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Presenting your massive, in-depth 2019-20 Westfield W-League preview

Photos Courtesy Westfield W-League

The 12th season of Australia’s Westfield W-League kicks off on Thursday, and it’s going to look different — notably for some of the stars who won’t be participating.

Sam Kerr will not play for Perth Glory, missing her first W-League season since the league’s inaugural campaign, in 2008. She recently told the Chicago Red Stars that she won’t return to the National Women’s Soccer League next season, instead deciding to try her hand in Europe with Chelsea.

Fellow Matildas Lisa De Vanna and Emily Gielnik have also moved to Europe and will miss this W-League season.

The season kicks off on Thursday, Nov. 14 (Australia time) with Western Sydney Wanderers hosting Adelaide United. The first round ends on Sunday, Nov. 17 with Champions Sydney FC hosting Melbourne Victory, Canberra United home against Perth Glory and Newcastle Jets entertaining Melbourne City, with Brisbane Roar having a bye.

We profile each team in alphabetic order, with their regular-season record from last season.

Adelaide United (2018: 5-3-4—18 points—6th)

Adelaide United’s 25-year-old midfielder Kahlia Hogg (who played at Florida State University in 2012-2013 and the University of Colorado in 2014-2016)) is back after playing in only two games for United last season due to knee issues. She played state league soccer in the offseason in the New South Wales state league, scoring four goals in 21 matches for Illawarra Stingrays.

Another returnee with U.S. college experience is Isabel Hodgson, who will start her fifth season in the league, all with Adelaide. Hodgson, 23, played at East Tennessee State and had four goals in her senior season in 2018. She previously played for the Reds for three seasons between 2013/14 and 2015/2016 and has 22 appearances in total for United, with one goal.

Amber Brooks (Houston Dash) was named the Reds Player of the Year in her first season in the W-League for the 2018/19 season — she added three assists from her center back position and will return for the 2019/20 season. It was another Dash import from the U.S. — Veronika Latsko — that finished with the club’s golden boot with nine goals and tied for third best in the league. Latsko will return to the W-League for 2019/20 but not with the Reds; she joined champions Sydney FC.

One new American signing is forward Mallory Weber (25), who played last season as a fullback with the Utah Royals. Weber played collegiately at Penn State and then for parts of four seasons for the Portland Thorns before being released early in the 2019 season; she was picked up by the Royals, where she played 18 games this past campaign.

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One interesting new signing is former University of North Carolina and U.S. U-23 international defender Julia Ashley. Ashley, 22, played earlier this season in the Swedish Damallsvenskan with Linkopings, despite being selected sixth overall in the 2019 NWSL College Draft by Sky Blue FC (and she is a New Jersey native). Linkopings, champions in 2009, 2016 and 2017 and with a traditionally strong fan base, finished fifth on 36 points in a very strong 2019 Swedish league season. Ashley played in only one league game and was released mid-season. This W-League campaign could be crucial to determining where she plays in 2020.

Former United player Alex Chidiac will remain in Spain after inking a new two-year contract with La Liga champions Atletico Madrid last summer. She was in the running for a spot with the Matildas in France but was a somewhat surprising final omission. Atletico won their third straight league title last season and Chidiac contributed three goals in 19 appearances. Her club is in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Women’s Champions League, knocking Manchester City out of the tournament recently in the Round of 16.

Adelaide United had such a strong campaign last season — they are still aiming for their first W-League playoff spot and game ever — but signing some other capable imports is key to a push for the postseason.

Brisbane Roar (2018: 6-2-4—20 points—2nd)

Claire Polkinghorne

It will be a different look for Brisbane Roar on the bench as head coach Mel Andreatta is now a full-time assistant coach with the Matildas, having assisted Ante Milicic at last summer’s World Cup in France. Andreatta is a tough act to follow. In her three seasons in Brisbane, she led the club to two consecutive top-two finishes and the club’s third Premiership (regular-season title) in 2017/18.

Her replacement is Jake Goodship, who has been involved in Brisbane’s academy program for years. Assisting Goodship will be Claire Polkinghorne in a player-coach role after leaving the Houston Dash late in the NWSL season to return home for family reasons. This will be her 12th W-League season, all with the Roar.

