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Tim Grainey’s comprehensive W-League preview

The Westfield W-League begins its second decade in 2018/19 with Brisbane Roar, last season’s Premiership (Regular Season) Champions, and Melbourne City, the league champions for the third time in their three seasons, the favorites to again make the playoffs. There are a number of player moves around the nine teams and interesting international signings, including a number of NWSL loanees. We profile each team in alphabetic order, with their regular season record from last season.

Adelaide United (3-8-1, 10 points; 9th place)

Adelaide United have never made the playoffs in ten seasons, but this year may be different with the landmark signing of Australian international and former Western New York Flash (2015) forward Michelle Heyman. Heyman left Canberra, where she won three Premierships and two Grand Finals, for the South Australian side. She should help shore up last season’s low-scoring offense (15 goals in 12 games). She is the all-time W-League goal scorer with 51 goals in 93 games and also holds the single season mark with 15 in 2011/12. Another new addition is Kahlia Hogg (24), who has played 35 W-League games between Western Sydney and Canberra, along with time in U.S. universities at Florida State University and the University of Colorado.

Michelle Heyman (Getty Images)

From Europe, Adelaide has added Icelandic internationals Fanndis Fridriksdottir and Gunnhildur Jonsdottir. Fridriksdottier scored 97 goals in 173 games with Breidablik in Iceland and played with Olympique Lyon in 2017-18 and also in Norway. Jonsdottir (30) comes to Australia after a season with the Utah Royals in the NWSL, scoring 1 goal and 2 assists in 24 games for a low scoring team. She played for five years in Norway.

American defender Amber Brooks (27) joins the Reds on loan from the NWSL’s Houston Dash. A five-year NWSL vet, including a season each with Seattle and Portland, she is an impact addition for Adelaide. Her Dash teammate, forward Veronica Latsko, also comes to Australia for the first time. Latsko scored 4 goals and added 2 assists in 21 games in her rookie campaign last season.

Australian international Alex Chidiac (19) has joined Spain’s reigning Champions, Atlético de Madrid Femenino, during the offseason and will not return.

It may be another year out of the playoffs for the Reds, but trips to South Australia are never easy for the competition and Heyman’s presence could propel Adelaide United up the table. 

Brisbane Roar FC (9-2-1, 28 points; 1st place, lost semifinal)

Claire Polkinghorne (who played this season with the Houston Dash) returns to the Roar to add on to her club record 115 matches, one behind the league leaders Sydney FC midfielder Teresa Polias and Perth Glory new addition (from Sydney FC) Marianna Tabain, who both have 116 matches. Last season Matilda goalkeeper Makenzie Arnold (24) was stellar with six shutouts in 12 games. She played this season with Arna-Bjørnar in Norway. Arnold started 15 of 19 games for her club, who are joint third with three games left (34 points). Another returnee is Australian international midfielder Katrina Gorry, who just narrowly missed the NWSL playoffs this season for the Utah Royals. Utah waived Gorry at the end of the season and she was not claimed by any other NWSL side. Matilda winger Hayley Raso (Portland Thorns) is also back and scored 4 goals in 2017/18.  Raso broke her back late in the NWSL season and may miss at least some of the W-league season. Raso’s Portland teammate Celeste Boureille (24), who was the Roar Team Player of the Year last season, is also back and played 21 regular season games this season for the NWSL title runners-up.

Two key players from 2017/18 are leaving for clubs in Victoria: Australian international Tameka Butt (Melbourne City and who played for the Boston Breakers in the WPSL-Elite in 2012) and Emily Gielnik (Melbourne Victory and who played with the Ottawa Fury in 2013 in the USL’s W-League). Butt transferred for career opportunities in Melbourne after more than 100 games for Brisbane, while Gielnek has 30 goals from 83 games with the Roar.

2011 Women’s World Cup Winner Yuki Nagasato of Japan joins from the Chicago Red Stars, where she scored 4 goals and added 7 assists in 22 games. This is her first season in Australia and has played in Germany as well. Two Orlando Pride players were also signed: American defender Carson Pickett returns for a second season and former Arsenal player and U-20 WWC winner (with the U.S.) Chioma Ubogagu is playing in the W-League for the first time.

