An exciting new season in Australia’s Westfield W-League begins this weekend, its eighth consecutive season, which has seen interesting developments on and off the field during the off-season.
For the 2015-16 season, the league welcomes a ninth team for the first time in Melbourne City (it’s A-League club began as Melbourne Hearts during the 2010-11 season) and the league will have a weekly televised game before the A-League Weekly Match on Fox Sports. In addition, there are twelve confirmed Westfield W-League/Hyundai A-League doubleheaders scheduled on Sunday afternoons. The league has built steadily over the years and should gain more attention on the back of their national team’s strong run to the quarterfinals at the Women’s World Cup this past summer, including a historic round of 16 defeat of Brazil.
We look at each team’s prospects and some changes from last season.
Adelaide has never made the playoffs in their seven seasons in the league and last season finished seventh on 10 points. Jamie Harnwell, who led Perth Glory to the Grand Final last season, replaces Ross Aloisi as head coach of the South Australia club. U.S. U-20 World Cup winning midfielder Sara Killion comes from Sky Blue FC along with defender Abby Dahlkemper from the Western New York Flash; both were rookie performers in NWSL in 2015 and teammates in college at UCLA. Three-time Women’s World Cup veteran goalkeeper Melissa Barbieri, who after two seasons shuttling to Adelaide, returns to her original hometown club of Melbourne Victory.
Adelaide is bringing in two new imports from Glenfield Rovers in New Zealand: Kaitlyn Savage and Elizabeth Milne. Milne played for Ottawa Fury in 2013 and had a previous stint in the W-League with Perth in 2012-13. Unfortunately, that season in West Australia cost her a scholarship to Ohio State University (after turning down an offer from Temple University, which NZ Football thought was not a high-caliber enough program to facilitate her development as an international player). Even though Milne received only expenses from the Glory—similar to what is done in the North American summer leagues (W League and WPSL)—she was deemed ineligible by the NCAA for three years.
Milne explained her side of the incident: “I wasn’t even getting enough to live off. I had a job on the side and the money they gave me was basically to cover food and kind of went towards petrol but it wasn’t really enough….Because more than two players at the club were on a professional salary then the club itself was deemed professional, so even though I wasn’t getting paid over that amount, I was playing for a professional club and that was a violation in [the] NCAA’s eyes.” Milne saw the ruling as applying a double-standard to imports from certain countries: “There was one girl at Perth at the same time as me and she was eligible, but she had to pay back all the money she earned there. There are a couple of players playing in the college system this year that came from the Frauen Bundesliga [German football league] and they were eligible despite playing in the top professional league in the world. I’m not sure whether these people were dishonest or why they were made eligible but I wasn’t.”
Milne even found discrepancies on how the NCAA rules on players from her own country, who she knows have flouted the rules (New Zealanders have long come to U.S. colleges on both the men’s and women’s soccer side).
“There are New Zealanders who have played club football in New Zealand and were receiving about $200 in match fees, which was far more than I ever got paid in Perth, and got in [to play in NCAA-affiliated schools],” she said. “They made sure their club team back home knew what they were doing and lied about the money and then got away with it.”
Midfielders Isabel Hodgson (East Tennessee State University) and Dylan Holmes (Colgate University) are not playing for Adelaide this season as they are away at college and former Boston Breaker and Norwegian international midfielder Lisa-Marie Woods is now with BIIK-Kazygurt in Kazakhstan.
The 2015-16 season is important for the Roar, who missed the playoffs last season for the first time in their history. German goalkeeping legend Nadine Angerer has retired and an American is tabbed to take her place: Seattle Reign goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer, who finished third among goalkeepers in NWSL with a GAA of 1.00 and four shutouts in 11 games. Veteran Matilda Clare Polkinghorne (who finished this NWSL season with Portland Thorns), Tameka Butt (who played with Boston Breakers in WPSL Elite in 2012 as well as in Germany and Japan), and Katrina Gorry (who won the 2014 NWSL title with FC Kansas City) are back along with nine new players. Veteran Matilda Elise Kellond-Knight (62 caps) will not return this season as she is playing in Germany with Turbine Potsdam.