English international forward Chioma Ubogagu will not return for a second season, having signed for Real Madrid/C.D. Tacon in Spain at the end of the summer. Matildas midfielder Tameka Yallop, who has played the last three seasons with Norwegian Toppserien side Klepp IL returns to the Roar after spending 2018/19 with Melbourne City. She is one goal short of a half century of Westfield W-League goals, scoring 49 in 108 games. Her Matildas teammate Hayley Raso is coming back to the Roar, after scoring four goals in 14 matches with the Portland Thorns in 2019.

Another former Roar player returning is Elise Kellond-Knight, who played last season with Melbourne City but all of her previous six W-League seasons have been with the Roar, winning two Grand Finals and a Premiership. The three-time Women’s World Cup player has over 100 caps with the Matildas and began the 2019 NWSL season with Reign FC before a late season trade to the Washington Spirit. She has also played in Denmark, Japan, Germany and Sweden.

Other Matildas returnees to the Roar include Katrina Gorry (who won an NWSL title with FC Kansas City in 2014 and was with the Utah Royals in 2018) but missed a good portion of the 2018/19 W-League season with an ankle injury. Goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold is also back; she signed after the World Cup with the Chicago Red Stars but did not see action behind American World Cup-winning goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. American defender Carson Pickett (Orlando Pride) returns for her third season with the Roar; the attacking wing-back has three goals in 26 games over her two seasons in Australia. Celeste Boureille (Portland Thorns) also is back for her third season with the Roar and has been hugely influential in the midfield for Brisbane.

Another strong addition is 22-year-old midfielder Isobel Dalton — who was raised in Brisbane — and who played one game for the Roar in 2014 before going abroad for five seasons. Dalton has appeared for Australia at the U-15, U-16 and U-17 levels and played in the English Women’s Super League in 2015 with Bristol City. She played collegiately with the University of Colorado for her final three seasons after one year with Lindsey Wilson College in Kentucky, who made the NAIA Championship final in 2015.

After college she signed in July of 2019 with Nottingham Forest of the FA Women’s National League North (the third tier). The Roar have also signed American Rylee Baisden, who played at Pepperdine University in California from 2012-2016, finishing with 12 goals and 10 assists in 78 games. She starred this season for State League finalist Moreton Bay, scoring 33 goals in 24 matches in her first season in Australia. She earned a one-year contract after a tryout of top NPLW players.

“It was quite an exciting time being asked to trial — it was the icing on the cake after a good first season in Australia,” said 24-year-old Baisden. “I didn’t expect I’d get a contract, but I’m honored to be playing for Brisbane Roar this season….I’ve always wanted to play in the top division and this is ticking boxes on my football career. The club has a great reputation and I can’t wait to get started.”

Canberra United (2018: 3-3-6—13 points—8th)

Katie Stengel

Canberra signed Norwegian international Elise Thorsnes, who played for the club two seasons ago and scored six goals in nine games; Thorsnes also played for the Utah Royals in 2018. Thorsnes has scored 10 goals this season for Champions-elect Lillestrom in Norway with one game left in the season, leaving her tied for sixth in the Toppserien. Thorsnes has over 100 caps for Norway and has played in the last three Women’s World Cups.

American Katie Stengel (Utah Royals) is back for her fourth consecutive season in the W-League, but after one year with the Wanderers and two with the Jets — where she scored 10 goals in 2017/18 — she is joining the Greens of Canberra. A first-time American import is 24-year-old forward Simone Charlie, who appeared in 11 matches as a rookie for the Portland Thorns this season. Charlie had 25 goals and 18 assists in 76 games at the University of Vanderbilt and has experience with the U.S. U-23 national team.

Defender Nikola Orgill, will be a co-captain this season after a strong first season in Canberra; she lined up for the Newcastle Jets and Western Sydney Wanderers for one season each. Orgill combines her playing career with her other profession as a lawyer.

Defender Karly Roestbakken, 18, who was a surprise selection for the Matildas World Cup side in France, returns for her fourth season at the club. Just 12 months ago, she was part of the Canberra United Academy program. Since then, she has gone on to have a strong Westfield W-League season, captained the Westfield Young Matildas and went to France with the senior Matildas. Roestbakken was brought on as a late substitute in the crucial comeback win against Brazil (3-2) at the World Cup in France, before starting in the final group match against Jamaica.

