Thursday, January 7, 2010

Westfield W-League 2009 season review

So I think we can all agree it was an amazing Grand Final, even though I haven't written about it here yet. Please excuse my tardiness as that involves an interstate house move and then an across the world move to Vancouver, but here is my (late, sorry) season review for season 2 of the Westfield W-League. A team by team analysis on how each club peformed and a wrap-up of who won the awards. Stay tuned later this week for a Q&A with Matildas coach Tom Sermanni, ahead of the Matildas first camp for 2010.

2008/09 season - fourth, lost major semi-final on penalities to Queensland Roar
2009 season - PREMIERS and LEAGUE CHAMPIONS, finished on top of the ladder with 23-points, one ahead of the Central Coast Mariners and beat Brisbane Roar 3-2 in the 2009 grand final.
So Sydney FC were big underachievers in season one and in season two Alen Stajcic put together a squad list that should have, rightly so, started the league as favourites. It's been mentioned so many times on this blog you are all probably over it, but a team with Heather Garriock, Sarah Walsh, Cathrin Paaske and Julie Rydahl? All experienced international players who are all creative playmakers, it should have been a deadly combination. Took a few games to gel, particulary the first one where a stunned Sydney FC were beaten by the Mariners and a little-known former Sydney FC player in Michelle Heyman. Once it did gel though, they carved up most opposition. Garriock was particulary excellent as captain. She played in defence and also in the midfield and you couldn't get a better example of what she was capable of when Sydney FC went a player down 10minutes into the semi-final against Canberra. She just ran and ran, but didn't lose her excellent skill on the ball either.  But we've already heard plenty about those big-names, but it wouldn't have all come together for Sydney FC this season without the rest of the team. Particulary Servet Uzunlar, who is listed on the FFA's Matildas page as under forwards, making the switch to defence to fill a hole and now looks to be in contention for a starting role there come May and the World Cup qualifiers. The gutsy, tiny, teenage Linda O'Neill in midfield. Leena Khamis, last year's golden boot who was excellent again with seven goals this season. Kylie Ledbrook in the midfield, Alesha Clifford in defence and the one that hardly seems to get a mention anywhere but should, Nikola Dieter. Out of all the teams in the top-four, the least experienced keeper internationally and also one of the youngest, but was confident and agile when needed to be.
VERDICT - All in all, Sydney FC deserved its haul this season as everything came together when it needed too.

2008/09 season - PREMIERS and LEAGUE CHAMPIONS, beat Canberra United 2-0 in the first grand final at Ballymore Stadium in January 2009.
2009 season - second, lost grand final to Sydney FC 3-2.
Brisbane started the season as favourites again, with hardly any changes to its squad and the addition of Aivi Luik to the midifeld. Liuk has an accomplished American career and a stint in Ukraine, read about it here, but has never played for the Matildas so came back to make a go of it this season. Also had a new captain in Clare Polkinghorne, who took over from Kate McShea. They started the season strongly, but then injury contributed to an inconsistent patch in the middle where they were lucky to escape with a draw against the winless Adelaide, who had gone 2-0 up in Brisbane before the Roar came back to draw 2-2 in Round 7. Finished off the season strongly, but not well enough to win another grand final. Bright spots were Polkinghorne, Tameka Butt, Elise Kellond-Knight, Luik, Kate McShea and Casey Dumont. Other than that, perhaps a few too many Matildas in the mix? Jeff Hopkins mixed and matched his starting line-up more this year than last and it didn't seem to work, with a few players in and out of form.
VERDICT - Close to a grand final win, but their season was nowhere near as good as the first one where they were unbeatable. But will no doubt come back stronger from it.

2008/09 season - sixth, with four wins and six losses
2009 season - third, lost to Brisbane Roar 1-0 in the minor semi-final after finishing second on the ladder at the end of the regular season.
With not one senior Matilda in its squad at the start of the season, the Mariners were written off by pretty much everyone and yes that includes me. But they also added three experienced Americans, including a very good goalkeeper in Jillian Loyden and then played host to the coming of age for Michelle Heyman. After a great local season, where she was the top goalscorer in the NSW women's premier league, Heyman scored twice against her old Sydney FC team in Round 1 to hand the Mariners the win. The question was then, could she keep it up? Well yes, and so could the Mariners. Heyman ended up with 11 for the season, the golden boot, and the Julie Dolan medal for W-League player of the year. But what most impressed me is that the Mariners just worked with what they had. They didn't have a huge number of players with great technical skill on the ball, but they instead just played it simple. Simple passes, got it forward and when they were there, took a shot. More often than not it worked. Football can often be overcomplicated, but the Mariners played simple, great entertaining football. With the host of young players they had this season, hopefully they can bring it all together again next year. And by then, Heyman could have a few Matildas caps to her name too.