Jenna McCormick (24) is another new addition in defense and has over 60 W-League appearances with Adelaide (4 seasons) and Canberra (2 seasons), as well as two seasons in Scandinavia, winning a league title in Iceland with Stjaran and then playing the next season with Medkila of Norway. McCormick also plays in the Women’s Australian Football League and won a Grand Final title with the Adelaide Crows in 2017. She is set to play again with the Australian Rules League Crows in 2019.

The Roar still has a stable core base and with their experience and pedigree, mixed with some exciting new players, they should continue their success into the league’s second decade.

Canberra United (5-6-1, 16 pts; 5th place)

Canberra United missed the playoffs for only the second time in their history, after also finishing in fifth place in 2012/13, despite being loaded with talent. There is considerable turnover for this season. English international defender Laura Bassett scored once while Norwegian international forward Elise Thornes had six goals; neither are returning—Thorsnes played a minor role with the Utah Royals in NWSL this season and was released by the club after the season and cleared league waivers. Michelle Heyman took her all-time scoring lead to Adelaide United (see above).

(Photo: Westfield W-League)

Ellie Carpenter (Canberra United and Portland Thorns) was the winner of the 2017/18 Westfield W-League NAB Young Footballer of the Year Award. Carpenter (18) had two goals and two assists for the Capital City club last season and scored one goal in 17 matches in Portland in her first season abroad this past summer.

A new local signing is Meaghan McElligott, who trialed for the club after scoring 50 goals this past season in the Queensland state league with Gold Coast United before moving to the Moreton Bay Jets in midseason. In 2017 McElligot played for the Washington Spirit Reserves in the Women’s Premier Soccer League while also training with the NWSL side. McElligott said about her experience in America: “That was a very professional environment over there in the U.S. I learned a lot over there and it was overall a very good experience.” McElligott had previously trained with the Roar for two years but was never signed.

Scottish international defender Rachel Corsie, who helped her side make the 2019 Women’s World Cup finals for the first time earlier this fall, comes to Australia for a debut season after playing in the NWSL in 2018 with the Utah Royals following three seasons with the Seattle Reign. Another European import via the NWSL is Republic of Ireland international Denise O’Sullivan, who has been with the North Carolina Courage during the last two seasons when they made two NWSL finals, winning the title this season.

Two South Africans have signed after trialing for an extended period in the offseason: midfielder Refiloe Jane (26 and ex-Tshwane University of Technology) and forward Rhoda Mulaudzi (28 and ex-Mamelodi Sundowns) who could become the first South Africans to play in the league if they see action. Jane has captained the South African Banyana Banyana and appeared at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games, while Mulaudzi has been part of the national team pool in recent times.

Head Coach Heather Garriock, who played with the Chicago Red Stars during the first season of the WPS in 2009, is in her second season as head coach and has made some significant changes, which should propel her side back into the playoff picture this season.

Melbourne City (6-4-2, 20 pts; 4th place, won Grand Final)

Australian internationals Steph Catley (Seattle) and Kyah Simon (Houston) are back for another season. Besides Catley, a further quintet come from the Seattle Reign including Australian international goalkeeper Lydia Williams (W-League Goalkeeper of the Year in 2016/17 and the NWSL leader this season with 10 shutouts and a goals against average of 0.69, with only 11 goals allowed in 16 matches) and defender Lauren Barnes, who was City’s Player of the Year last season. Other Reign players coming to Melbourne City are forward Jasmyne Spencer, who played last season with Sydney FC, Danish defender Theresa Nielsen—new to the W-League and who played mostly at home until joining Valerenga of Norway in 2017 and then coming to the States; she has played 121 times for her country—and English international forward Jodie Taylor, who is expected to return to City on loan in January.

Melbourne City, home of several NWSL players, will be entering the 2018/2019 season as the three-time reigning champions. (photo courtesy Melbourne City)

Two W-League veterans are not planning on playing with City this year due to other commitments: Australian international Aivi Luik, who has won four W-League titles—three of them with Melbourne City—joined Levante of Spain for the 2018-19 campaign. Previously this year she played in Sweden with IFK Kalmar, where she had 1 goal in 9 games. Another key departure is Jess Fishlock, who has played in the W-League and won four titles—one with Melbourne Victory and three with City—and was loaned by the Seattle Reign this offseason to Olympique Lyon in France’s Division 1 Féminine. Fishlock’s impact on City cannot be minimized, particularly since she was a player-coach late in season two when the club won their second title.