Reigning champions Canberra United will attempt to capture their third title in eight years with Mexican international Veronica Perez coming on loan from the Washington Spirit, the first Mexican to play in the league. Another important signing from abroad is English international Jodie Taylor, on loan from the Portland Thorns. Taylor was a huge success with Melbourne Victory in two seasons with the club, scoring 12 goals in 21 appearances in 2010-11 and 2011-12. Taylor has a knack of scoring wherever she goes and she should do well in Canberra.
New Zealand international forward Emma Kete joins United for the second time, having played for Perth Glory and Sydney FC. Kete won a league title with the capital city club in year four and played briefly with the Western New York Flash in 2014. Also returning is goalkeeper Lydia Williams (who played with the Western New York Flash in 2014), returning from a knee injury last year that cost her the season, but was on the Matildas’ World Cup squad last summer. Matilda defender Ellie Brush (who joined the Houston Dash after the Women’s World Cup) is a native of Canberra and has been with the club since year one. Kendall Fletcher (Seattle Reign) also returns along with World Cup forward and United veteran Michelle Heyman (WNY Flash). Rebecca Kiting is back after going to play at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.
Melbourne City, despite being an expansion franchise, has to be considered a serious threat to reach the Grand Final after signing some top international talent, including three Matilda World Cup stars and two imports from the U.K. Matildas’ forward Lisa DeVanna (who played in NWSL with Sky Blue FC and Washington Spirit) joins from Melbourne Victory as does Matilda wing defender Steph Catley (Portland Thorns). Two-time World Cup defender Laura Alleway has joined from Brisbane Roar.
The two U.K. imports are familiar to NWSL followers: Welsh international Jess Fishlock, who had two fine seasons with Victory a few years back, and Scottish international Kim Little, both on loan from Seattle Reign. Fishlock and Little have been instrumental in Seattle winning the last two regular season NWSL titles and making the final both years, and are important elements in their respective national teams. Fishlock will also be an assistant coach to City head coach Joe Montemurro.
Melbourne Victory finished tied for second with Canberra United last season (20 points) and then lost to the capital city side in the semifinals on penalty kicks after a scoreless deadlock. Head coach Dave Edmondson, who guided Victory to their first Grand Finals title win two seasons ago, returns after a difficult time as manager of Bristol Academy of England’s FA WSL, where he was released this season, just into his second year with the side. Matilda Hayley Raso joined the Washington Spirit after the 2015 Women’s World Cup and played the last two seasons in Australia with the Roar. Fellow Matilda and longtime Victory goalkeeper Melissa Barbieri returns after a spell in Adelaide.
U.S. international Christine Nairn is back for a second season after appearing in all 20 regular season matches for the Spirit in 2015. She recorded five goals and four assists in D.C. after scoring twice in Australia last season. Also back is long-time Turkish international midfielder and Melbourne native Gulcan Koca. New Zealand 2014 U-20 Women’s World Cup player Briar Palmer is a new import this season.
In other important news for the league, the Melbourne Victory A-League men’s side has assumed all management responsibilities of the W-League side, taking over sole control from Football Federation Victoria, who had assisted the Victory through a joint venture and was the primary funding source. Many W-League sides share the name of the local A-League men’s club but their funding comes from other sources—mostly governmental. Melbourne Victory chief executive Ian Robson felt that integrating the W-League team into their entire football operation was a positive.
“The prominence of women’s football is growing all the time and we are thrilled to be able to bring the team under our care and help to further enhance the profile of the Melbourne Victory players and women’s football in general,” he said. “Given our commitment to the development of players within our elite football program at all levels, we believe the decision to manage the W-League team operation is a pivotal one for the club.”
Newcastle Jets have only made the playoffs once in seven seasons (in the league’s initial season in 2008-09) but came close last season, finishing fifth and missing the semifinals by one point, behind Sydney FC. Former Jet A-League player Craig Deans is the new coach. The Jets, who traditionally import Americans, are bringing in two Washington Spirit 2015 season rookies on loan: defenders Caprice Dydasco and Megan Oyster. Both played together at UCLA. Australian Tara Andrews returns after a stellar summer leading the USL’s W-League second year Colorado Pride side to the league final as the league MVP and leading scorer. Emily Van Egmond (ex-Seattle Reign and Chicago Red Stars) has left for Frankfurt in Germany after the World Cup.
