A-League Women’s wrap: Wonderful Wellington, sizzling Sydney, and V for Victory

Each week, ABC Sport will bring you a Round Wrap of the A-League Women’s competition, including winners, losers, and a good thing that happened off the field.

Round one at a glance

Wellington Phoenix kicked off the season with a 0-0 draw against Western Sydney, Melbourne City claimed their first three points after 1-0 win over Canberra, Sydney FC cruised past Newcastle Jets 3-1, Perth Glory caused chaos with last-gasp 2-1 win over Brisbane, and Victory threw down the gauntlet with 5-1 thrashing of Adelaide.

Winners

Wellington Phoenix

Through a combination of late entry to the league, a lack of senior player availability, and a club-wide relocation to Wollongong due to ongoing border issues, many fans had the league’s newest team comfortably collecting the wooden spoon before they’d even kicked a ball.

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But in their inaugural game against Western Sydney Wanderers on Friday, Wellington put the league (and us so-called “experts”) on notice. Beneath the 0-0 score-line, the Phoenix were the most impressive side for the majority of the contest: aggressive and choreographed in their press, bold in their passing game, brave and committed in one-on-one duels against much more experienced opponents, including former Matildas like Caitlin Cooper and Teigen Allen.

There were stand-out players in every line of the Phoenix side from the dazzling young defenders Kate Taylor and Zoe McMeeken to visionary midfielders Grace Jale, Grace Wisnewski, and Isabel Gomez to hard-running forwards Chloe Knott and Ava Pritchard. You wouldn’t have guessed that eight of Wellington’s starting XI on Friday were just 18-years old given how easily they rose to the challenge.

While the Wanderers arguably under-performed, it was a commendable first outing from a young New Zealand side that has made the rest of the league sit up and pay attention. And we ought to, because this team is only going to get better.

Sydney’s terrific trio

There was a lot to like about Sydney FC’s premiership-winning team last season, but one of the most thrilling was the strike partnership formed by the Sky Blues’ front three players of Princess Ibini, Remy Siemsen and Cortnee Vine.

These three emerging talents – aged 21, 22, and 23 respectively – spear-headed Sydney to their first premiership in a decade, starting almost every match together until Vine had her season cut short due to injury. In total, these electric attackers scored 16 of the club’s 26 goals, and were the primary reason why Sydney finished top of the league in various statistical categories like conversion rate and shooting accuracy.

Cortnee Vine touches the ball
Cortnee Vine’s delightful flick assisted Remy Siemsen’s opening goal for Sydney FC on Saturday.(Getty Images/Mark Kolbe)

Vine alone created 18 major chances across the season, including four goals and three assists, finishing in the league’s top ten for goal involvements despite missing Sydney’s final three games. Princess Ibini had her most clinical campaign in front of goal, scoring a career-high five goals after joining the club back in 2015/16, while Remy Siemsen finished fourth in the Golden Boot race with a club-high seven goals, leading to her first senior Matildas cap in October against Brazil.

The deadly triumvirate hit the ground running this past weekend, slotting three goals past an unsteady Newcastle Jets side. All three got on the score-sheet in the second half, with the pacey Vine assisting both her teammates’ goals in addition to scoring her own in the 69th minute. Nice.

If this trio can stay healthy and continue building on their already deadly chemistry, they’ll likely be in contention for silverware once again.

Nominative determinism

Round one saved the most exciting (or, depending on your allegiances, the most depressing) game for last as reigning champions Melbourne Victory hosted the Reds on Sunday afternoon. The home side didn’t defeat Adelaide so much as devastate them, scoring three of their five goals in the opening 25 minutes and adding a fourth just before the break

The Reds were their own worst enemy in the first half, failing to track simple runs and coughing up possession far too cheaply. Young goalkeeper Annalee Grove had a moment to forget, fluffing a clearance that Victory winger Lia Privitelli pounced upon to score the first of her two goals, while Adelaide defender Matilda McNamara gave away a penalty after bundling over the effervescent Catherine Zimmerman in the box.

Melbourne Victory team hugs
Reigning champions Victory put five past Adelaide in their opening game, but the players feel they’ve still got more to give. (Getty Images/Robert Cianflone)

It’s a testament to Victory’s depth and versatility that four of their five goals were scored by different players, including their two starting centre-backs Kayla Morrison and Claudia Bunge, all while missing last season’s top scorer Melina Ayres and new recruit, USA striker Lynn Williams.

