Saturday, January 30, 2010

Cya later Los Angeles Sol - First WPS team goes bust

So it might be happy days in Australia thanks to the Matildas new pay deal, but on the other side of the world Women's professional soccer took a small step backwards yesterday.
 The Los Angeles Sol has folded.
Yes, the WPS's marquee team, with none other than Marta as their best player, the inuagural grand finalists and league champions. Well they won't be doing any of that in 2010.
 The Anschultz Entertainment Group handed back it's ownership stake back in November. They are the same group that owns MLS team LA Galaxy (yes, the one that Beckham plays for) and had owned a host of other MLS teams, but just decided they didn't want to own the girls anymore.
 Women's Pro Soccer league management took over and tried to find a new owner, but couldn't and yesterday announced the franchise was kaput, for this season at least.
 The players will be drafted out in a re-assignment draft next Thursday. Which could either be kind of awesome for Atlanta Beat, who has the first pick in this draft, or kind of stressful.
 On one hand, it's a clear choice, pick-up four time FIFA women's World Player of the Year Marta. On the other hand, will any other team have enough to pay her the $500,000 salary that she got in her first season at the Sol?

 Overall though, for the league that was supposed to reinvent women's football when it started last year and unlike it's predesscor, the WUSA, do all that without going broke - it's not a great step. Or is it?
 If you want to hear from the frustrated, read LA journo Jo-Ryan Salazar's excellent piece here on the Bleacher Report.
 But delving further into the story, there are plenty more that suggest it's not the end of the world, or at least the start of a crumble.
 On World Soccer Digest, Richard Barley has put together a story using lots of other links to other stories including a long five-part piece from Jeff Kassouf at the Equalizer, that sums up what happened. Although Kassouf is kind of angry with it all, Barley sums it up as not entirely bad. Perhaps just weeding out the owners that aren't actually that serious. You can also read Jeff's full piece here.
 But perhaps the one that makes most sense is from Tom Dunmore on Pitch Invasion, where he actually wonders if them folding is a good thing. Which it may be. It's a very eloquently put piece.

So what's the down-under view from GWG? Certainly I think there is positives to come out of this. The big-one? The debate above. When it comes down to it, even this professional women's league isn't anywhere near the men's when it comes to the crunch, but what will help it get there? A generation of fanatical fans and interested media who are committed to spreading the stories. At least from the hoopla happening on the interweb right now, it's obvious there are a whole lot of people from both sides who care about women's football. A tad soppy? Well, yes. But it's the lesson that I'm going to take from it. And it seems the lesson that some of the club's already have. The Chicago Red Stars have just posted on their website a statement saying they are strong, but please, if you like women's football show your support by attending a game, or buying a membership. The main message? Assert that this league matters. It's a good one for any women's football league, or any women's sporting league anywhere to take. So girls and boys wherever you are, get on board and support your team!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

New Matildas pay deal - is professionalism almost here?

So by now, I'm sure all you female football fans have heard the great news. If you haven't already over at The Women's Game, SBS, the ABC, the AFC or others that are covering the news, this year the Matildas will start to recieve match payments and have new and improved contracts with Football Federation Australia. So what does it mean? GWG has a stab at telling you.

THE CONTRACTS - In case you missed it, the story is this. For this year's Women's Asian Cup, a minimum of the 23-players in the Matildas squad will all receive six-month contracts. They will range in salary, but the top few players will earn $17,000. All players will then receive between $500 and $1000 for each game they play. It's the first-time ever the Matildas will be paid match-payments. The Professional Footballer's Associtation played a huge role in the negotiations to get this far, particularly with the Matildas players representatives, Melissa Barbieri, Kate McShea, Lauren Colthorpe, Sarah Walsh and Heather Garriock.

