W-League review: Cooney-Cross stars as Wanderers claim Sydney bragging rights
The W-League weekend in 280 characters or less
City stay top with scrappy 1-0 win over Perth, Wanderers claim Sydney Derby bragging rights with 5-0 demolishing of Sydney FC, Victory's and Brisbane's title hopes suffer yet another blow after a 0-0 draw, and Canberra cement 4th with 2-1 win over Adelaide.
Western Sydney Wanderers
This Western Sydney Wanderers team is really something else. Their 5-0 win over the Sky Blues on Friday equalled their best-ever scoreline in a W-League game, going hand-in-hand with the fact that this remains their best-ever start to a season. Sending five past the reigning champions and earning their second clean sheet of the season also means Western Sydney have the best goal difference in the competition now, a full +4 more than City, who they trail by three points with a game in hand.
And while the Sydney Derby was undoubtedly a game for the Wanderers' international superstars (United States international Lynn Williams scored her first brace, assisted another, and led the game with 10 shots; Kristen Hamilton laid on two assists and creating four chances; Denise O'Sullivan tallied an assist and created two chances; and Sam Staab and Abby Smith ensured their team finished with what's now the equal-fewest goals conceded in the league), it was also a game that showcased some of the sensational local talent Australia has on offer. Kyra Cooney-Cross, 17, played beyond her years, scoring her first professional brace in the W-League and delivering a silky through-ball assist for Williams' second goal, while Matilda Amy Harrison opened the Wanderers' account by scoring a belter against her former Sky Blues teammates. Likewise, midfield stalwart Ella Mastrantonio and centre-back Alex Huynh ran their guts out all game, closing down Sydney's players within seconds and allowing their more advanced attacking players to strut their stuff.
This team has only been playing together for a few weeks, so it's pretty frightening to think about what they might look like a month from now. You can bet that the next Sydney Derby in the Sky Blues' heartland at Cromer Park, as well as the round 13 game between City and Western Sydney, are going to be absolute crackers.
One issue for the Wanderers could be the eventual departure of midfield engine O'Sullivan, who will complete her guest stint in three games' time. Whether the new Queens of Sydney can find a suitable replacement, or whether they're forced to shift formation in order to cover the ironically-massive hole the diminutive Irishwoman will likely leave, is going to be key to whether the Wanderers can continue this incredible run all the way to their first-ever W-League trophy.
Losing 5-0 in any professional football game sucks. Losing 5-0 to your crosstown rivals sucks more. But losing 5-0 to the crosstown rivals who hadn't mounted anything close to a challenge to your reign for over five seasons has got to be hard to take. The reigning W-League champions were outclassed across the field from the opening whistle -- whether it was their two inexperienced full-backs Ally Green and Angelique Hristodoulou being repeatedly rinsed by internationals Hamilton and Williams, or North Carolina Courage MVP and Irish Player of the Year O'Sullivan combining with Mastrantonio, Cooney-Cross and Harrison to make Sydney FC's midfield look like training cones, or the rock-solid Wanderers centre-half combo keeping Golden Boot leader Remy Siemsen completely quiet.
The Wanderers had answers for everything Sydney could have thrown at them. But Sydney never got much of a chance to throw anything because Western Sydney have become a team who can control a game when they don't have the ball as much as when they do: pressing hard and fast whenever they lose possession and shutting down passing angles and open channels with terrifying precision. Whether on the ball or on the counter, they were deadly. Sydney had been found out against Melbourne City two rounds ago, and in a similar fashion from wide areas, but this was a proper thrashing that you expect will act as a wake-up call -- not only to Sydney, the most successful club in the history of the league, but also to other clubs wanting to take this competition seriously in seasons to come.
The Sky Blues will need to pick up points against teams beneath them for the rest of the season if they want to maintain their record as the only team to finish in the top four for every season of the W-League because, based on their performances against title contenders WSW and Melbourne City, it's difficult to see how they can mount a serious challenge now.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Christine Nairn's 2018-19 olimpico against main rivals Melbourne City to stamp their authority on last season's title race felt like ancient history as, at the very same stadium in Epping on Saturday morning, Victory were lucky to escape with a 0-0 draw against a surging Brisbane Roar.
The reigning Premiers now sit sixth on the ladder with just five points and four goals to their name, compared to round six last season where they were flying at the top of the pack with 13 points and 9 goals. As predicted, the loss of Nairn -- alongside her American compatriots Dani Weatherholt and Sam Johnson -- lingers; their international replacements just haven't been able to deliver those game-winning performances that won Nairn the Julie Dolan medal last season. While Brisbane are obviously no pushovers and the two teams have exchanged wins and losses almost every season, there was perhaps the expectation that Victory would dig in and find the spirit needed to leapfrog the Roar on the ladder. As it happened, the game was largely tilted in Brisbane's favour, with another big 90 minutes by Victory keeper Casey Dumont all that stood between the visitors and another three points.
And so things stay as they are, with Victory now trailing ladder-leaders City by 11 points. Ouch.
Young player to watch
It's finally time to talk about Kyra Cooney-Cross.
Her name has been murmured about Australian women's football circles for a while, but most people haven't really seen what the 17-year old is really capable of until recently. While she'd been on the fringes of Melbourne Victory for the past two seasons, making a handful of appearances off the bench, she was rarely -- if ever -- played in her natural position in central attacking midfield, where she regularly shines for the Young Matildas.
Her loan move from Victory to Western Sydney may have ripple-effects outside of this W-League season: Friday night's humiliation of cross-town rivals Sydney FC, with Cooney-Cross at the centre of it, was undoubtedly a statement of intent -- not just from the Wanderers, but also from this up-and-coming No. 10.
The teenager has been on the senior Matildas radar for some time, even travelling to July's Women's World Cup as a train-on player and is now apparently fielding interest from overseas. If she continues her blistering form (and scores more thunder-bastard goals like her second against Sydney during the derby, or even the ball she slipped in for Williams' second), you'd have to think her first senior Matildas cap isn't too far away.
Is there a gif of that?
It's Christmas so you get two gifTs this week. First up is Melbourne Victory's Melina Ayres, who apparently plays cricket instead of taking throw-ins now.
Meanwhile, centre-back Kaleigh Kurtz's nose couldn't stop bleeding in Canberra United's 2-1 win over Adelaide on Sunday afternoon, so her entire head ended up being practically mummified in strapping tape.
They won, so I guess it worked?