In this week’s W-League review, Sydney FC bounced back from a loss last week against Brisbane to top Adelaide United in a narrow victory. Also, we talked with Western Sydney Wanderers’ Irish international Julie-Ann Russell.
Western Sydney Wanderers 1, Perth Glory 0
Melbourne Victory 2, Newcastle Jets 0
Sydney FC 2, Adelaide United 1
Brisbane Roar 4, Perth Glory 0
Sydney FC 2, Adelaide United 1
Sydney FC bounced back nicely from their first loss of the season in Round 8 against Brisbane to defeat Adelaide United, 2-1, before a Harbor City crowd of 1,087 on Feb. 21. Remy Siemsen scored her fifth goal of the season in the 40th minute and is now joint third in the goal scoring race with Tara Andrews of Newcastle.
Cortnee Vine extended Sydney’s advantage in the 48th minute with her fourth goal, tied with Cat Zimmerman of Melbourne for fifth on the table. Sydney FC Captain Teresa Polias assisted on both goals, which came off of headers directly from her corner kicks. Defender Matilda McNamara pulled one back for Adelaide in the 64th minute with a header from a long free kick by Emily Condon, but her side could not find a late equalizer. McNamara (20) scored her first W-League goal in her 14th game for the Reds across three seasons.
Sydney FC now has a two point lead over second place Brisbane Roar, who was idle this round, and has played one game less than the Roar. Adelaide is tied for third with Melbourne Victory and is two points ahead of Canberra United in the three team chase for third and fourth place and the playoffs, but the Reds have played one game more than the other two teams.
Western Sydney Wanderers 1, Perth Glory 0
Western Sydney Wanderers won their second game of the season—their first since a 2-1 defeat of Newcastle in Round 2 on January 2—with a 1-0 win over Perth Glory in front of 413 home fans at Marconi Stadium on Feb. 18.
Republic of Ireland international Julie-Ann Russell scored the only goal just before halftime after a brilliant incisive run down the middle of the Glory defense by Matilda and 13-year W-League veteran Caitlin Cooper. It was Russell’s first goal in her debut season with the Wanderers (see our interview with her below).
Though ball possession was nearly even between Western Sydney and Perth (52% vs. 48%), the home side had a huge advantage in shots (18 vs. 4) and shots on goal (8 vs.0) over the Glory.
G̶o̶a̶l̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶W̶e̶e̶k̶ 🛑
Lily Alfeld prevented this cracker from finding the back of the net to win #SOTW 🥊
— Westfield W-League (@WLeague) February 22, 2021
Newcastle Jets 0, Melbourne Victory 2
Melbourne Victory jumped into a tie for third place in the league table with a 2-0 win over the Newcastle Jets on the road on Feb. 23. Their American triumvirate was crucial as defender Kayla Morrison opened the scoring in the 8th minute and Catherine Zimmerman scored her fourth of the season in the 30th minute.
Argentinian-American goalkeeper Gaby Garton recorded the shutout — her fourth of the season — and is one behind the W-League leader Jada Whyman of Sydney FC, who has five clean sheets. Garton made an outstanding point-blank save from the Jet’s leading scorer Tara Andrews just before the break to keep Newcastle off of the scoreboard. Morrison’s goal came from a long free-kick from the left side of the field into the penalty box which she headed into the net past Jets goalkeeper Claire Coelho.
Zimmerman’s goal came from a lead pass by Melina Ayers into the box which the American striker slotted home after fighting off her defender. Zimmerman is tied for fifth among league goal scorers with four goals, even with Cortnee Vine of Sydney FC, and leads the Victory in scoring with one more than Ayers.
Zimmerman had five of Melbourne’s 19 shots (seven on goal) followed by Ayers and Cooney-Cross with four each, while Matilda veteran Lisa De Vanna had three shots. Newcastle had 10 shots (3 on goal) despite retaining much less ball possession than the Victory (38% vs. 62%).
Zimmerman, who played collegiately at Providence University, has been a real find for the Victory from the local state league NPLW and could get a look in the future from clubs abroad.
She talked to FOX Sports after the game about the Victory’s performance, “Overall [it was] a good team win. Everyone battled and we showed a lot of good things in possession…When we play simple, it shows how good we can play with the ball.” She also said that she plans to stay in Australia, where she has been since 2018, and continue to play in the NPLW with Calder United in Melbourne in the off-season, where she has been scoring at over a goal a game clip.”