WHAT THEY SAID -  PFA chief executive Brendan Schwab,“We are determined to work with FFA to make football the sport of choice for elite athletes of both genders,” Mr Schwab said. “This agreement is a significant step towards the development of a professional career path for our best women footballers.”
“The new arrangements are a significant improvement on the previous agreement and are a result of constructive negotiations between all parties. As well as an increase in payments there are some other new conditions that will make being a Westfield Matilda much more beneficial.”
Matildas and Brisbane Roar defender Kate McShea, "It's guaranteed income which will hopefully help us focus more on football," McShea said. "We'll still have financial worries but they'll be a bit less of a burden.
"Our entire budget is probably what one Socceroo gets but in terms of female sports we're sitting pretty good. We've definitely come a long way."

WHAT IT MEANS - The immediate benefit - The Matildas 2011 World Cup qualifying campaign, which starts in May in China. In a year where they are focusing on trying to qualify for a FIFA Women's World Cup, the players can now spend a bit more time doing that than having to work to earn a living.
 It also means the Australian's that played in overseas leagues last year, Heather Garriock, Sarah Walsh, Lisa de Vanna, Collette McCallum, Katie Gill and Lydia Williams, will not be so much out of pocket if they do stay at home instead of returning to the professional teams they belong to overseas. They could be earning actual enough to live-on wages in the Women's Pro League in America, or in Gill's case, Sweden. So this new Australian contract will at least help them pay the bills while they focus on getting Australia to a FIFA Women's World Cup.

The incentive - The contract will also be able to give Tom Sermanni an incentive for which to garner commitment. For example, after 2007 World Cup Thea Slatyer took some time off football. She played the first W-League season but then went travelling overseas, before coming back right at the end of the season and ended-up playing 30minutes for Canberra in one game. But if Tom Sermanni wants Thea Slatyer in his team, and as pretty much the only starting defender left from that 2007 World Cup team I'm sure he does, Slatyer will need to commit to a contract.  Before those involved in the Australian set-up didn't have anything to really keep player's in the system for, apart from a love of the game. That can get hard to keep-up if you have a full-time job, plus a partner or family to contend with. Canberra United midfielder Grace Gill once said to me "I wonder how many men would keep playing if they weren't being paid for it?" and it's a quote I bring up again and again. Of course, they still need a love for the game. But it must be so much easier to love the game if it loves you back a little bit.

The career pathway - I think this announcement isn't just about the current players, although it is great for them, but it's about the impact it has for the players in the future.
For this argument, let's not even touch the old women versus men topic, because that's probably never going to change, but let's just talk about the female sporting landscape in Australia.
What do I mean there? Well, After the old WNSL collapsed and football was in no-women's land for four-years, Australian cricket, basketball and netball made steady increases.
The WNBL continues to be a strong league, none more so than this year where a host of Opals returning to the league means the title-race is right-open.
The WNCL has added two new women's teams this year, the ACT and Tasmania (although Tassie were just in the Twenty20) and has had national annual contracts for its players for years.
Netball has had a huge overhaul, with the old Commonwealth Bank trophy replaced by the Trans-Tasman competition with half and half Australian and New Zealand teams. Given that netball is the second-biggest sport behind Rugby Union in NZ, it was a smart move. The TV rights deal allowed them to struck a semi-professional league for women, with a minimum wage of $10,000 for a six-month contract. But most players are on more. Now more players from Australia are going to NZ to play as well.
Overall in terms of gaining a career in the sport, cricket and netball are still limited because the sports aren't played that widely across the world.
Football however is more like basketball, it's played almost everywhere, and basketball which has done a very good job of making a career pathway for its players in Australia. Apart from the individual sports (golf, swimming and tennis) do you know many Aussie women making a career from their sport? Well yes, there are some and most of them play basketball. Lauren Jackson is one player that does earn her entire living from her sport and playing in the USA, Korea and then Russia allowed her to do that.
 There have been overseas female football leagues for years, but because Australia didn't have a national league, there was nowhere to really learn at a high-level and make a case to those European teams or American college scouts in football. Some players have done it, but it wasn't easy.
 But now at least football is starting to get on par with providing that international pathway like basketball.
 And as the fastest growing sport for women to play in Australia, there is now reward for making the top level. This new deals, and the promise that another deal will be negotiated in June to take the Matildas through to 2012, are the next step towards professionalism for Australia's footballing females. And yay for that!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Squad for first Matildas camp in January 2010

