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Americans abroad: 2016-17 Westfield W-League preview

FC Kansas City's Erika Tymrak joins Melbourne City for her first season in the Westfield W-League.

FC Kansas City’s Erika Tymrak joins Melbourne City for her first season in the Westfield W-League.

Australia’s Westfield W-League begins its ninth season this weekend, with the same nine teams as last season. As in the NWSL, the top four teams make the playoffs, with the two semifinal winners advancing to the Grand Final, hosted by the higher ranked of the two teams, on Sunday Feb. 12, 2017.

We look at each team’s prospects (in alphabetic order) and note changes from last season.

Adelaide United (Last season: Fifth; 3-4-5 for 13 points)

Last season, Adelaide fell just short of their first-ever playoff berth in eight seasons in the league and tied their club record for most points in a campaign (13). This side, now managed by the A-League Reds instead of the South Australian federation, is desperate to make the playoffs and follow in the men’s side’s path, who won the A-League Premiership and Grand Final last season (3-1 over Western Sydney Wanderers). Brazilian international defender Monica arrives on loan from the Orlando Pride—the first Brazilian to play in the league. Monica played 16 games with the Pride and has 40 caps for Brazil, including playing on the 2016 Rio Olympics fourth place side. The Reds will be boosted by a trio of Chicago Red Star players, who will bring cohesion and skill to the side: Danielle Colaprico, Sofia Huerta and Katie Naughton. Colaprico was the NWSL Rookie of the Year in 2015 and recently spent time training with the U.S.national team. Sofia Huerta (ex-Santa Clara University) is an experienced Mexican U-20 international who still hopes to play for the full U.S. national team. In two years with the Red Stars, she has scored 13 goals and added 5 assists in just two seasons. Naughton (ex-University of Notre Dame) was a rookie for Chicago this season and played 16 matches, mostly as a central defender.

Brisbane Roar (Fourth; 5-1-6 for 16 points)

Brisbane bounced back from missing the playoffs for the first time in the 2014-15 season, arguably giving Melbourne City their toughest match of the season in the semifinals, losing on penalties. The Roar struggled during the first half of the season—at one point they had only two wins with five losses, but rallied down the stretch with three wins and a tie in their last five matches, clinching the playoff berth on the last weekend by tying Newcastle Jets at home, when a loss would have given the Jets the playoff berth. Katrina Gorry (who won the 2014 NWSL title with FC Kansas City) is back after helping the Matildas’ to the quarterfinals of the Rio Olympics last summer. Striker Emily Gielnik has re-signed with Brisbane Roar FC after spending the off-season on load with Urawa Red Diamonds in Japan, and had previously played for Liverpool (in 2012) and Ottawa Fury (in 2013). Midfielder Sunny Franco returns to Brisbane following a season with Sydney FC while goalkeeper Georgina Worth has joined the Roar from Canberra United.

[MORE: FAWSL preparing for shift to winter season]

The Roar have added some international flavor into the squad with American midfielder/defender Maddy Evans (ex-Penn State) from the Orlando Pride, who played three previous seasons with Boston Breakers, and Danish defender Nina Frausing-Pedersen, who won a FA Super League title with Liverpool in 2014, played with Turbine Potsdam in Germany in 2015 and most recently was with Rosengard of Sweden, though she only played one game as an injury fill-in. Frausing-Pedersen played collegiately at the University of Texas and the University of California.

Canberra United (Second; 8-2-2-26 points)

Canberra United lost in the semifinals last year to Sydney FC but the two-time league champions (2011/12 and 2014/15) should be in the hunt again for a third crown. They made arguably the most notable international signing for the league this season by inking Yukari Kinga on loan from her Japanese club side, INAC Kobe Leonessa. The 32-year-old defensive midfielder has 100 caps for her country with five goals and won the 2011 World Cup. Kinga played for Arsenal in the Super League in 2014.

United have signed Australian international defender Ellie Brush, who was recently released by the Houston Dash after two seasons with the club, along with her former Dash teammate Stephanie Ochs, who played with Canberra United two seasons ago when they won the league title. Other NWSL vets are Australian international Hayley Raso (Portland Thorns), who returns to Canberra after spending last season with the Melbourne Victory, and Thorns teammate Celeste Boureille, who played at the University of California and in Iceland with Selfoss before joining Portland. Goalkeeper Trudy Burke returns to Canberra, where she played in seasons 5 and 6, before joining up with Western Sydney Wanderers and Melbourne City.