2008/09 - second, lost grand final to Queensland Roar 3-0
2009 - fourth, lost major semi-final 3-0 to Sydney FC
A new coach, Ray Junna, and an almost completely new team mainly thanks to injury and players being unavailable. Two of United's best in the first season, Amy Chapman and Caitlin Munoz, out with injury, Thea Slatyer was off overseas and Rhian Davies not making that extra-huge long trip from near Darwin. So there is about 150 Matildas caps right there - lost. But United's young team exceeded expectations. Somehow gaining Ellyse Perry was brilliant, as was Emily van Egmond's move to Canberra, and they both added creativity and class to defence and midfield. In fact, Canberra's midfield and defence I matched it with almost everyone. It was just that there was so much pressure on so little out and out strikers that the goals were so hard to come by. Going from a supporting striker to the main role in just one season for Ashleigh Sykes was always going to be a HUGE ask. Sykes created so many chances, and should have scored many more, but I've got no doubt she will. Tseng Shu-O was great too, but still not an out an out striker. Some great second-year performances from some of United's young and returning faces, Cian Maciejewski stepped up another level from her first year, Ellie Brush was great again while Kahlia Hogg and Jen Bisset were excellent in the midfield. Could be a team on the rise. And yay, a team who was updated it's website with the awards! And there was no real surprise with Ellyse Perry sweeping the board. As well as the MVP and the Players' Player award, Perry also scooped the fans award. Although I think there is two players who would have been very close in voting, Cian Maciejewski and Ellie Brush, although the ankle injury late in the season cost Cian two-games, Perry deserves it. Remember this was also her first full football season after having more than 12-months off as she focused on that other sport she also plays for Australia, cricket, and played in an ICC women's World Cup and ICC women's Twenty20 World Cup. She admitted she was a bit nervous coming back into it, but she played like she had hardly missed a beat. A great defender on the right side, her greatest asset is just how much she attacks, her crossing and her ability to strike a deadball. She scored one goal all season, but had at least six assists.
VERDICT - Exceeded their own expectations this year, but if they can get an international class striker next season, either Munoz back from injury or someone else, then they will be title contenders then.

2008/09 season - fifth, with four wins and six losses
2009 season - fifth, with four wins, two draws and four losses
So it was history repeating itself for Melbourne Victory and it must have been painful. In the first season it was Canberra United that won in a 3-2 thriller in Round 9 to put itself into the finals and keep Melbourne out. But the Victory reversed that in the same Round 9 clash in season 2009, with an 87th minute winner from Katie Thorlakson handing them the 1-0 win and a place in the four with just one round to go. There was just one scenario that could put them out in the final round, a Canberra win over Adelaide in Canberra and then the Victory losing to Perth in Perth. Unfortunately for Melbourne fans and the club, that's exactly what happened. But still it was a better season for the Victory, they finished with two more points than in their first season and put in some great performances. The addition of American Julianne Sitch was a great one, while a number of other players did well. They did have a whole host of fly-in fly-out Queenslanders though and speaking to co-captain Tal Karp earlier this season, she said that had been tough. With travel allowances for each team to be cut down even further next season, will this be the case again?
VERDICT - Did well with the squad they had, but will be ruing those few chances, a goal here or there, that would have been enough to secure their first W-League finals appearance this year.

2008/09 season - seventh, with three wins, two draws and five losses
2009 season -sixth, four wins, one draw and five losses
So Perth did finish with more points and one spot higher than they did in the first season, but surely this will be a underachievement? I know that I certainly predicted that it would be Perth, not the Mariners, who would step-up and take Newcastle's spot in the finals this year. But to be fair, the players that I expected to help with that, Sam Kerr, Katie Gill, Lisa de Vanna and Collette McCallum didn't play that much. Kerr was overseas with the Australian under-16 team most of the season, Gill only played the final two games after her committments with her Swedish club, McCallum was injured for almost half the season and well de Vanna was her usual exciting self. Because she lost her temper, as she is prone to do, a few times she was suspended and just went missing in others. But well, when she's on, she's amazing. Without those four on a regular basis though, Perth were going to struggle to match some of the big teams. When they had them, like when they beat Brisbane and then Melbourne right at the end of the season, they were amazing. Still, Perth did play some great football under John Gibson even without those players and great to see someone like Shannon May rewarded, she took home the award for Perth's most glorious player. Sam Kerr also lived-up to the hype, that Tom Sermanni predicted here, and took home two W-League awards, for best goal and Players' Player.
VERDICT - Disappointing, but no doubt having a second season in a row where they only starting performing to their potential in the last four games, will be prepared for a better 2010 season.