Some new arrivals to the champions include Australian internationals Elise Kellond-Knight and Tameka Butt. Kellond-Knight (28) hasn’t played in the W-League since 2015, having spent the last three summers with Turbine Potsdam in Germany and Hammarby in Sweden. She had previously played in Japan and Denmark. Butt (27), meanwhile, left Brisbane after 10 years for career opportunities in Melbourne (see above). She has played in the U.S., Germany, Sweden and the last two years in Norway with Klepp, which is currently in second place in the Toppserien and would qualify them for the 2019/20 Women’s Champions League for the first time if they maintain that position through the last three games of the season. Helen Caceres (Western Sydney) and Adriana Jones (Adelaide), who played two years with the Adelaide Reds and previously with the Newcastle Jets, are other new additions to the side.

City may start slowly as they integrate their new players but don’t count them out on making their fourth consecutive Grand Final if they make the playoffs.

Melbourne Victory (3-7-2, 11 pts; 7th place)

Melbourne Victory will try to make the playoffs for the first time in four years, but must do it without veteran midfielder and Turkish international Gulcan Koca, who has retired from the game. English international forward Natasha Dowie’s return is good news for the club as the Victory only scored 15 goals last season (tied with Adelaide for second worst in the league). After the Boston Breakers folded ahead of the 2018 season, she went to Europe to join Sweden’s Linköpings, where she scored nine goals in ten games, but left at the summer break in a mutual decision with the club, reportedly for budget reasons on Linkopings’ side. This will be her third season at the Victory and she is the club’s all-time leading scorer with 15 goals. Dowie has signed with Victory for the next two W-League seasons.

(photo courtesy Melbourne Victory)

Laura Alleway returns as well to the Victory; she played for the Orlando Pride in 2016 and 2017. Alleway played for the Victory during their first two seasons in the league (2008/09 and 2009/2010) before playing with Brisbane, Melbourne City and then returning to the Victory again last season.

Two NWSL American midfielders are signed for the Victory for the season: Christine Nairn and Dani Weatherholt. Nairn played in the league from 2014 to 2017 (3 seasons) but did not return Down Under last season. Nairn has played 36 games and scored 5 times in her Victory career, and scored one goal with four assists in 20 matches this summer with the Pride. Weatherholt was the no. 31 draft pick by the expansion Pride in 2016 and scored two goals this season in the NWSL.

Dowie is critical to Victory’s return to playoff glory and a chance to win another Grand Final after their win in 2013-14.

Newcastle Jets—(6-4-2, 20 pts; 3rd place, lost semifinal)

One of the key stories of last season was the Jets making the playoffs for the first time since the league’s inaugural season of 2008/09. Midfielder Emily van Egmond returns after a season in the NWSL with the Orlando Pride, with 1 assist in 17 games. She has played 48 games for the Jets across four seasons but her 2017/18 season with the Jets was her first with the club and in the W-League since 2014.

Katie Stengel. (Credit: Roscoe Myrick/Utah Royals FC)

American Katie Stengel’s return to Newcastle for a second season is tremendous news for stability at a franchise that did so well last season. Stengel was second in the W-League with 10 goals last season and added 6 more for the Utah Royals in NWSL this summer. Another American set for her second year in Newcastle is goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom (25), who headed up the defense last season in Newcastle. Eckerstrom (the Portland Thorns backup) said: “Working with [goalkeeping coach Andrew] Goldy last season helped me improve my game, and I really saw the benefits of being here in Australia during the NWSL off-season. We made the semifinal last season, and we’re all going to be working hard to have another successful season.”

American international defender Taylor Smith (24) is coming to the Jets for her first season in Australia, after playing for the Washington Spirit last season. Smith played the most minutes of any Spirit player (2064) in 23 matches in 2018.