Jasmyne Spencer comes on loan from the Orlando Pride of the NWSL, and she is well known in the league after two high-scoring seasons with Sydney FC. Spencer scored 13 goals in two seasons with Sydney.

Jasmyne Spencer (center) was one of the W-League's best players for Sydney FC last season. (Getty Images)

Jasmyne Spencer (center) was one of the W-League’s best players for Sydney FC last season. (Getty Images)

Australian international forward Ashleigh Sykes scored seven goals last season and has 24 in her W-League career. Sykes won the Julie Dolan Medal last season as the W-League’s best player. Sykes has played all 8 previous seasons of the W-League with Canberra and spent the off-season in Japan with Nadeshiko League 2 side AS Harima Albion, a small club based an hour from Osaka. Sykes talked about her first club experience abroad to the website: “It was great to see a different style of football. The first couple of teams in our league were really strong. Overall the W-League is a little bit better [keep in mind that Sykes played in the second tier in Japan]. Everyone [in Australia] has a good understanding of football which comes down to the good coaching we have. There is high quality technique in Japan, so they are different styles of games. Culturally Japanese are so nice and welcoming, and I met a lot of new friends over there. It was a nice place to live. It was good to experience a new lifestyle and new style of football also.”

Michelle Heyman (the W-League’s all-time leading scorer with 55), who played with the Western New York Flash in 2015, was a key component in Canberra’s attack last season with five goals, second on the team to Sykes’ seven tallies.

Hannah Brewer comes from Melbourne City and has played with Newcastle, Melbourne Victory and the Seattle Sounders in the now-defunct North American-based W-League.

Melbourne City (First; 12-0-0 36 points)

The expansion side in 2015/16 set a standard that the other W-League sides will strive to match, winning the Premiership and Grand Final without losing a game, though City’s semifinal with Brisbane Roar was decided on penalties (5-4) after 120 minutes of scoreless play. Melbourne City was only the second side to go undefeated in a season, after Canberra United in 2011/12, who had three regular-season ties in their 10 matches, compared with all victories for City. Melbourne City also set a league record for fewest goals allowed in a season (4), points in a season (36) and goal difference of plus-34. Their two home playoff games drew a combined attendance exceeding 8,500—again a game-changer for the W-League.

[KASSOUF: Success of Melbourne could encourage City Football Group to look to New York]

Australian World Cup and Olympic Games winger Steph Catley and defender Laura Alleway (both Orlando Pride) return for their second season with City, as does fellow international Larissa Crummer, who scored 11 goals last season to win the league’s Golden Boot. Versatile midfielder/back Aivi Luik, who played at the University of Nevada-Reno and for years with FC Indiana, returns after a season with Notts County in the FA WSL. Luik missed out on the last two World Cup teams as a late cut and then injury respectively. Welsh international midfielder Jess Fishlock returns to the club for her second season on loan from Seattle Reign. Accompanying her from the Reign will be American defender Lauren Barnes, who played in Australia with cross-town rival Melbourne Victory in the 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons.

Erika Tymrak comes to Melbourne City on loan from FC Kansas City. Tymrak, the NWSL Rookie of the Year in 2013, has 14 goals and 11 assists in 78 games for the Blues over four seasons and played with Bayern Munich in Germany after the NWSL’s first season. This is her first season in Australia.

Melbourne City went unbeaten last season. (Photo: Westfield W-League)

Melbourne City went unbeaten last season. (Photo: Westfield W-League)

Australian international goalkeeper Lydia Williams joins City on loan from the Houston Dash after many seasons with Canberra United. Williams has played in the NWSL with the Western New York Flash in 2014 before tearing her ACL; she has had her option renewed for 2017 by the Dash. Australian international Tiegen Allen (who played briefly with WNY Flash in 2014) is also a new acquisition for the champions, having played previously with both Sydney sides. Kim Little—such a force in midfield last season—recently transferred recently from Seattle to Arsenal and at this point is not scheduled to play in the W-League this winter (though teams typically can add to their rosters throughout the campaign). City needs to replace her eight goals and overall instinctive play in midfield. Beattie Goad, who scored four goals and has two W-League Grand Finals titles—one with each Melbourne side—is now playing with Stanford University in California and will also miss the season. Monique Iannella has also left for college at the University of Texas.

