W-League review: Wanderers go bang, Newcastle fight back, young local stars shine
The W-League weekend in 280 characters or less
Western Sydney kick off the season with a 2-1 win over Adelaide, Sydney pick up where they left off beating Victory 3-0, Canberra defeat an under-strength Perth 2-0, and Newcastle take their first ever point off Melbourne City after drawing 1-1.
Western Sydney Wanderers
It's not hard to improve on a wooden spoon, but the Wanderers got their new-look season off to the best start possible after defeating Adelaide 2-1 in their first game, equalling last season's record of a single win ... which also came against Adelaide.
On paper, Western Sydney are looking like the dark horse of 2019-20, boasting a handful of top-quality internationals alongside some of the most exciting Australian youngsters. Given that new head coach Dean Heffernan has effectively started from scratch, the biggest concern for the side has been how quickly all these players can jell, but Thursday's game -- and especially the Wanderers' dominant second half -- put some of those questions to bed. American imports Kristen Hamilton and Sam Staab were stand-outs, while Young Matilda Kyra Cooney-Cross impressed during her substitute appearance, including scoring the winner in stoppage time.
Overall, it was a refreshing performance from a club that has largely under-performed since their inception, and one that should give their cross-town rivals Sydney FC pause as the Wanderers' two biggest stars -- Lynn Williams and Denise O'Sullivan -- haven't even had a run yet. Watch this space.
After a break-out season with Sydney FC in 2016-17 which saw her named the W-League's Young Player of the Year, followed by another strong campaign in 2017-18 where she scored the winner to put Sydney FC into the final, Remy Siemsen made the switch to cross-town rivals Western Sydney, seeking a new challenge for the 2018-19 season.
It was a move that didn't pay off, with the striker making just three starts and tallying less than 400 minutes on the field.
It felt like only a matter of time before the 20-year-old returned to the Sky Blues, a club she described as her "second home," having come through the NPLW ranks nearby. And she proved it was a move worth making within half an hour, scoring twice to put Sydney ahead against Melbourne Victory in the Big Blue derby. In fact, Siemsen looked like a player with a new lease on life, fizzing around Victory's centre-backs, looking sharp, fit, and clinical whenever she was on the ball, especially in combination with Matilda Caitlin Foord.
She received a loud round of applause from the thousands who turned out for the match, a fitting reception for the electric return of Sydney's prodigal daughter.
It's not just that they lost. It's the way they lost. The biggest story of the W-League season has been Perth's loss of Sam Kerr -- the player who scored half of the team's goals last season -- as well as the three internationals that went with her. Although it's early days, and none of Perth's new international recruits took to the field on Sunday, it's clear that the Glory are going to struggle without their hometown hero.
The visitors looked somewhat directionless in their season opener, relying largely on a young, inexperienced midfield to try and get a leg-up over a dominant Canberra side. They recovered slightly in the second half, but Perth still only produced four shots across the entire 90 minutes, and against a team many had pegged for a bottom-four finish. Let's hope the Glory's incoming signings can steady a ship that, at the moment, looks rather rudderless.
They drew, sure, but a draw would feel like a loss for a team as stacked with talent as Melbourne City are this season. Not only did they field four of their five international players, but those players were joined on the park by no fewer than five current Matildas. There were just three starting City players who didn't play club football overseas sometime in the past 12 months.
Compare that to their opponents on Sunday evening -- the Newcastle Jets -- who can't boast a single international signing among them. And yet, at the end of the 90 minutes, the scores were locked at 1-1, with Newcastle taking their first ever point off the three-time Champions. City hit the post twice and sent a handful of chances agonisingly wide, but largely struggled to break down a stubborn and determined Newcastle defence.
Ahead of the match, City head coach Rado Vidosic said they'd had two days' worth of training as a full squad, having had to wait for various internationals to arrive, while Newcastle had been training together for weeks. It's all well and good to field the most expensive team in the league, but you have to wonder whether it's worth it when it takes several rounds to jell.
Here's the tea
Forget the international hype, it's the locals who are shining
Despite the increasing anxiety over top players jetting off to Europe, an early theme emerging from this season is that Australia is producing a generation of young, local talent who are ready to fill the vacuum left behind by the likes of Kerr, Lisa De Vanna and Emily Gielnik.
Of the 11 goals scored in Round 1, six were scored by Australian players under the age of 21. Teen sensation Mary Fowler opened Adelaide's account and scored her debut goal all in one go, but her work was ultimately undone by a second Aussie youngster in Cooney-Cross. Three days later, all three of Sydney's winning goals against Melbourne Victory came through local stars: Two to Siemsen and one to 19-year-old substitute Shadeene Evans, who also scored her debut league goal. Finally, Newcastle's equaliser against Melbourne City came through young NSW NPLW product Teigan Collister, herself also just 19.
For all the hype around the increasing quality of the internationals the W-League is attracting, and for all the talk around how big names will attract more eyeballs and bums on seats, the opening round of this season has showed -- just like it has in the A-League -- that local players have something just as important and exciting to offer the game.
Not only are they producing stand-out performances and game-changing moments, but they're also showing all the aspiring Australian players that a pathway into professional football finally exists. Sydney FC head coach Ante Juric said as much after his side's win, admitting that the club aren't looking to sign any more international players (despite having one more spot available) because it gives more of a chance to players like Siemsen and Evans who would otherwise be frozen out of game-time. Whether out of choice or necessity, the 2019-20 W-League season is shaping up to be one where these young locals make their mark.
The next gen
Mary Fowler (Adelaide United)
Expectation is an understatement when it comes to the 16-year-old wonderkid who's been earmarked as "the next Sam Kerr." However, Fowler showed Australia why she got the call-up to the senior Matildas squad for the World Cup earlier this year, scoring her first goal on her W-League debut in Adelaide's 2-1 away loss to Western Sydney.
It was a penalty, sure, but it's what Fowler did to earn it -- collecting the ball and driving at the Wanderers' back line, forcing Alex Huynh into an awkward back-heel trip -- that showed just what the Young Matildas striker is capable of.
She's strong, poised, and technical with the ball at her feet, with a thunderbolt of a right foot and a delicacy in her control that belies her years. No wonder Australian coaches have been raving about her.
there were some pretty special moments in Round 1 of the #WLeague but @FootballJMF product Shay Evans scoring her first goal for @SydneyFC and *that* celebration takes the cake for me.#SYDvMVC pic.twitter.com/7CGSqUxDRq— Samantha Lewis (@battledinosaur) November 17, 2019
Is there a gif of that?
Sydney FC forward Evans got just a handful of minutes off the bench this week, but it was enough to score her debut goal and put the final nail in the reigning Premier's coffin. The Young Matilda was the first recipient of the John Moriarty Football Foundation scholarship, established to support young Indigenous footballers in remote communities.
Her stoppage-time header was excellent, but it was her joyous celebration that wins her ESPN's best moment of the round.