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The club brought back Shamiran Khamis in goal for her second season; previously she played for Sydney FC and Western Sydney for six years. Khamis was named the club’s “Player’s Player” at the end of last season. Khamis will get to play this season with her older sister, Leena, who has played in 103 W-League games and will be playing in her 12th season. Leena Khamis is seventh in the Westfield W-League’s all-time goal scorer charts with 40 goals and has 25 Matilda caps, including at the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany. She played with Western Sydney in 2018/19.

Three imports from last season who will not be returning include forward Rhoda Mulaudzi, a South African Women’s World Cup player in France, who had four goals in 12 games with Canberra last winter but is now with Apollon of Cyprus. Her South African national team colleague, Refiloe Jane, who had two goals in 10 games for the Greens in 2018/19, is now with AC Milan in Italy. Maria Rojas, who represented Chile at the World Cup, was playing this fall in the UEFA Women’s Champions League with Slavia Prague of the Czech Republic. Also, American Paige Nielsen left the club early last season but rebounded with a solid defensive role for Washington Spirit, playing 21 of their 24 games.

Defender Patricia Charalambous signed with Canberra after playing two seasons with Perth Glory in 2017/17 and 2017-18, logging 12 appearances in total. In 2013 she played for Apollon in Cyprus and played in the European Champions League.

Heather Garriock’s side has been out of the playoffs the last two seasons, after the club made the playoffs eight of the nine previous seasons, with one Grand Final win and two second-place finishes. The side needs to rejoin the elite this season and one or two more seasoned forwards besides Thorsnes and Stengel will help the club, replacing the trio of World Cup team members from last season who are now playing in Europe.

Melbourne City (2018: 6-1-5—19 points—tied for 3rd)

Returnees from the Melbourne City side which just narrowly missed the playoffs last season — after winning three consecutive league Grand Finals in their first three seasons — include Australian international Kyah Simon (who was a final cut for France last summer and played in Houston this past NWSL season) and starting Matildas goalkeeper in France Lydia Williams (Reign FC). Steph Catley (Reign FC) is also back after missing half of the 2018/19 season through injury.

Another signing with national team experience is Emily van Egmond, who has played for Orlando Pride the past two seasons. Van Egmond, 26, has spent most of her career with the Jets since the first year of the league in 2008/09, when she was 15 and also played with them the last two seasons. She has lined up with Canberra United and Western Sydney Wanderers, and in Denmark and Germany as well as in the United States. Van Egmond recently ended her NWSL season early after only playing in eight matches and returned to Australia for ankle surgery; her left ankle was damaged during the 2019 World Cup.

An important new pickup for City is 19-year-old defender Ellie Carpenter, who was the winner of the Westfield W-League NAB Young Footballer of the Year Award last season with Canberra and had one assist in 16 games for the Portland Thorns this past season. She has 35 caps with the Matildas.

Follow all our W-League coverage this season at this link

One huge signing on the international front is Scottish international forward Claire Emslie on loan from the Orlando Pride; she scored her country’s first ever Women’s World Cup finals goal against England this past summer in France. She went to college in Florida and played for Hibernian at home, and for English sides Bristol City and Manchester City.

Japanese international and 2011 Women’s World Cup winner Yukari Kinga returns for her third season with Melbourne City. Another returnee is NWSL defensive star Lauren Barnes, back for her fourth season with the club and sixth season in the W-League, having played initially with Melbourne Victory for two campaigns.

The fact that City did not have Welsh international midfielder Jess Fishlock last season was a significant factor in their fifth-place finish; she won a UEFA Women’s Champions League title in Lyon in France instead of playing a fourth season in Melbourne and then returned to Reign FC in the NWSL this past summer. After only a few games with the Reign, she was sidelined and is now recuperating from a torn ACL.

Another City veteran that is not returning is Aivi Luik, who was with the Matildas in this summer’s World Cup and was a key part of all three of City’s title wins. She returned to Norway with Avaldsnes IL, after playing with Spanish club Levante in 2018-19 — she had played 21 games with three goals for Valerenga in 2017. Luik played 10 games this fall with Avaldsnes, who are currently in fifth place on 34 points with 1 game remaining.