So Tom Sermanni did tell me there would be 25-players at this camp, but given that five of his 29-squad that was announced by the FFA today are goalkeepers - that was about right in terms of field players. As mentioned in my pre-camp chat to Sermanni, which you can easily scroll down for, it's just below this post! it's now at the pointy-end of selection time.
Meet the players most likely to be representing Australia at the 2010 AFC Women's Asian Cup in China in May, and yes, there are some surprises in there.

Westfield Matildas squad list -Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) Training Camp, AIS Football Fields, 14-17 January 2010, Teigen ALLEN (Sydney FC), Laura ALLEWAY (Melbourne Victory), Melissa BARBIERI (Melbourne Victory, GK), Leah BLAYNEY (Central Connecticut State University, USA), Ellie BRUSH (Canberra United), Joanne BURGESS (Brisbane Roar), Tameka BUTT (Brisbane Roar), Lauren COLTHORPE (Brisbane Roar), Casey DUMONT (Brisbane Roar, GK), Heather GARRIOCK (Sydney FC), Kathryn GILL (Perth Glory), Michelle HEYMAN (Central Coast Mariners), Elise KELLOND-KNIGHT (Brisbane Roar), Samantha KERR (Perth Glory), Leena KHAMIS (Sydney FC), Kylie LEDBROOK (Sydney FC), Aivi LUIK (Brisbane Roar), Collette McCALLUM (Perth Glory), Sian McLAREN (Adelaide United, GK), Kate McSHEA (Brisbane Roar), Ellyse PERRY (Canberra United), Clare POLKINGHORNE (Brisbane Roar), Karla REUTER (Brisbane Roar), Kyah SIMON (Sydney FC), Thea SLATYER (Canberra United), Emily VAN EGMOND (Canberra United), Sarah WALSH (Sydney FC), Lydia WILLIAMS (Canberra United, GK) and Emma WIRKUS (Perth Glory, GK).

The youngest: Teigen Allen (Sydney FC). The 15-year-old defender just pips Emily van Egmond, 16, and Sam Kerr, 16, to the post as the youngest in this group. All have played plenty of senior minutes this year in the W-League and dominated much-more senior opponents. It's Allen's first senior camp, while Kerr and van Egmond have both been there before.
The oldest: Jo Burgess (Brisbane Roar). The 30-year-old midfielder was outstanding for Brisbane Roar this season, creating chance after chance. She just comes in ahead of the Matildas no.1 keeper Melissa Barbieri, who reaches the 3-0 mark on January 20. An interesting time for the keepers' in the squad, Barbieri, Lydia Williams, Emma Wirkus, Sian McLaren and Casey Dumont. Although Barbieri I think is still the favourite.
The roughie: Leah Blayney (Central Connecticut State University, USA). The one great thing when it comes to US College graduates, just like Aivi Luik, is that they tend to have lots of stuff written about them on the web. As College sport is big business, although it's actually amateur, in the USA. So Blayney is from Katoomba, came through NSW academy programs and played in the old WNSL. She's also already played for the Young Matildas, at two FIFA under-20 World Cups, was involved in World Cup qualifiers and was a reserve player for the Athens 2004 Olympics. She played for Sydney FC in the first season of the W-League. But has mostly played college in the past three years and has excelled in the Northeast Conference women's soccer league. She's been named in three all-star teams and was named player of the year this season, with 10 goals and 13 assists. Will be interesting to see how she figures in the coming months as she leaves to go back to the USA almost straight after the camp. But she definitely wants to be there as she told the Blue Mountains Gazette. “Going to the Matildas training camp is an opportunity I’m thrilled about because I definitely want to play for the Matildas again," she said. Also could include Thea Slatyer in the roughie category. Although returning to Canberra United for the final three games, Slatyer only played 30minutes this season. After she played almost every game and vice-captained Canberra in the first season. She hasn't played that much football in the past year, since the first W-League season, but she is an experienced and confident defender who could definitely figure in the final mix. She was a starting member of the 2007 FIFA World Cup team.
W-League second-season starlets: Michelle Heyman (Central Coast Mariners), Ellie Brush (Canberra United), Laura Alleway (Melbourne Victory), Aivi Luik (Brisbane Roar), Sam Kerr (Perth Glory), Emily van Egmond (Canberra United), Teigen Allen (Sydney FC) Leena Khamis, (Sydney FC), Kylie Ledrook (Sydney FC). These are players that either were on the fringe or nowhere and made the cut thanks to a good second W-League season. Here's to the W-League for giving them that chance.
The missing Matildas: Where in the world is Lisa de Vanna? After Servet Uzunlar's stellar season in defence, surprising not to see her in there either.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2011 FIFA Women's World Cup qualifiers - it all starts here for the Matildas

