W-League review: Melbourne City crowned Premiers, Western Sydney woes
The W-League weekend in 280 characters or less
Melbourne City clinch second Premiership with 4-0 win over Western Sydney, Perth notch their third straight win after 2-1 defeat of Sydney FC, Victory destroy Newcastle 7-0 to leap into third spot, and Brisbane keep the heat on the top four with 5-0 win over Canberra.
The 2019-20 W-League season has been an unsettled one, marked by interruptions, player migrations, and a more general feeling that things just never really got going. Throughout it all, though, there has been Melbourne City. Despite their slow start, the newly-crowned Premiers have been the model of consistency since their 1-1 draw away to Newcastle (the only game where they've dropped points all season). Characteristically, it took some time for City to find the gears we all know (and fear) they have, and they managed to grind out important wins even when those gears seemed a while away from turning. But when they did, City were practically unstoppable: scoring twice as many goals in the second half of the season as they did in the first, and not conceding once since round 4 all the way back in December, City's reclamation of the Premiership title this past Thursday feels like a return to the natural state of things; a kind of universal equilibrium achieved after the blip of last season's fifth-place finish.
There's an argument to be made that this City side is better than that which claimed the Premiership-Championship double back in 2015-16 -- a team that included Kim Little, Jen Beattie, Jess Fishlock, and Lisa De Vanna among its ranks -- because of how much the rest of the W-League has improved. While they've always been pace-setters, they've still had to evolve to keep up with the pack they lead. And the club's on-field consistency, where they've won a trophy in four of the last five campaigns, has been matched by a consistency off it: maintaining a core group of quality players from the previous season (12 players were re-signed from 2018-19 to 2019-20) while recruiting in positions they felt they'd been lacking.
The current campaign saw City pick up two key players in that regard: Emily van Egmond and Ellie Carpenter. Both have been at the heart of City's newest trophy, and were heavily involved in their 4-0 thumping of Western Sydney to lift it with one round remaining: Carpenter scored her first brace while van Egmond led the field in shots and chances created, as well as having the fourth-highest pass completion rate on her team -- a special feat considering the three players ahead of her in this stat are the two centre-backs and goalkeeper.
Captain Steph Catley said finding that balance of old and new players has been key to this season's success: "You look at some of our old staples in Lu [Barnes], Stott, Kinga, Lyds -- you've got that core there -- and then a couple from last year still around. And then bringing in fresh faces like Claire, Milly [Mijatovic], Ellie [Carpenter] ... It's everything that we were missing last season, those players have come in and filled those gaps. Experienced players, international players, and they bring their own personal attributes as well as fitting into the team perfectly."
Although the 2019-20 W-League season perhaps didn't live up to the expectations the first few rounds had promised -- particularly after Western Sydney's spectacular collapse -- Melbourne City have been the best and most consistent side throughout it all. Despite some early chemistry struggles, they always found ways to get results, and in a season as turbulent as this one, this durability has seen them break records and set new benchmarks for women's club football in Australia once again.
The biggest disappointment when it comes to the short W-League season length is that teams start finding form just as the league is wrapping up. Perth Glory have epitomised this over the last four rounds, and their 2-1 defeat of Sydney FC on Saturday, following their 4-2 wins over both Brisbane and Newcastle in the previous two rounds, showed once again why a longer season calendar is needed. At the heart of Perth's surge has been Reign FC loanee Morgan Andrews who, while she took time to settle in, has recently found her feet (and her shooting boots) to lift Perth off the bottom of the ladder. After her second brace of the season against Sydney, Andrews now leads the Glory in both goals (6) and assists (2), and her free kick against the defending champions is undoubtedly a contender for Goal of the Season (check out "Is there a gif of that?" below to see for yourself!)
Andrews was glowing when speaking to media afterwards, admitting that her time with Perth has rekindled some joy she'd lost playing the game recently: "It feels good to finally be putting the ball in the back of the net again. I lost that part of my game for a little bit and it feels good to finally have that be a part of me again," she said. "[The W-League] has been wonderful. The girls have been super great [...] and the league itself is competitive. For me, I'm really enjoying playing, which is really exciting for me. Being a professional, sometimes it can turn into work, but at the same time it feels exciting and I feel like I've found more passion even when I'm getting older in the game."