One important local signing is former Adelaide United skipper Emma Checker., who has been capped by Australia at the full level three times and played for Adelaide City in the State League level; Checker signed a one-year deal for City. She played 78 games in the W-League over eight seasons with Adelaide, Canberra and Melbourne Victory. In 2017, Checker joined Incheon Hyundai Steel Red Angels in South Korea.

U.S. international and ex-UCLA defender Hailie Mace played two games for the club late last season, avoiding Sky Blue FC, who drafted her, before going to Sweden and playing 15 matches with four goals for 2019 champions Rosengard. She is not set to return to Australia at the present time.

Melbourne Victory (2018: 7-3-2—24 points—1st)

Jenna McCormick

The original Melbourne side won the Premiership (regular-season title) in 2018/19 before falling in an exciting semifinal loss at home to Perth, 4-2 in extra time. Jeff Hopkins was named the Westfield W-League Coach of the Year for the second time, after winning the league title with Brisbane Roar in the league’s inaugural season of 2008/09.

A high-profile new signing for the Victory is defender Jenna McCormick, who had a busy offseason after her first year with Brisbane Roar in 2018/19, winning a second Australia Women’s Football League (Aussie Rules) title in three seasons for the Adelaide Crows, as the final attracted over 50,000 fans to Adelaide Oval. She also appeared on the Australian Ninja Warrior television show and has announced that she is taking a year off from footy to concentrate on soccer and try to make the Matildas squad. She was named to the national team squad for the Chile series just ahead of the start to the new season.

Another new signing for the club is New Zealand international midfielder Annalie Longo on a one-year contract. Longo has 120 caps for the Football Ferns and 15 goals, starting with them in 2006 as a 15-year-old. Her last stint in the W-League was in 2012/13 when her Sydney FC side won the league crown. She has played in one U-17 Women’s World Cup, two U-20 finals and an incredible four full FIFA Women’s World Cup finals, beginning in 2007 in China.

Melina Ayers is set for her third season with the Victory and fifth overall in the league, having started with Melbourne City; she played with Seattle Sounders in the WPSL this past summer and helped them to the league semifinals for the second year in a row.

Last season’s club leading goal scorer, with nine tallies, and former English international Natasha Dowie has been playing this season with Valerenga of Norway. Valerenga (43 points) is second in the table to Champions Lillestrom (49 points) with one game remaining. Dowie is tied for fourth in the table in scoring with 11 goals along with her club teammate Ajara Nchout of Cameroon.

Grace Maher went to play in Iceland in April of this year with Reykjavík-based side KR in the top-tier league Úrvalsdeild kvenna. KR has the third most domestic league titles in Iceland (six) but has struggled recently; in 2018 season they finished four points above the relegation zone, in eighth. In 2019, they finished a spot higher in seventh and Maher had two goals in 17 matches. Maher spent four seasons at Canberra United and won the championship in 2014 and was the league’s Young Player of the Year in 2017/18 before joining Melbourne Victory for the 2018/19 season. Her return to the Victory is a key element to another strong season.

Three other imports who are coming to the Victory for 2019/20 and are playing abroad for the first time including American defender Emily Menges, who comes on loan from the Portland Thorns and Reign FC’s Darian Jenkins, who scored four goals with one assist in 17 games this past season. The third new import from the NWSL is Houston Dash midfielder Haley Hanson, who played in every regular-season game, with 20 starts.

The Victory lost Matildas forward Emily Gielnik to German giants Bayern Munich and she will not play in the W-League this winter. They should certainly make the playoffs again in 2019/20 and will aim for another Premiership title.

Newcastle Jets (2018: 5-1-6—16 points—7th)

Newcastle Jets dropped from a playoff spot in 2017/18 (only their second ever) to a disappointing seventh in 2018/19. Head coach Craig Deans believed in his core group by signing 16 players from last season’s roster, including Gema Simon and Australia teammate Larissa Crummer, who missed the World Cup as she was coming back from a leg fracture late in the W-League season.

Cassidy Davis and Hannah Brewer bring with them more than 170 games of Westfield W-League experience, while Tara Andrews and Jenna Kingsley are also back.