Well, not here on this very computer screen, that would be just silly. But it will start, officially, in Canberra this week with the first Matildas camp in 2010. While Tom Sermanni had close to 40 players in some camps last year, he's about to start whittling down to find his A-team that he hopes will qualify for the 2011 Women's World Cup in Germany.
They can only do that by finishing in the top-three teams at the AFC Women's Asian Cup in China this May. Quite a tough ask when you consider that Australia is currently the fourth-ranked team in Asia - behind North Korea (fifth), Japan (sixth) and China (13th). The Matildas are in 14th.
But so back to the numbers at this camp later this week, there will be about 25-players at the Australian Institute of Sport. And no injured tag-alongs, only fit players will be invited.
To quote flight of the concords - it's business time.
So girlswithgame caught up with Sermanni last month to find out his thoughts on Asia, from the under-16 girls failed qualifying, what this AFC tournament is going to be like, and what impact this W-League season has had on his Matildas thinking.

Is this camp where the real preparations for the 2010 AFC Women's Asian Cup start?
"We've had basically a year of transitioning. So now it's time to start trying to put together that 18 (field players) and who is going to be in there. But it's been tough, you look at the 18 I had at the last World Cup and this year there was only been two players in that line-up that have been available to be in camps this year. (With Sarah Walsh, Heather Garriock, Lisa de Vanna, Collette McCallum, Katie Gill and Lauren Colthorpe still playing, but just overseas). It's a significant change, so trying to find a balance in the squad to go forward, that's been tough."

Do you have a good idea of who that 21, 18 plus three goalkeepers, will be?
I've got an idea now, I'm still juggling players but we had around 40 players before, now we've looked at players closely in the W-League and we will pare the squad back. From now until getting the team sorted for May, it will be a much smaller squad.

Any standouts from this W-League season who have surprised you? The one who really hasn't been involved in anything at all is Michelle Heyman. She's really come out of nowhere. She's been the one that has stood out. In relation to others that have probably been under the radar, Servet (Uzunlar) playing at the back for Sydney, well we never would have thought of her there that was one out of left-field, but overall most of the players [that were standouts] are already involved in the program. Sam Kerr has also made an impact.

Can Michelle Heyman make that step-up to the international level? I just don't know at the moment. The thing in relation to Michelle, one of the things that makes me thing she might have a chance is that across her goals there have been some really good quality finishes. It's not like they bounced in off her shin, or she's just fallen into goal, some of her finishes have been quite accomplished. She's quite tall and physical, could that help against those smaller Asian teams too? She's is, but she's also quite mobile and she has reasonable speed with her feet in the W-League, whether that transfers over, well we'll have to wait. But I will say, that's the reason why the W-League is so important because of players like that. It gives them an opportunity.