Two experienced local returnees are hoping for another successful Jets season and more time on the field. Tara Andrews was the leading scorer and Most Valuable Player for the Colorado Pride in the now defunct North American W-League in 2015 but she played only in six games after returning to the Jets following a break from football for the 2016/17. She has 27 W-League goals in 76 matches. Gema Simon also missed half of last season with injury; she has 7 goals in 107 W-League matches.

Larissa Crummer will join the club on a one-year deal from Melbourne City, where she won the Golden Boot in 2015/16 with 11 goals, and hopes to see more action on the field than her limited role last season at City. Crummer (22) has 64 Westfield W-League appearances from time with Sydney FC, Brisbane Roar, and Melbourne City.

Anything less than another playoff berth for the Jets this season will be seen as a massive disappointment and a lost opportunity to continue to build a successful team structure in Newcastle.

Perth Glory (4-6-2, 14 pts; 6th place)

The Glory have made two Grand Finals in the past four seasons so last seasons’ sixth place finish was a disappointment, when they went winless (with only two ties) in their final six games to fall from the top two in the league. Australian international scoring machine Sam Kerr is back for 2018/19. Kerr and Clare Polkinghorne from Brisbane Roar FC were named joint winners of the Julie Dolan Medal for W-League Player of the Year last season. Kerr also won the Golden Boot with 13 goals and has been the top scorer during the last two NWSL seasons (with Sky Blue FC in 2017 and the Chicago Red Stars in 2018).

Up front, Kerr will have American striker Rachel Hill (Orlando Pride) back this season; Hill was third in the W-League last season with nine goals and also had six assists. In Orlando this summer she scored 4 goals and played with the U.S. U-23 national team in the Nordic Cup. Another American that Kerr is familiar playing with returns to the West Coast club—Alyssa Mautz (Chicago Red Stars)—who was Adelaide United’s Westfield W-League Player of the Season following a standout 2017/18 campaign. This will be her third season in Australia, having spent 2016/17 with Perth. American Nikki Stanton is back for her fourth season in Perth, after breaking her arm in the second game last season. She plays in Chicago as well after three years with Sky Blue FC. Another Red Star coming to Perth is American Katie Naughton (24), who previously played the past two seasons in Adelaide.

Promising Australian youth international Jacynta Galabadaarachchi (17) signed for Perth but had looked at opportunities to join a number of English Super League sides earlier this year. She played with champions Melbourne City in 2016/17 before trialing with sides in England. Galabadaarachchi explained: “I’ve been going back and forth to England since I was about nine because I have an auntie who lives there. Most recently I went over to train with Everton, Manchester City and Arsenal, and all three clubs offered me the opportunity to sign, but because I’m still under 18, it’s not possible for me to sign a pro contract there yet. It was a really good experience seeing how the women play over there, though.”

With Kerr and Hill up front, Kim Carroll in the back and Campbell in goal, Perth will be in for a shout for the 2018/19 playoffs.

Sydney FC (8-3-1, 25 pts; 2nd place; lost Grand Final)

There is quite a bit of change this season for Sydney, who lost to Melbourne City 2-0 in last season’s Grand Final. Matilda attacking trio Lisa De Vanna, Caitlin Foord (Portland Thorns) and Chloe Logarzo are all back for another season for the Sky Blue, while midfielder Amy Harrison (8 caps)—a former league Young Player of the Year (2014)—returns after suffering a serious knee injury in January. Midfielder Teresa Polias (28), tied for the all-time W-League record in appearances after 8 seasons with the club with 116, has signed for two more seasons.

New additions this season include veteran Matilda defender Alanna Kennedy, who returns to Sydney FC after winning the title with Melbourne City last season. Kennedy played four years with Sydney FC and was the club’s Player of the Year in 2015/16. Kennedy, who scored 4 goals with 1 assist in 24 games in 2017 and 2 goals and 1 assist in 20 games this season with the Orlando Pride in the NWSL, said: “This club is like family to me, it’s an environment in which I have had success in the past and I can’t wait to get started. Being away from the club made me realize what I was missing off the field and I’m expecting my performances to show it was worth the return.”