Nicki Flannery and Annabel Martin headline the new faces at Newcastle, with both playing for Australia at the U-20 level. The 20-year-old Flannery had five goals in 36 games for Canberra United across four W-League seasons. Martin, also 20, played four seasons with Melbourne Victory, totaling 39 appearances. In 2016, Martin also claimed Victory’s Player of the Year award as a 17-year-old.

Newcastle will not be bringing back their American quartet of Arin Wright, goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom (who was selected as the club’s Player of the Year in 2018/19), Katie Stengel and Taylor Smith (who tore an ACL last season in Australia and missed the 2019 NWSL season with Reign FC). Stengel was a late signing for 2019/20 for Canberra United.

Taylor Smith, out all year with a torn ACL, rediscovered herself with Reign FC

Deans explained his general squad building strategy this year:

“Our focus this season will be on Australian players, particularly local talent, and while not retaining the services of these girls [four imports] is disappointing, we’re looking forward to the coming season. We saw at the back end of last year how much our youngsters stood up and delivered for us, and it’s that kind of enthusiasm and determination we’ll be looking for again this season. Combined with a number of senior heads in our side, we’re confident we’ll field a competitive side this year and cause a lot of headaches for teams.”

This is a risk for Deans to bring back so many younger players from a seventh-place side but the W-League is all about developing youth players and if his side gels and avoids the injury problems of last season, his strategy could come good for the club to avoid a tenth season outside of the playoffs.

Perth Glory (2018: 5-4-3—19 points—Tied for 3rd)

The big loss here is Western Australian native Sam Kerr, who recently won her third NWSL Golden Boot in a row but won’t try for a third consecutive W-League Golden Boot. She has signed with Chelsea in the FA WSL as the lure of a big contract and potential future UEFA Women’s Champions League play finally seems to have captivated this hugely talented forward.

Another departure from last season was 18-year-old forward Jacynta Galabadaarachchi, who moved to WSL side West Ham United in July. She had two starts and two substitute appearances last season for Perth and was part of Melbourne City’s championship-winning team in 2016/17, playing five times, before spending a season training in England with Everton, Manchester City and Arsenal.

Knowing no limits: Soccer before and after Sam Kerr

Galabadaarachchi was capped at the Under-17 and Under-20 international with Australia, and joined former Liverpool and Boston Breakers head coach Matt Beard at the East London club, which finished seventh in the WSL in 2018/19, though they did make it to the Women’s FA Cup final where they lost 3-0 to Manchester City. So far this season, she has played in four of five regular-season games for West Ham United, who are currently tied for seventh with Reading on 6 points.

Eliza Campbell had a strong first season with the Glory in 2018/19 and returns; Campbell has a couple of caps for the Matildas and was in the late running as a backup for the World Cup squad. Shannon May also returns and is the club’s record appearance holder in the W-League and should break 100 appearances this season. She played with Perth in season one of the W-League in 2008/09 and this will be her 11th season in the league.

Glory coach Bobby Despotovski said: “We are going with a slightly different squad this year. There is a lot of local talent on show and the reason behind that is our determination to give local WA [Western Australia] players an opportunity to play at [the] Westfield W-League level. Obviously, they have to be good enough and I believe that this blend of players that we have chosen this year and in particular the young players, are definitely good enough. They need that chance to play and show their talent and that’s what we’re going to give them. In terms of our target for the season, it is always to finish in the top four and then try and win it from there. We’re not going to deviate from that.” As with Craig Deans at Newcastle, it will be interesting to see how this approach plays out for 2019/20.

Sydney FC (2018: 6-1-5—19 points—Tied for 3rd)

Why change what works? Sydney FC has 15 returnees from head coach Ante Juric’s 2018/19 Grand Final-winning squad, including American goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe (her third season in Sydney) from the Washington Spirit and Sofia Huerta (her third season in the W-League and second in Sydney) in midfield from the Houston Dash.

Bledsoe was the W-League Goalkeeper of the Year for 2018/19 and had a brilliant season this summer with the Spirit, playing with two Australians from the 2018/19 title winners — Amy Harrison and Chloe Logarzo — and recently being named the 2019 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year and called up to the U.S. national team for friendlies against Sweden and Costa Rica.