So just how tough is it going to be to qualify for the 2011 World Cup in Germany through the AFC women's championships? It's going to be very difficult. It's going to be a very tough prospect. Three teams qualify and there are three teams higher than us in world ranking s at this stage, that tells you how tough it's going to be. Firstly, we are going in with probably the least experienced team we've ever had. The turnover, we've lost Cheryl [Salisbury], Joey [Peters], Di [Alagich] and more, there is probably 600 caps there. You can't replace that easily. That does make it difficult. Then there is the draw. There are five teams that can really challenge to make it through, [Japan, North Korea, China, South Korea and Australia], but it also means in two groups, well straight away you have three very competitive teams in one group. So we have to get past South Korea and China in our group and then if we do, need to beat North Korea or Japan in the semis. There are no games where we can afford to rest our best team. Which in these tournaments can make a big difference. Japan and North Korea may have a game or two where they can rest players in the group stage, we can't afford to do that.

What about playing China in China? (Who have been known to revert to, well, interesting tactics, before, see here) It's going to be very difficult.  But at the end of the day, in all things, we can't say well we didn't succeed because we had to play China in China. If we don't qualify, we can't use that excuse.

An Australian women's team hasn't qualified for a FIFA World Cup through Asia for three years, was it disappointing to come so close with the under-16 girls team earlier this year? It was extremely disappointing, from many aspects, probably the biggest one was that we certainly believed that we deserved to quality and played well enough to do so. But football can be a cruel game sometimes and we were very unfortunate that we didn't get the break at the right time, in the right game. In the five games we had played, apart from the Japanese game when I think the team had physically and emotionally run out of gas because of the North Korean game, apart from that game, the team played exceptionally well.

How tough has the move into Asia been? It was commented on by the AFC that they thought we were the most improved country that they had seen in the last two years [at the under-16s], but I think we have been playing catch-up since we have gone into Asia. Asian counties have had these tournaments going on for some time, whereas we basically with our younger teams we haven't had the resources or the programs or the indentification in place as well as these Asian counties. So we have been playing catch-up and it's a case of constantly refining what we are doing, what we firmly believe are the types of athletes and players that we need to take the game ahead. What we have now within our younger team is some outstanding individual players, but in a team sense and probably technically in a game sense we are probably playing a little bit of catch-up with Asian teams and that's going to take time and that's going to take us utilising the resources we have to the best of our ability. It's constantly refining, I can't sit here and say we now have to do x,y and z because we are kind of doing the stuff I think we have to do, we just probably have to tweak and refine things a little bit and keep plugging away and hopefully make that breakthrough.

Is Australian women's football getting there then? Definitely, we are getting used to it. It 's not just getting used to the Asian style as a player and this might sound daft, but getting used to going to Asia to play. It's the different temperatures, the humdity, the food. All those things play a big factor and we are still getting used to going to Asia to play. But certainly I think we are doing the right things.

So stay tuned later this week for the actual squad list attending this camp. Also don't forget to scroll down and check-out the girlswithgame 2009 W-League season wrap and the year in Australian women's football. And in other women's football news this week, the 2010 American WPS draft is just three days away. And what's this, an actual live broadcast? Well, thankyou Fox Soccer. Should be interesting to see what the Aussie girls do this year, had heard from a couple that they were staying home this year to focus on World Cup qualifiers instead? But I'm sure all will be revealed, or at least a little bit of the picture, when the draft is on this week. While we are on the international round, make sure you stop by FIFA women's page to see their December wrap-up, including the 2009 FIFA Women's World Player of the Year.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Australian women's football year in review - 2009

So there wasn't any World Cups, or even any World Cup qualifiers, but there was still plenty of women's football action in Australia, or involving Australia, last year. Here is a short-wrap of the year that was 2009 in Australian women's top-level football.