Perth had their finest season in 2014-15, winning the Premiership (regular season title) before falling to Canberra in the Grand Final by a 3-1 score. Perth Glory FC striker Bobby Despotovski takes over as head coach from former teammate Jamie Harnwell, who is now with Adelaide. Despotovksi, a former Socceroo, played 241 games for Perth Glory between 1996 and 2007 and is the club’s all-time leading goal scorer (113 goals).
Despotovski will have retired Perth Glory Women’s captain and Matilda Collette McCallum (who won a W-League title in the U.S.’s W-League with Pali Blues in 2008 and followed that up with the first WPS crown with Sky Blue FC in 2009) as his assistant coach. McCallum played 50 W-League games for the Glory Women and made 81 appearances for Australia, scoring 11 goals for the Matildas.
Two important national teamers who play in NWSL are also coming back to the Western Australian side: 20-year-old defender Caitlin Foord (Sky Blue FC), who had a very impressive World Cup last summer, and forward Sam Kerr (Sky Blue FC), who had a phenomenal season in Perth but was injured late in the season.
“I really enjoyed last season as it was a great season, but mostly I just love being able to play at home and play for the city where I grew up. It’s just different playing for your home state and I like that,” Kerr said.
Despotovski was full of praise for Kerr and the important role she plays in inspiring the next generation of young female footballers: “Every aspiring, young, female West Australian footballer is looking up to Sam as a hero. She brings speed, skill and leadership to the Perth Glory squad. She’s a current Matilda, she’s played in the World Cup and she’s enjoying life. She is the ultimate role model.” Kerr won a W-League title with Sydney in 2012-13.
Also coming from Sky Blue is midfielder Nikki Stanton, who played at Fairfield University and with the Seattle Sounders in the USL W-League in 2012, when a number of national team players joined the side ahead of the Olympics.
Mackenzie Arnold, who was third-choice goalkeeper with the Matildas’ in Canada, is back. She was goalkeeper of the year last season and two years before that as well when she was with Canberra United. In front of her she will have long-time national team defender Kim Carroll, who comes from the Roar and once played in Denmark with Fortuna Hjorring. Carroll just missed out on the World Cup roster last summer.
Sydney FC, like Canberra and Brisbane, is aiming to be the first W-League side to win three titles. They lost 3-0 in the semifinals last season to rampant Perth. High-scoring American Jasmyne Spencer (Western New York Flash) returns after scoring eight goals in 13 games last year, and goalkeeper Michelle Betos (Portland Thorns) should do well Down Under. The reigning NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year scored a tremendous game-tying goal on a header from a corner late in injury time against two-time champions FC Kansas City–the only goalkeeper to do so in the three year history of the league. Australian international forward Kyah Simon, who had two goals with the Boston Breakers in seven matches after the Women’s World Cup in Canada, is very important to Sydney’s success, having missed most the 2014-15 W-League season due to injury.
Western Sydney Wanderers
The Western Sydney Wanderers look to make the playoffs for the first time in their fourth season in the W-League, after finishing last in 2014-15. Seattle Reign captain Keelin Winters is coming back to play with the Red & Blacks.
“I’m excited about going back to the Wanderers, with a great fan base, get games in, train and live in a beautiful country,” Winters told me after the 2015 NWSL Championship.
Winters won the team Player of the Season and Golden Boot award last season. In Seattle, she is a defensive midfielder, but with the Wanderers she played in more of an attacking role and had five goals. Kendall Johnson (Portland Thorns) also returns for a second season. Canadian international defender Carmelina Moscato, who has played for Boston, Chicago and Seattle in NWSL and in three World Cups, is a new import for the Parramatta based club.
Note: Though the Australian national team player labor dispute is not resolved as of yet, Westfield Matildas’ head coach Alen Stajcic is taking a 21-player squad to China for international matches from Oct. 19-28, and the squad members are hopeful that the labor dispute, which resulted in the cancellation of two friendly matches against the U.S. national team last month, will be settled soon.
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