Newcastle now has only a small mathematical chance to make the playoffs for the third consecutive season, though head coach Ash Wilson has certainly added a positive vibe to the team that has played much better this season than in 2019-20.
Brisbane Roar 4 vs. Perth Glory 0
Brisbane Roar scored four goals for the second consecutive week in a 4-0 home defeat of visiting Perth Glory on Feb. 21 in front of 1,639 fans, the largest crowd of the round. Emily Gielnik, who played for Australia at the France Women’s World Cup in 2019, scored a brace to extend her goal scoring lead in the W-League to eight, two ahead of second place Michelle Heyman of Canberra United.
Olivia Chance and Larissa Crummer scored their first goals of the season for the Roar while former University of Colorado Buffalo Isabel Dalton added two assists. Chance, a New Zealand international midfielder who played at the University of South Florida, added an assist to her scoresheet on the day. Chance (27) joined Breidablik of Iceland after college and then went to play with Everton and Bristol City in the FA WSL in England. She joined the Roar after a short spell at Sheffield United in the second tier Championship this season.
— Westfield W-League (@WLeague) February 22, 2021
Crummer, who has 20 caps for the Matildas, had a magnificent return to the W-League in her first game since January 2019, when she broke her leg while with the Newcastle Jets, coming back after five surgeries. Goalkeeper Morgan Aquino (19) won her third consecutive game and recorded her first shutout of the season against her former side; she continues to impress after being called upon to replace starter Georgina Worth, who was injured mid-season.
Player of the Week: Emily Gielnik, Brisbane Roar
Matilda Emily Gielnik was in flying form in Brisbane’s 4-0 win over Perth Glory. She scored in the first half from near midfield over New Zealand international pool player goalkeeper Lily Alfeld, after carrying the ball out of her own end of the field.
Gielnik’s second goal in the 50th minute was also a beauty, shooting from out on the left side past Alfeld after dribbling into the penalty box. Gielnik had a game high seven shots, with five on target.
Republic of Ireland International Julie-Ann Russell — one of the few full internationals in the W-League this season — talks fondly of her time in the U.S.
Western Sydney Wanderers midfielder and Republic of Ireland international Julie-Ann Russell is a rarity in the W-League this season as she is one of very few current internationals in the league (excluding Australian and New Zealand nationals) now that NWSL players have largely stayed in the U.S. as pre-season training has already started.
Along with Gaby Garton of Argentina (Melbourne Victory) and Maria Rojas of Chile (Adelaide United), Russell is a current member of Ireland’s national team pool and has 59 caps for her country in spite of working in Australia for four years. She scored the only goal of the game in Western Sydney Wanderers’ 1-0 win over Perth in Round 9 and said in an interview with this reporter a few days later, “It was a huge win. We needed the three points. Our performance of the last couple of weeks has been getting better. Personally and for the club, it was amazing to get my first [Wanderers] goal.”
Russell moved to Australia in 2017 when she was transferred by her company Microsoft in Dublin to their Sydney office, where she has been a Sales Account Executive. She had been playing in the NPLW New South Wales state league but joined the W-League for the first time this season, “With COVID and working from home, I had the flexibility to play in the W-League.” The move down under did put her national team career on hold for a while as former national team head coach Colin Bell (now in charge of Korea Republic’s women’s national team) was not willing to bring her back for camps and games. That changed when Vera Pauw, who coached the Houston Dash in 2018, took over the Irish side in September of 2019. Pauw called Russell back into the squad, which the forward was ecstatic with, “I’m very grateful that she put faith in me.” Russell did miss the 2022 Women’s EURO qualifiers after March of 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic as she was afraid that, “I wouldn’t be allowed back in the country.” She would not only have faced possible quarantines in Europe and Australia, but with the latter limiting the number of people entering the county and prioritizing citizens, she said that, “I might not have been allowed back in for months.” Ukraine pipped the Irish for second place in Group I behind Germany and a place in the play-in round for a spot in the European Championship Finals in England next summer.
Russell played one season in the USL’s W-League with the Los Angeles Strikers in 2011. She said that, “I love America. The soccer facilities are amazing. The support that women get [in sports] is second to none. The amount of younger kids playing…If I had the opportunity [to play in the NWSL], I would jump at it.”
Russell has recently been thinking about returning to Europe to play and work, “COVID has sparked a bit of homesickness. I can’t leave Australia and that makes you think. I want to be close to home.” She has spent four years living in Australia and finds it, “an amazing country. I love it, but it is far away from Ireland.”