Speaking of inconsistency, Victory bounced back from their 4-0 loss to City last round with an historic 7-0 thrashing of Newcastle on Sunday; a result that sees them leapfrog the Wanderers into third spot and puts them in prime position to secure a home semifinal if they defeat Sydney next week. The scoreline was record-breaking for a number of reasons: it was the biggest win for a team in the W-League this season, the biggest positive turnaround between two games in league history, and the first time the club had ever scored seven unanswered goals. You can just hear their goal difference filling up like video-game health hearts. Shout-out to Kiwi international Annalie Longo and Reign FC winger Darian Jenkins for scoring the first doubles of their W-League careers, too.
Western Sydney Wanderers
Not since Steven Gerrard has there been a slip-up as potentially season-ending as the one Western Sydney have experienced over the past few weeks. From their best-ever start to a W-League campaign to torpedoing spectacularly as it has drawn to a close, the Wanderers are now at real risk of dropping out of the top four altogether after losing 4-0 to Melbourne City while both Victory and Brisbane recorded big wins elsewhere. All three teams are now within three points of each other, but the Wanderers have the worst goal differential of the lot and results next week could mean that finals football is determined by that margin. Their loss to City capped off a run of three straight losses -- and four losses in five games since the halfway point of the season.
But you have to take pity on this Wanderers side because the only loss they'd actually planned for was that of Denise O'Sullivan, who departed after her seven-game guest stint in round 9. They couldn't have anticipated losing half of their starting XI after goalkeeper Abby Smith and captain Erica Halloway were sidelined with injury, star striker Lynn Williams decided to terminate her contract early to focus on the Olympics, or for Kristen Hamilton and Ella Mastrantonio to be suspended simultaneously and forced to miss the City game (okay, maybe this last one could have been managed a bit better...). They now sit third, and their best-ever shot at their first finals now hangs on whether they can beat an in-form Perth Glory next week. After this horror run of luck, you'd imagine the universe owes them one.
As Sydney's game against Perth got underway on Saturday, many fans watching at home were struck by something on the live stream: total silence. It wasn't until the seventh minute that the game's commentator -- a local sports journalist with no commentary experience -- chucked on the headset and did his best to follow the action. The journo, who was there to cover the game for the Illawarra Mercury paper, had received a phone call five minutes before kick-off asking if he could commentate because nobody had showed up from Fox Sports. All credit to Josh Bartlett for saying yes and doing as well as he did in the circumstances, but it once again calls into question how much the W-League's main broadcaster cares about its product.
Indeed, as multiple sources have told ESPN, it wasn't that there was an accident or situation that prevented the main commentator from reaching the ground; it's that there was no commentator rostered on to cover the match at all. The lack of commentator was "an oversight," according to one source; a result of resources that had been stretched too thin between various football events over the past week.
It's the latest in a growing list of situations in which the W-League has pulled the short straw when it comes to its major broadcast coverage. An almost total absence of advertisement, poor stream quality, scheduling issues and pulling the "Hersday Night" shows midway through the season are the ways Fox Sports has found to undermine one of its last remaining football products and then blamed its customers for the league's poor ratings (which it then uses to justify stripping more and more away from it in an infuriating chicken-or-egg cycle). While women's domestic football is taking off elsewhere, with the NWSL signing a broadcast deal with CBS and the Women's Super League being supported by BT Sport and the BBC, the fumbling around that Fox Sports have done with the W-League this season is not just damaging its own business; it's actually impeding the growth of women's football in Australia given it's more popular and has more potential to flourish than ever before. Fans will not take this league and this game seriously if the people responsible for its communication and presentation don't, and we've seen time and again that Fox Sports does not care about the W-League the way that they ought to. Another broadcaster cannot pick it up fast enough.
Is there a gif of that?
We've seen some spectacular goals this season, but not many have been a sweetly-hit free kick from outside the area -- the kind you spend hours in your local park trying to perfect, then wheel off across the grass on your own when you see it curl in just where you wanted it to go. Morgan Andrews knows that feeling.