2008/09 season - last, two wins, one draw, seven losses
2009 season - seventh, no wins, three draws, seven losses
Well in one aspect, Adelaide did do slightly better than their first season because they didn't finish with the wooden spoon. But going from having two wins to none? Well that wasn't so great. But Adelaide did lose so much experience and class from its first season, pretty much all due to retirement. This year there was no Di Alagich, no Sharon Black, no Kristyn Swaffer. So that was always going to hurt. Then there was the knee injury to Vicky Balomenos, the only Matilda in the Adelaide team. Also, Adelaide did suffer because some of its best players spent a lot of the season with Robbie Hooker's under-16 Australian team. So it was always going to be a struggle for Adelaide, but they probably still could have played a bit better throughout the season. For instance, they went up 2-0 against Brisbane Roar in Brisbane late in the season. Where was that spark the rest of the season? Still uncovered some great little players, like Donna Cockayne and Rachel Quigley.
VERDICT - A bit more consistency and a bit more experience needed for them to make a serious finals challenge.

2008/09 season - third, finished the regular season in second but lost 1-0 to Canberra United in the second semi-final
2009 season - last, two draws and eight losses
The Jets had the biggest fall from season one to two, but when you look at the players not with the team in the second season you can kind of understand why. Emily van Egmond went to Canberra, Katie Gill to Perth and then the biggest blow, two legends of the women's game in Australia, Joey Peters and Cheryl Salisbury retired. Peters had 109 Matildas caps and Salisbury, with 151 caps, is the most-capped Australian player across both the Socceroos and Matildas. It's not just the numbers, Salisbury is arguably Australia's greatest footballer. Then the Jets lost coach Gary Phillips a few months before the season started and his replacement, Wayne O'Sullivan, was only made coach a few weeks out. They also lost some of their best players, like Tara Andrews, for the under-16s AFC tournament. They did regain Hayley Crawford from Canberra and also had another experienced Matilda Amber Neilson in midfield. Alison Logue was also good in goal again after she was great in the first season. But just nothing seemed to work for the Jets. They lost too many games in the final 10minutes and must have wondered where all their luck went.
VERDICT - Like Adelaide, more experience needed here, but also probably just a little bit of luck. They didn't win a game like Adelaide, but in two games against eventual premiers Sydney FC only lost 1-0. Were in almost every game they played.

girlswithgame 2009 WESTFIELD W-LEAGUE SEASON snapshot
The stars that shone - Heather Garriock, Sarah Walsh, Katie Gill, Cathrin Paaske, Collette McCallum
The new ones in the making - Sam Kerr, Ellyse Perry, Tameka Butt, Elise Kellond-Knight, Clare Polkinghorne, Michelle Heyman, Servet Uzunlar, Nicole Sykes, Kahlia Hogg, Emily van Egmond, Casey Dumont, Leena Khamis, Linda O'Neill,
The coaches that shook up the style of game - Ray Junna (Canberra United), John Gibson (Perth Glory), Stephen Roche (Central Coast Mariners)
The internationals - The Danes, Cathrin Paaske and Julie Rydahl (Sydney FC), the Americans, Jillian Loyden, Kendall Fletcher and Lydia Vandenburgh (all Mariners), Julianne Sitch (Melbourne Victory) and Alex Singer (Perth Glory), the Canadian, Katie Thorlakson (Melbourne Victory), and the Tawianese, Tseng Shu-O and Chiung-Ying Lin (Canberra United)
Golden Boot - Michelle Heyman (Mariners) 11 goals
Julie Dolan medal for player of the year - Michelle Heyman
Players' Player - Sam Kerr (Perth Glory)
Young Player of the year - Ellyse Perry (Canberra United) and Elise Kellond-Knight (Brisbane Roar)
What happened? Brisbane started favourite again, but were quickly joined by the Central Coast Mariners and Sydney FC as chances to claim the league champions title. Fourth spot turned into a battle between Canberra, Melbourne and Perth as those three battled inconsistency, but also putting in some stellar performances. Newcastle and Adelaide drew each other in their first game, 0-0, and it took them both several weeks to even score a goal. They didn't get much better throughout the season, while the top-six almost levelled out. It all came down to the final round, when Sydney FC beat the Mariners to claim the league championship and after it beat Adelaide, Canberra snuck into fourth spot on goal difference thanks to Perth beating Melbourne Victory in Perth. In the finals, Sydney easily beat Canberra and Brisbane just beat the Mariners to make it a Sydney/Brisbane final. In the final, Brisbane scored first but Sydney FC came from behind twice to win in a 3-2 thriller at Shark Park in Sydney.
What's going to happen next year? Expect more home-grown talent in each team (although not sure Brisbane and Canberra can fit any more home-grown players in!) as the travel allowance for interstate players is decreased. After the success of all the internationals this year, there was hardly one that didn't contribute, more focus on international players. Different line-ups and a more technical style of football, as introduced by coaches like Ray Junna and John Gibson this year who started the 4-4-3 line-up and focused on possession-based football. I think the competition will even out across the league. But mainly, don't expect to hear any W-League news for the next five months. From now, it's all about the Matildas World Cup qualifying campaign. First camp is at the AIS from January 14 to 17. Stay tuned for more here!

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