ago, and things don’t look like getting any better before the end of the season.
PERTH GLORY: It’s been a season of two halves for the Western Australians. A side hotly tipped to make the Finals this year started slowly.
Despite having the vast majority of the squad that had a successful 2021/22, Perth took a good six weeks to gel. They have also had to cope with losing their top goalscorer to a season ending injury for the third campaign in a row.
Rylee Baisden’s ACL injury was a real sickener, and left many fans wondering what their team had done to deserve such luck. However, in adversity, the Glory have come together and, backed by consistently large partisan crowds, and with local born defender Izzy Foletta in imperious form in defence, the purples are now in sensational form.
Alex Epakis’ team are stacked full of the most exciting young attacking talent in the country, and have all the energy in the world to press opponents back into their own half. Alana Jancevski is firing rockets into the net, Cyera Hintzen is bossing the front line, and Perth are their ruthless best.
The only thing likely to stop them making Finals is the catastrophic fixture schedule for the final week of the season which sees them having to play three games in three different states in six days – total distance travelled 4,754 miles and no time for recovery in between.
SYDNEY FC: Grand Finalists for the last four years, but never having won the competition in that time, the Harbour city side are pushing strongly this season once more.
Although currently third, they have two games in hand on Western United and Melbourne City above them, and boast a frightening array of attacking talent. Madison Haley has taken the league by storm after coming in from the USA.
Physically strong, full of pace, and exceptional in the air, Haley is the ideal striker. With the speed and creativity of Cortnee Vine and Mackenzie Hawkesby outside her, Ante Juric’s team can beat anyone at any time.
Allied by a strong defence with Jada Whyman in goal, the Sky Blues are, right now, probably the favourites to finally end their spell of being bridesmaids in the season finale.
WELLINGTON PHOENIX: Probably the most disappointing team in the competition this season.
After the heroics of last term when, in their inaugural campaign they were forced to be based solely in Australia due to COVID related border restrictions, and having cobbled together a young team at the eleventh hour, Wellington fought well and picked up several wins.
This time round, able to play at home (regularly in front of four figure crowds), and boosted by experienced New Zealand internationals Emma Rolston, Paige Satchell, and Betsy Hassett, the Phoenix have dropped back, only taking one win and two draws to date.
It’s frustrating as the potential is definitely there and there are some hugely talented youngsters. They just haven’t quite been able to put it together.
WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS: It’s said that one player does not make a team. But in Western Sydney Wanderers’ case, one player has turned round their entire season.
Wanderers started the campaign very strong at the back, marshalled by 23-year-old captain Clare Hunt, very much one of the ‘they shalt not pass’ brigade. Kat Smith’s team were full of creativity in midfield, but dreadfully toothless up front.
Then, just before Christmas, in came Philippines international striker Sarina Bolden, and Western Sydney were transformed. At last they had a deadly finisher to convert all the chances that they made.
They’ve won four games since Bolden arrived, and stand on the outer fringes of the Finals race. It’s likely to be too late for Wanderers to finish in the top four, but they are a complete team for the first time in two years.
WESTERN UNITED: This season’s new entrants into the competition were predicted to be no mugs and finish around mid-table. However, they’ve done a whole lot better than that.
The side based in the far western suburbs of Melbourne made the canny decision to partner with established top NPLW Victoria (state level league immediately below the A-League – but with no promotion/relegation) side Calder United to bring their head coach Mark Torcaso and a number of key Calder players into their inaugural squad.
These were added to with the sensational signings of national team stars Chloe Logarzo and Angie Beard, plus quality Americans Jess McDonald and Hannah Keane, and United were off to a flying start.
Since McDonald returned to the USA ahead of the new NWSL campaign, and Logarzo got injured, United have suffered some defeats, but the club have amassed more than enough points to make the Finals in their first season, and they are capable of causing chaos when they do so.