Three Americans have been signed for 2018/19 by Sydney: former Mexican and current U.S. international Sofia Huerta (Houston Dash), Danielle Colaprico (Chicago Red Stars) and goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe (Washington Spirit). Huerta had 8 goals and 6 assists playing for Chicago and Houston this past NWSL season. She played for Adelaide United in 2016/17 and had 8 goals in 12 matches to finish fifth in the W-League in scoring. Colaprico has played for Adelaide the last two seasons. Bledsoe returns to Sydney after a strong season last year. She was re-signed by the Spirit for the 2019 NWSL season.

Sydney have never missed the playoffs in their decade in the league and have made five Grand Finals—winning two–and hope to have enough goal scoring and guile this season to tie City with three titles. Sofia Huerta’s signing could be the x factor in attack.

Western Sydney Wanderers (3-7-2, 11 pts; 8th place)

Wanderers are entering their seventh season of Westfield W-League football and their best result is a sixth place finish in their inaugural season in 2012/13; they remain the only team besides Adelaide to never make the playoffs. Their three lesser known imports from Europe in 2017/18 are gone: former Dutch international forward Marlous Piette of the Netherlands, Israeli international midfielder Lee Falkon and Dutch defender Maruschka Waldus combined for only three goals.

Elizabeth Addo

One replacement is U.S. U-23 international defender Sydney Miramontez (24), who played this past season with the Utah Royals. She was a backup for the Royals, making 10 appearances and played 5 games with FC Kansas City in 2017 in her rookie season after playing collegiately at the University of Nebraska. Her teammate in Utah, midfielder Lo’eau LaBonta, returns for her second season with the Wanderers on loan.

Elizabeth Addo, a Ghanaian international, joins the suburban Sydney club after playing for the Seattle Reign in 2018, where she was primarily a backup in 12 games and had one assist. She has played club ball in Ghana, Nigeria, Hungary (Ferencvarosi), Serbia briefly (Spartak Subotica) and Sweden (Kvarnsvedens IK) before moving to the NWSL. She is due to be the first Ghanaian to play in the W-League.

Western Sydney is optimistic to have more success this season, having brought in a head coach and five players from city rivals Sydney FC last season. Remy Siemsen, Leena Khamis, Kylie Ledbrook, Georgia Yeoman-Dale and Caitlin Cooper, as well as head coach Dan Barrett, all made the 2017/18 Grand Final with Sydney FC and have crossed town to join the Wanderers. Interestingly, their opening game this season is against the Sky Blues.

Siemsen joins the Wanderers after spending her first season overseas where she played in the WPSL for the California Storm. She led the 2018 season with 9 goals in 8 games while with the Storm. Siemsen was also second in the league with assists (5) and led the league in points (23). She has also represented Australia on the U-20 level. At the age of 16, she was named the Young Footballer of the Year by the league (2016/17). Siemsen talked about her move to the States: “It feels quite different, for now in my career. It’s time to make a move. It was really good to head overseas and test out the waters to see if I enjoyed that experience, and I did. It was a strong league and I thought it helped my game improve a lot and it’s going to help me go into the W-League, stronger and more physical. I noticed a different aspect of the game over there.”

The Red and Black have another player returning to the club, founding player and former Australian international defender Servet Uzunlar. Uzunlar made 48 appearances for the Westfield Matilda’s and close to 80 appearances in the Westfield W-League. Domestically she has won the Westfield W-League Championship and two Premierships and was an original Sydney FC member in 2008/09. Uzunlar also played in the States with Pali Blues in the W-League in 2012. She did not play for the club last season, explaining: “I took some time away from the game for various reasons and I’ve just got back to enjoying my football so I’m looking forward to continuing that with the Wanderers.” She had 5 goals in 17 games in the New South Wales league earlier this year for the Northern Tigers FC.

Round 1:

Thursday:
Western Sydney Wanderers vs Sydney FC, 4:25 a.m. EDT (ESPN+)

Sunday:
Brisbane Roar FC vs Perth Glory, Sat 11:25 p.m. EDT on Saturday (ESPN+)
Canberra United vs Melbourne City FC, 1:00 a.m. EDT
Melbourne Victory vs Adelaine United, 1:15 a.m. EDT

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