A new American signing had a huge impact last season in Australia — Veronica Latsko — who tied for third in the league in goal scoring with nine for Adelaide United (with Sydney FC’s Caitlin Foord) and she alone scored more than half of Adelaide’s goal total last season (17). She was injured in early May with an ACL injury in her left knee while with Houston and did not play again in the NWSL so she will be working herself back to fitness.

Westfield Matildas FIFA World Cup stars Caitlin Foord (Portland Thorns), Alanna Kennedy (Orlando Pride), and Logarzo (Washington Spirit in 2019) are all returning along with their captain and record Westfield W-League appearance holder Teresa Polias, who won the Sky Blue Ball as the top club player last season and will enter her 10th season with the club. Princess Ibini, who was in the late running for a forward spot in France with the Matildas, also is back and scored five goals last season, finishing second on the team to Foord.

One new signing is Ellie Brush, who moves crosstown from the Western Sydney Wanderers; Brush also has played with Greater Western Sydney Giants in the Women’s Australian Football League since the league started in 2017. Brush also played soccer in Iceland and two years with the Houston Dash (2015-2016 seasons).

Matildas veteran Lisa De Vanna (34) left Sydney FC, for whom she was not playing much by the end of last season, to join Italian power Fiorentina on a one-year contract. De Vanna has 150 caps for the Matildas.

Sydney has won three league titles in the W-League, tied with Melbourne City for the lead, and will attempt to go top this season with a second consecutive Grand Final win. They are still the only side to have never missed the playoffs in the history of the W-League.

Western Sydney Wanderers (2018: 1-1-10—4 points—9th)

Western Sydney Wanderers are no longer in the Westfield W-League “to make up the numbers,” according to new coach Dean Heffernan. The Wanderers, who earned only 4 points last season — breaking their previous low mark of 6 points in 2014 — replaced former Sydney FC head coach Dan Barrett after only one campaign in charge, in 2018/19.

The new manager played nine times for the Wanderers in the Hyundai A-League. It appears that Heffernan will look to bring in a new crop of internationals replacing last year’s imports (Americans Lo’eau LaBonta and Sydney Miramontez from the Utah Royals, Ghanaian international Elizabeth Addo — who had an unproductive season and now is in China — and Dutch defender Maruschka Waldus, who moved to Valerenga IF of Norway).

Two new signings for 2019/20 include one Matilda and one American, both of whom played for the Washington Spirit in the NWSL this summer. Amy Harrison has moved across town from champions Sydney FC and will be a key component for the Wanderers — she won a W-League Young Player of the Year award with the Sky Blues in 2014. Sam Stabb was a rookie defender for the Spirit this season after playing college ball at Clemson University. She played every minute of all 24 matches for the strong Spirit side this season, with a goal and an assist. She has played with the U.S. at the U-23 level.

Kristen Hamilton’s time is now

Three other imports come from the 2018 and 2019 champion North Carolina Courage. American forwards Lynn Williams and forward Kristen Hamilton, and Republic of Ireland international Denise O’Sullivan, should drive an attacking approach with WSW. Williams and Hamilton will be playing in the W-League for the first time. O’Sullivan will play in a limited role as a guest player this season, around commitments to her national team’s European Championship qualification run, as she did last year for Canberra United.

Alex Huynh, an inaugural player for the Wanderers, returns after spending a number of years in the U.S. with the University of Colorado. Her most recent stint was in the NPL Women’s Queensland competition with Souths United, where she featured in 20 matches. Huynh a defender who last played for the club in 2017/18, explained, “I was part of the original squad when the club became a club and it was honestly such a great experience.” Alix Roberts also returns to the club after a stint overseas in Denmark with AAB; she also last played with WSW in 2017/18.

Wanderers’ new purpose-built Bankwest Stadium in Parramatta (capacity 30,000) will be a fantastic setting for the side that has been so strong on the men’s side in the A-League, winning the Asian Champions League in their second season (2014) and appearing in three A-League Grand Finals (2013, 2014 and 2016). The women’s side has struggled in their seven seasons in the W-League — never making the playoffs — with last season’s four points a nadir for the club.

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