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Melbourne City’s triumph could spur more growth

Melbourne City's unbeaten W-League season could spark further interest in women's soccer from City Football Group. (Photo: Westfield W-League)

Melbourne City’s unbeaten W-League season could spark further interest in women’s soccer from City Football Group. (Photo: Westfield W-League)

A near-perfect season is in the books for Melbourne City Women in their first campaign, and the standard set in Australia could also have implications across the world.

Sunday’s 4-1 win over Sydney FC in the Grand Final on Sunday capped off an unbeaten run that saw Melbourne City win all 12 regular-season matches, advance in penalty kicks in the semifinal (hence, technically, near-perfect) and win the Grand Final with some ease.

So what does all of this mean for women’s soccer in Australia and abroad?

The root of that answer lies with the club’s owners, City Football Group. That, of course, is the group founded by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan which owns Manchester City, a club whose ambitions rest well beyond the borders of England.

City Football Group took full ownership of Melbourne City Football Club (formerly Melbourne Heart, of whom they were minority owners) in 2015, the same year in which CFP’s American branch, New York City FC, played its first season in Major League Soccer. CFG also owns a minority stake in Yokohama F. Marinos in Japan.

Part of City Football Group’s initiatives include the women’s game. That is, they want to see Manchester City become giants in England on the women’s side, too. See the club’s latest splashy signing, Swedish international Kosovare Asllani, and her comments upon arriving at the club earlier in January. “The main thing that made me want to come here is the way the club declared their ambitions,” Asllani said. “PSG are a huge club and I learned a lot there – they’re trying to do similar in taking the women’s side to the next level – but here, it feels like the future.”

Ah, the future. Those future ambitions quickly became the present in Melbourne, where a strong mix of notable internationals — chiefly Kim Little and Jess Fishlock — joined a domestic group led by Lisa De Vanna to help Melbourne City set a new bar in Australia.

“I hope our club is a club that can reach those same aspirations that Melbourne City have achieved this year,” Sydney FC coach Dan Barrett said after losing the Grand Final. “The women’s game has been screaming out for something like [this] for a very long time. What they have done is great for the game, and I will be making sure I do my best to make sure Sydney FC is up there as well [next season]. This [City] is what women’s football needed. This shows that if the resources are put in, this is what you get. If the other clubs don’t do that, they will continue to come second every year.”

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And there is where the more global impact can be seen. Manchester City will take part in the UEFA Champions League for the first time on the women’s side in the 2016-17 campaign, and this year they will aim to win the FAWSL for the first time after finishing second to Chelsea in 2015. Their aggressive investment in the women’s game (a recent one — their first year in the FAWSL was 2014) will only force clubs around them — some of whom who are also backed by massive Premier League men’s sides — to invest further in their women’s teams. That’s exactly what Barrett is speaking about in regards to Australia: a rising tide which lifts all waters.

So how about the United States? There is already an increased level of interest in the National Women’s Soccer League from Major League Soccer clubs. Orlando recently became the third MLS-owned NWSL club. Real Salt Lake is one of purportedly several other MLS clubs interested in getting into NWSL.

NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush reiterated in January that he hopes to see the league get to 14 teams by 2020. Expansion from the current said of 10 teams will almost certainly come in pairs to keep an even number of teams and that first set of new franchises could very well come in 2017.

[LAULETTA: State of the NWSL with commissioner Jeff Plush]

Behind the scenes, there is a sense that Manchester City will soon get into the women’s game in the United States through NYCFC, with one source calling it a ‘when not if’ situation. Melbourne City’s spectacular W-League triumph no doubt will help widen the collective eyes of City Football Group as it pertains to a women’s team in New York.

Sky Blue FC held preliminary talks with NYCFC in September 2014, but this is the same Sky Blue which turned down a deal to work with the New York Red Bulls, and that meeting with NYCFC was many moons and several personnel members ago (for both teams).

But first, City Football Group needs to get its New York house in order before thinking about a women’s team in the Big Apple (cue the usual, ‘Where would they play?’ questions). Patrick Vieira is the club’s new coach after Jason Kreis was unceremoniously sacked after the team’s first MLS season. And the club still doesn’t have in sight an alternative to Yankee Stadium, which most certainly is not taking on another tenant.

So maybe 2017 isn’t the year, but Manchester City’s newfound interest in women’s soccer — and quick successes with it at home and in Melbourne — could bode well for further investment on other shores.

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