However, despite their atomic first half, Victory began to fade in the second, allowing Adelaide back into the contest. The impressive Fiona Worts clawed a goal back for the Reds just after the hour – perhaps aided by the loss of Morrison to a knee injury – and were it not for a couple of vital stops by Victory goalkeeper Casey Dumont, Adelaide likely could have had two or three goals to better reflect what became a more even contest.

Victory’s 5-1 win more than justified their club moniker, and yet star midfielder Kyra Cooney-Cross described their overall game as “rusty,” while head coach Jeff Hopkins said they didn’t play well at all. If that is rusty in their eyes, the rest of the competition is waiting anxiously to see what a good performance looks like.

Losers

Brisbane Roar

There are few things in football as thrilling as a moment of total chaos deciding a game. And after a tense, tactical, exhausting battle between Perth Glory and Brisbane Roar on Saturday night, that was exactly what we got.

Following a scrappy opening 20 minutes, it was the Roar who struck first as busy winger Anna Margraf tapped home a cross-shot from impressive debutant Shea Connors. Brisbane began to dominate various statistical categories from there including possession, corners, and shots over the next hour. However, there is just one statistic that ultimately matters in football, and the Glory knew it.

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As the clock ticked perilously towards full-time, the Glory snatched a goal back through new recruit Susan Phonsongkham after some determining running by England-born striker Gemma Craine. Then: drama. With the game poised at 1-1, a back-pass from Brisbane defender Jessie Rasschaert – pressured from behind by the steadfast Craine – was not controlled by goalkeeper Georgina Worth, who watched the ball roll into the back of her net. 2-1.

Perth’s rapturous celebrations at full-time were understandable given it was their first win since the 2019/20 season, but the Roar will be furious at letting the game slip from their grasp, especially after such a dominant performance from new centre-back pairing Rasschaert and Annabel Haffenden, as well as commanding midfield stints from Brazilian Mariel Hecher and Ayesha Norrie.

Brisbane will have an immediate shot at redemption, though, playing Perth again next week at home due to fluctuating border issues. Will chaos reign once more?

The last remaining fortress

Canberra United have several A-League Women’s records attached to their name: the first club to win the premiership-championship double, the first to go an entire season undefeated, and the only club to have more women coaches than men since the competition’s first season in 2008.

One of Canberra’s greatest streaks, though, related to their home ground advantage. Until last year, United were the only top-flight women’s club to have a single, consistent home ground: McKellar Park. It was here that Canberra set the record for the longest undefeated home streak that stretched across two entire seasons, from 2009 to 2012, earning the ground the nickname “Fortress McKellar.”

Melbourne City score a goal
The moment Canberra United’s undefeated run at Viking Park came to an end.(Getty Images/Cameron Spencer)

While that streak was ultimately snapped in 2012/13, the club carried the same fortress mentality to their new home of Viking Park, which they moved to last season. True to their old form, Canberra didn’t lose a single home game last year. In total, Canberra have won almost 60 per cent of their home games since their inaugural season: the best home record of any club besides Melbourne City (who were only introduced to the league in 2015) and tied for the most home wins in the competition.

However, all great fortresses crumble over time, and this past weekend saw United’s unbeaten run at Viking Park ended with a 1-0 loss to, coincidentally, Melbourne City. It was a frustrating performance overall from Canberra and goalkeeper Keeley Richards made several stand-out saves to keep her side in it, but a goal to City debutant Holly McNamara ensured that the last great fortress of the women’s league has, sadly, been breached.

Here’s a Good Thing

This season is threaded through with dozens of intriguing and heart-warming stories, but one of the most inspiring has undoubtedly been the return of Melbourne City’s Rebekah Stott to the league after she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in March.

The Football Fern was refreshingly open throughout and after her treatment, continuing to record her experiences in a blog and setting up fundraisers to put together cancer bags for others going through what she did.

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On Friday, following an intense and painful pre-season rebuilding muscle and fitness, Stott returned to the field, becoming City’s all-time appearance holder at the same time.

“That is the highlight of my coaching career,” City head coach Rado Vidosic said this week. “I’ve had 36 undefeated games with Brisbane and I’ve worked with Ange [Postecoglou], coached [Alessandro] Del Piero. I’ve won the FFA Cup with Melbourne Victory and now, here with City, I’m part of a fantastic organisation.

“But to be part of someone’s life journey to defeat the illness that she has had, to come back and to see her — how dedicated she is to the sport, to the women’s game, and how much following she has got and how much people adore her — I think, for us, that is the winning season.

“If we don’t achieve anything else this year, just by helping her to get back on her feet and to achieve whatever dreams that she has in front of her, I think that is the winning right here.”

Indeed.

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