W-League review: Melbourne City playing like title contenders
The W-League weekend in 280 characters or less
City go top after 1-0 Melbourne derby win, Perth get their first point with 1-1 draw against Canberra, Brisbane scrape a 3-2 win over luckless Adelaide, and Sydney bounce back with 2-0 defeat of Newcastle.
There's an old saying in the Dub that teams need to hit the ground running because the short length of Australia's season means slow build-ups are almost impossible -- the campaign is usually already over by the time a new team starts to click. That rang true for Melbourne City last season, missing finals for the first time ever after a stuttering, rusty campaign where things just never seemed to fall into place. That disappointing season was likely the reason why City recruited so many Matildas for 2019-20 -- their familiarity with each other at international level means an easier and faster transition into club land.
And now, after four wins and a draw in five games, City are top of the ladder. As if defeating reigning Champions Sydney FC last week wasn't enough, their 1-0 win over derby rivals Melbourne Victory on Thursday night -- their first derby win since 2017 -- feels like a gauntlet being thrown down. And it came in what has become predictably City style: Dominant in possession, players rotating like clockwork, and creating chances from all angles.
While there's an argument to be made that City should be winning games by more than the single goal that they have been so far, perhaps the most impressive stat is at the other end of the pitch: They've conceded just three goals in five games -- the equal-best in the league -- and on Thursday, they restricted Victory (and the 2018-19 Golden Boot runner-up Natasha Dowie) to just two shots across the entire 90 minutes. You know what they say: Attack wins games but defence wins Championships, and City are finally looking like the Championship-winning side of old.
Canberra's stoppage-time 1-1 draw against the points-less Perth Glory on Friday, following on from their loss to Brisbane last week, has put a dent in their top-four run (particularly as the Roar are starting to find some form). Two consecutive game where they have dropped points aren't good for anybody's confidence, but the manner in which they did so is almost the most frustrating part: The gals in green looked dangerous up front and solid down the back in both games, and were it not for some ridiculous individual goalkeeping efforts from Brisbane's Mackenzie Arnold and Perth's Eliza Campbell, they'd likely be sitting in the top two right now. The draw against Perth will feel like a loss considering their dominance across the park, and head coach Heather Garriock will undoubtedly feel it's an opportunity they can't afford to miss again.
As for Adelaide, they just can't seem to catch a break. The bye last week seemed to do the Reds a world of good, even if it just meant an extra week of training together, as their performance against Brisbane on Saturday was one of their best so far. Adelaide finally scored from open play for the first time all season thanks to wonderkid Mary Fowler just saying "to hell with it" and putting her sledgehammer of a foot through the ball, while American import Mallory Weber got their second thanks to a lovely individual slalom effort through Brisbane's defenders. But despite dominating the game for decent chunks, the Reds just couldn't keep Hayley Raso quiet -- the Roar and Matildas winger grabbing a brace, including an 83rd minute winner, to earn Brisbane a 3-2 victory. As mentioned above, teams can't afford slow starts in the W-League, so Adelaide really need to start putting more goals away (and soon!) now that they've shown they can.
Here's the tea
Perth Glory knew they'd lose their biggest stars, so why didn't they plan properly for it?
It was always going to be a hard slog for Perth considering the players they lost in the offseason, but as the W-League is now two rounds away from its halfway point (already!), the Glory have just one point, which they earned in a 1-1 draw against Canberra this weekend. They were lucky to get that point, too: Canberra out-shot Perth 23 to 14 and dominated the home side in almost every area of the field, from possession to corners to crosses to passing accuracy. In fact, Perth's equaliser came in the 90th minute and was headed home by veteran centre-back Kim Carroll, whose last league goal came when she played for Brisbane Roar ... five seasons ago.
For context, by this point last season, Perth were equal-second on the ladder with 8 points, having scored 13 goals and conceded seven. In 2017-18, they were equal-first, having scored 14 goals and conceded 9. In 2016-17, they were equal-third; in 2015-16, they were equal-second; and in 2014-15 -- Sam Kerr's first season in her second stint with her hometown club -- they were outright leaders. The first five rounds of 2019-20 is officially Perth's worst ever start to a W-League season.
Look, I get it. Kerr herself is practically impossible to replace, and the fact that her NWSL teammates -- Nikki Stanton, Katie Naughton, Rachel Hill and Alyssa Mautz -- didn't return either would have been a body-blow to Perth. The movement of a core group of players is tough for any club, and there's a certain benefit of the doubt that can be extended to Perth for how they've tried to patch the holes in the meantime.
But in this age of professional football, with agents and transfers and loans, it's highly unlikely that Perth didn't see this move coming -- if not this season, then next. Given that, how did they not plan appropriately? How did the club, coming off the back of a Grand Final appearance and one of their most lucrative and most visible seasons in the W-League ever, not try their utmost to maintain momentum by finding exciting alternatives to Kerr and Co.? How did they not throw the rod out to attract another marquee player?
No disrespect to the internationals Perth have brought in this season, but the club's poor foresight and lack of long-term planning has meant that the departure of their hometown hero has left what's starting to feel like an unfillable void, which isn't just bad for the club, it's also bad for the league. Attendances are built upon exciting football as much as by success, and Perth so far have demonstrated neither. All clubs should be given the opportunity to rebuild after losing key players, but one has to wonder where to draw the line if Perth continue to languish around the foot of the ladder.
Is there a gif of that?
Where there's a Willacy, there's a way.
Adelaide's season hasn't been a memorable one so far but Saturday's save by Reds goalkeeper Sarah Willacy to keep her team in the contest against Brisbane is definitely one for the pool room.