Melbourne Victory (Ninth; 2-1-9 for 7 points)

Melbourne Victory didn’t post their first win last season until their sixth game of the season in a 3-1 win in Perth. Expect this season to be more like other seasons, when they have made the playoffs five consecutive seasons (2010/11 through 2014/15 with a Grand Final win in 2013/14. New loan players from NWSL include defender Samantha Johnson from Chicago Red Stars and goalkeeper Bianca Henninger from Houston Dash. Johnson, who has been a mainstay in Chicago’s defense for the past three seasons, played in the league for Sydney FC in 2014/15. Henninger—a Mexican full international and U.S. youth international—is in her first season in Australia. Other NWSL imports who are returning to Australia include U.S. international Christine Nairn from the Washington Spirit for her third consecutive season with the Victory and English international forward Natasha Dowie from the Boston Breakers. Dowie was a late season acquisition last season for the Victory and scored 2 goals.

[MORE: Tobin Heath still making the most of her USWNT chances]

Australian international wing back Caitlin Friend returns to the side. Selin Kuralay played at Florida State University and for the Hampton Roads Piranhas of the USL’s W-League a decade ago. She was a 2004 Athens Olympic Games team member and played in the first two U-19 (now U-20) World Cups in 2002 (Canada) and 2004 (Thailand). Gulcan Koca has been a Victory mainstay since the second season (2009/10) and is an international for Turkey. Forward Melinda (Mindy) Barbieri scored two goals last season for Victory as a 15-year-old and the U-20 Matilda is a young talent to watch.

Newcastle Jets (Sixth; 3-4-5 for 13 points)

Like Adelaide, the Newcastle Jets are desperate to follow-up on their near miss of the semifinals last season, finishing three points behind the Roar. They have only made the postseason once in their history after their second place finish in season one (2008/09) but came close the last two seasons, missing the postseason by 1 and 3 points, respectively. Head Coach Craig Deans played in the NSL and A-League, winning titles with Perth Glory as a defender. Deans must replace Australian international forward Tara Andrews, who is taking the season off. Andrews was a revelation in two seasons with the Colorado Pride, winning the Most Valuable Player title in 2015. Andrews had three goals last season and 26 since beginning with the Jets in 2009/10 as a 15 year old.

A strong returnee is Australian Rio Olympic Games member in Chloe Logarzo. The 21-year-old played in 8 games for Eskilstuna United of Sweden, starting 7 since arriving after the Rio Olympics. The 2017 Swedish league season starts in the spring, but expect to see Logarzo continue to play in Europe, mostly likely again in Sweden. Logarzo scored 8 goals for the Colorado Pride of the W-League in 2014.

American forward Jen Hoy, who played at Princeton University, joins the Jets after four seasons with Chicago Red Stars with 13 goals in 69 games. Hoy will be looked upon to have the same scoring impact that her Red Stars teammate, Vanessa DiBernardo, had last season with Perth (six goals in eight games) since Newcastle only had 9 goals in 12 games in the 2015/16 campaign—the lowest total of any team in the league. Hoy needs to have a strong season down-under or this team, which was focused on signing trialists from Australian State League teams, could struggle greatly. Hoy will have a friendly face on the back line with defender Arin Gilliland—the second-year Red Stars defender was a finalist for Defender of the Year this past season in the NWSL.

Deans has a young side without a lot of imports and a prime example is Tara Pender (19) who traditionally plays on the right wing and was recruited by the Western Sydney Wanderers last year. She only played one game for the Wanderers and coincidently it was against the Jets. Elizabeth O’Reilly, 24, joins the side from Sydney University and last played in the W-League during its first season in 2008/09 for the now defunct Central Coast Mariners FC, when she was just 16 years old. O’Reilly said to “I went to college after it and played for the University of Wyoming. It was an awesome experience; over there you get treated like a professional. Coming back this year into the W-League it has really stepped up and changed since when it started, the professionalism has really increased….It has been my goal to get back into the W-league and I am excited and thankful to have been recruited into the team. I think we will have a real chance this season, I don’t think many people rate us and I think we will be a good underdog team.”