Russell has been a key acquisition for the Wanderers in a challenging season after making the playoffs for the first time in 2019-20, led by North Carolina Courage loanees Lynn Williams, Kristin Hamilton and fellow Irish national team midfielder Denise O’Sullivan. It will be interesting to see where Russell’s career takes her as she still is a vital asset to the Republic of Ireland as they hope to qualify for the 2023 Women’s World Cup and a first major Finals for the nation.
Amy Jackson appeared in a record 66th game for Melbourne Victory and now leads the club in all-time appearances. She surpassed Australian international Steph Catley (2009-14), Enza Barilla (2008-09, 2015-16) and former Turkish international Gulcan Koca (2009-2017-18), who were all tied on 65 appearances. Jackson played collegiately at Florida International University and spent a year playing for Incheon Red Angels in the Korea Republic in 2016. She has played 109 W-League games across ten seasons, five with Victory and five with cross-town rivals Melbourne City.
For the Jets, Tara Andrews (ex-Colorado Pride in the now defunct W-League) recently topped 100 appearances for the Jets in the W-League and, with 102 total matches to date, is second all-time to teammate Gemma Simon, who has 123 appearances. Both Andrews and Simon have played in all seven Jets games in 2020-21.
W-League Alumni Flying High in the A-League
While watching some A-League men’s games the other evening, which are also available on ESPN+, I was taken by how well some former W-League and Matilda head coaches are doing in the league. Former Matilda coach Ante Milicic has guided Sydney A-League expansion team Macarthur FC into joint second place on 14 points after nine games, tied with Brisbane Roar, who have played eight matches.
Milicic, who had been a staff coach with the Australian Football Federation for some years, took over as head coach of the Australian women’s national team in February 2019, just a few months before the 2019 Women’s World Cup. There was always a feeling by some that Milicic, who had never coached women before, was a stop-gap solution after the federation washed their hands of Alen Stajcic (see more below).
This feeling was increased exponentially when, three months after being appointed to the Matilda post, Milicic agreed to take charge of expansion side Macarthur after the Olympics in 2020—the Olympics’ ultimate delay due to COVID-19 led to him leaving the Matildas in July of 2020. Australia surprisingly fell in the Round of 16 stage in France in 2019 when some had them slotted for a Final Four place. Milicic’s assistant at the Matildas, Ivan Jolic, also moved to the Bulls of Macarthur FC.
At the top of the table, completing shocking the pundits in Australia, are the Central Coast Mariners, coached by Alen Stajcic. Stajcic led Sydney FC Women to four W-League Grand Finals, triumphing in two, during the first seven seasons of the W-League before taking the Matilda’s job. He led the team to the quarterfinals of the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada but then was forced out in January 2019 by the Australian Football Federation under a cloud of reports of ‘a toxic culture.’
Two months later he was named as interim head coach of the Mariners and then given the job on a permanent basis a short time later. In 2019-20, the Mariners finished at the bottom of the then 11 team league. The Mariners have 18 points after 9 games from six wins and are four points ahead of Macarthur FC and the Roar, with the latter having a game in hand. The Mariners’ one A-League Grand Final victory came in 2012-13.
Craig Deans, who coached Newcastle Jets Women for five years, has recently been named as permanent head coach of the A-League side, discarding the interim tag that he took on last season when team management switched him from the women’s team to the men’s side. His team is currently tied for fifth place (out of 12 teams) on 11 points after nine games, but Sydney FC has played three fewer matches.
Also, Melbourne City head coach Patrick Kisnorbo, who took over the A-League team after being promoted when previous coach Erik Mombaerts left the club, took the City Women to a Grand Final win in 2017-18. The Melbourne City men currently sit in the bottom third of the table with six points from six matches for tenth place.
2020/21 W-League Table
— Westfield W-League (@WLeague) February 21, 2021
Round 10 matches
Thursday, Feb. 25: Western Sydney Wanderers vs. Melbourne City at 3:05 a.m. ET (ESPN+)
Thursday, Feb. 25: Perth Glory vs. Sydney FC at 5:35 a.m. ET (ESPN+)
Friday, Feb. 26: Newcastle Jets vs. Adelaide United at 2:05 a.m. ET (ESPN+)
Sunday, Feb. 28: Melbourne Victory vs. Canberra United at 12:05 a.m. ET (ESPN+)
Tim Grainey is a contributor to Equalizer Soccer. His latest book is Beyond Bend it Like Beckham. Get your copy today.