Kick360 reflects on the big moments of the A-League Women and look forward at the most interesting match of the week ahead.
After eight months, the A-League Women is back, and there was plenty to love in the first weekend of matches.
Three simultaneous games kicked off on Saturday. Brisbane Roar defeated Newcastle Jets 2-1 thanks to goals from Larissa Crummer and Sharn Frier. The Jets pulled one back in the second half through a Murphy Agnew penalty kick. However, the Roar held on, in a welcome reversal of last season’s frustrating start.
Canberra United and Perth Glory played an end-to-end thriller. The match ended in a 2-2 draw, but chances were plentiful for both sides. Canberra started the match at full pace, but Glory fought their way back to equalize late.
In Victoria, the first derby between Melbourne Victory and Western United took place at City Vista. It was a historical occasion for many reasons, but most importantly, Western United won their first A-League match 1-0 over the reigning champions.
Sunday’s matches saw Melbourne City take the Maria Rojas show to Wellington and leave with a 4-1 win. While Adelaide United and Sydney FC met in a possible finals preview. The Red’s won 1-0 in dramatic style.
Round One talking points
The fans came out to watch
The new season presented APL with an unprecedented opportunity for women’s football. With the men’s competition on hiatus due to the Qatar World Cup, there was only one show in every town.
Last season was concerning from a marketing perspective. Tickets were hard to buy, broadcast promotion was minimal, and matches were scheduled during or too close to work hours for many supporters.
Round one was highly encouraging from fans perspectives. Western United in particular have had a week’s long campaign to get people through the gates. 2753 fans packed out a suburban venue for Round one. Victory was well represented, but there were plenty of Western United shirts and Calder United scarves. It was a strong start on and off the field by the new club, and Aleks Sinclair’s rapturous reception received showed that it is the local legends as much as marquee signings that people want to watch.
Wellington Phoenix set a new record for a stand-alone A-League Women’s match. 5223 fans turned up for the team’s homecoming after a year on the road.
Wellington had publicly declared that they were aiming for 10,000 fans. Falling short of that is nothing to be disheartened by. Aiming high is what the league should be doing, their ambition, like Adelaide’s in 2020, achieved impressive results.
It was a classy affair by the home side, with the men’s team forming a guard of honor for the women as they ran out. Although the side lost, Ava Pritchard gave the fans something to cheer with a second half goal. It was fitting given she scored their first ever goal last season.
Round one showed there is an appetite for the women’s game. Hopefully that momentum can be harnessed.
Cote’ Rojas the superstar surprise
Wellington Phoenix faced a problem familiar to so many social five a side teams. An opponent with a late fill-in player who tears the game apart.
Melbourne City entered this season with Hannah Wilkinson the likely partner for Young Matilda Bryleeh Henry up front. With Wilkinson ruled out, City signed Chilean international and former Sydney FC striker Maria Rojas as an injury replacement.
Only days after the announcement, Rojas was the best player in the league over the weekend. Her unlimited and unpredictable array of tricks and turns bamboozled the Phoenix defence. Rojas set up Henry for the first, scored another by herself, and earned a penalty for the third.
The teams were level at half time, but in a flash, it was 3-0 and City were on their way to a 4-1 win.
Wellington’s players would have been aware that Wilkinson was likely to miss the game but would have had minimal time to prepare for Rojas. She is a completely different style of player and even if they had been able to prepare, she has the sort of craft and imagination to trouble any defence.
It was a quick and clever decision to sign Rojas on the eve of Round One. Welllington may not be the last team to be undone by one of the most watchable players in the country.
Canberra United start the way last season finished
The 2021/22 season was a frustrating one from Canberra United’s perspective. They started the season slowly, but the newly assembled team increased momentum and chemistry over the next few months. By the end they could have pushed for finals if other results had gone their way.
Canberra looked determined to change that from kickoff against Perth Glory.
From the first second, Canberra played with pace and intensity, Emma Ilijoski rapidly patrolled the left wing from fullback. Grace Maher was her typically dominant self, and Michelle Heyman was a constant threat with her pace and movement.
Canberra United’s pre-season was designed with a fast start to the season in mind. And although they could get the win, there was no sign of rust or players being slow to adjust to each other.
They look dangerous. In particular with the return of Nikki Flannery to the attack. She looks to have fully recovered from her knee injury, and adds a guile and threat to the attack to take pressure and defensive focus off Heyman. The addition of Grace Jale to the other flank has significantly increased Canberra’s firepower. The New Zealand international already has one goal to her name after nodding in Maher’s corner kick.
Canberra have room to improve, but this was an encouraging start.
Next weeks must watch game
The champions and the premier’s both lost on the opening weekend. Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC fans face the unfamiliar prospect of facing each other in need of a win. The season is longer, and there is still time to recover, so we are far from panic areas. However after both succumbing to 1-0 defeats, they will be eager to rectify that.
Adding to this, the Round Two meeting is a rematch of the last two Grand Finals. Neither side looked at their most fluid on the weekend, with centre forward being an area Ante Jukic and Jeff Hopkins might look to tinker with. Sydney FC tried Shay Evans up front, while Melbourne Victory deployed Melina Ayres between Catherine Zimmerman and Beattie Goad.
Goad was excellent for Victory, and Cortnee Vine was electric for Sydney, but neither attack created enough shots on target. The extremely windy conditions in Adelaide and Melbourne surely played a part in this, and on a better day the forward might have more impact. It will be interesting to see if either coach makes any adjustments or were.
In midfield, Sydney FC tried Charlize Rule in midfield alongside Mackenzie Hawkesby and Sarah Hunter. Hawkesby was one of the best players on the pitch, but up against Elise Kellond-Knight and Amy Jackson, Sydney’s midfield will have to be at their best, especially without ball winner Taylor Ray for the long term.
Both teams have some of the best individual quality in the league, with Matildas stars Alex Chidiac on one side and Cortnee Vine on the other.
This will be a fantastic match.