Perth Glory (Eight; 3-2-7 for 11 points)

Vanessa DiBernardo was phenomenal for Perth last year.

Vanessa DiBernardo was phenomenal for Perth last year.

The Western Australian club fell off the proverbial cliff last season after posting their best ever season in 2014/15, winning the Premiership (league table) before falling to Canberra in the Grand Final by a 3-1 score. Chicago Red Stars midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo returns after a sensational mid-season loan spell that resulted in six goals in eight games played, bursting onto the W-League scene by scoring three braces. Primarily a provider in NWSL, it will be interesting if she repeats her goal-scoring vein in the Western city now that opposing teams most likely will be marking her more closely. Australian international forward Sam Kerr returns from a strong season with Sky Blue FC and should be a key in leading the attack. New additions to the W-League from abroad include three with NWSL experience. Forward/midfielder Alyssa Mautz comes on loan from the Red Stars and has played 71 regular season games for the Red Stars over four seasons with nine goals and five assists. Midfielder Nikki Stanton arrives after 3 seasons in a substitute role with Sky Blue FC, playing 25 games with only 7 starts. Arianna Romero, a Mexico 2015 World Cup player who was with the Houston Dash in 2014, spent the summer playing in Iceland.

Sydney FC (Third; 6-1-5 for 19 points)

Sydney FC, like Canberra and Brisbane, is aiming to be the first W-League side to win three titles after finishing runners-up to Melbourne City last season, falling in the Grand Final by a 4-1 scoreline. Kyah Simon, who scored Sydney’s loan goal in the Grand Final and had three goals during the regular season, is back from the Boston Breakers. Other Australian internationals with NWSL ties include Caitlin Foord (Sky Blue FC), who returns to Sydney FC after two seasons in Perth, and defender Alanna Kennedy, who won a NWSL title last month with the Western New York Flash. Australian international defender Georgia Yeoman-Dale is an experienced addition from Newcastle. Returnees include Australian youth internationals Natalie Tobin in midfield and Princess Ibini at forward.

Former Australian international midfielder Servet Unzular (ex-Pali Blues in the USL’s W-League) returns to the Sky Blue’s after a year off and is a significant addition but look for other notable signings to come to replace the departure of Australian Tiegen Allen (Melbourne City) and American Jasmyne Spencer (Canberra United).

Western Sydney Wanderers (Seventh; 3-3-6 for 12 points)

The Western Sydney Wanderers—such a tremendous marketing and playing success on and off the field on the men’s side, including an Asian Football Confederation Champions League title in 2014—look to make the playoffs for the first time in their fifth season in the W-League, after finishing seventh in 2015/16. The Wanderers have a new coach, Rich Byrne, a U.K. native who has coached at home, in New Zealand and in Australia. Bryne will be assisted by former Matildas’ midfielder Leah Blayney, who played at Auburn and Central Connecticut State University and had a short spell with the Boston Breakers in WPS and Eskilstuna of Sweden. Forward Helen Peinos and defender Caitlin Cooper return for their fourth season with the club.

The Wanderers signed four Americans on loan: forward Katie Stengel from the Washington Spirit, who did well in a short time with Bayern Munich; midfielder Kendall Fletcher from the Seattle Reign, who played last season at Canberra; defender Alex Arlitt (ex-Louisiana State University) from FC Kansas City; and Paige Neilsen (ex-University of North Carolina) who played two games for the Seattle Reign and then joined Apollon Limassol of Cyprus on loan. This quartet could help push the Wanderers into the postseason for the first time.

Week 1 schedule

Round 1 Games in the Westfield W-League are below, with Canberra United having the week off with a bye:

Friday November 4, Brisbane Roar hosts Sydney FC

Saturday November 5, Adelaide United hosts Melbourne Victory while Melbourne City entertains Newcastle Jets

Sunday November 6, Western Sydney Wanderers travel to Perth to meet the Glory

Tim Grainey is a contributor to Equalizer Soccer.  His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham was released earlier this month.  Get your copy today.

Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey


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