JANUARY - The first Westfield W-League finals series was played out between Brisbane Roar, Newcastle Jets, Canberra United and Sydney FC. In the two semi-finals, Canberra (third) upset Newcastle (second) to become the first team through to the inaugural grand final. In the other semi-final that followed, Sydney FC pushed Brisbane Roar all the way to penalties in searing heat in Brisbane. In the final that followed, injury hit Canberra hard in the week leading up and Brisbane pounced early to take a 2-0 win and the first premiership to go with their league championship. Lana Harch, who scored the second goal and set the first one up, was named player of the match. Also in January was a friendly match against Italy at Parramatta Stadium in Sydney, where Australian legend Cheryl Salisbury farewelled the game on January 31st.

After 151 games, the most out of any Australian footballer, Salisbury bowed out in the 2-2 draw. She was almost able to complete a fairytale ending, when she scored a penalty to take the score to 2-1 in the second-half. But Italy equalised with 10-minutes to go. Still, it didn't take away much from the occasion. I was one in the stands joining in on the standing ovation when she was substituted with six minutes to go. And there was hardly a dry eye on the field afterwards. As Tom Sermanni said in this Mike Cockerill story, she'll be missed.  "It's like when you're a kid, you come home from school and your mum's there, it makes you feel comfortable," Sermanni says. "Having Shezza around, you know when the team goes out on the field, the leadership is there. Her sheer presence gives you that sense of comfort. That's what we'll miss the most. There's not another Cheryl Salisbury, and there won't be for some time to come. But it's not just about the stature she brings. We talk about her reputation, but she's also been an outstanding player. She can play midfield, defence, or attack. The respect she's got is worldwide. When she played for the FIFA-All Stars, the coach, Hope Powell, said to me, 'I never realised how good a footballer she was.' It's on the field that Shezza is going to be almost impossible to replace." Read the rest of the story here. Pic. Salisbury being chaired off in Sydney.

FEBRUARY - The second of the Matildas friendlies against Italy did not go so well. It was the farewell match for Joey Peters, who was retiring after 110 games, and she took on the captain's armband for the game. But the Matildas lost 5-1 at Canberra Stadium, which is not how home-town debutant Ellie Brush (who just happens to be a central defender as well) wanted her first Matildas cap to go. It marked a changing in the guard for Australian women's football. Tom Sermanni admitted as much in his after-match press conference. “The first thing that went wrong was we conceded three goals in the first 15 minutes ...,” Sermanni said. “I think the second thing that was evident today was the fact that we are having a turnover in the squad.
“So when you put a combination of things together and add into that Cheryl retired last week and Joey retired today, you have I suppose the feeling of an Australian cricket team and it will take us a while to get back to where we were a year and a half ago.”
 Peters for her part was upset, but happy she had made the decision to retire. “I’m very emotional at the moment, It’s just all hit me at once, I was fine leading into the game and it just felt like another game but just as I was about to walk on the field it hit me all at once,” Peters said. “But I’m pleased with the decision and at peace with it.”

MARCH - A new era in women's professional football was also happening across the other side of the world and a handful of Matildas were involved in the inaugural season of the Women's Professional Soccer league. Heather Garriock (Chicago Red Stars), Sarah Walsh (Sky Blue FC), Lisa de Vanna (Washington Freedom) and Collette McCallum (Sky Blue FC) were all picked up in the first draft, and Lydia Williams earned the rookie goalkeeper spot after trialling strongly with Chicago. After the last attempt at a women's pro league in America went bust years ago, the new league started with eight teams across the states and paid all of its contracted players enough cash to live on. Pic: Lisa de Vanna in action in the WPS.

APRIL - The first ever under-14 girls national titles were held in Canberra and a team selected by new under-14 Australian coach Jeff Hopkins went on to compete in Asia. It's the youngest age-group that's ever had a national titles in Australia and adds another step in the pathway to becoming a Matilda.
AUGUST - The Young Matildas team misses out on qualifying for the 2010 under-20 FIFA Women's World Cup in controversial circumstances. And Tom Sermanni didn't hold back, calling the officials incompetent in this story. The story of the brawl that erupted in the match between China and Australia made nationwide news, with the AFC handing the FFA a $4700 fine.

But in happier news this month, Collette McCallum helped Sky Blue FC to complete a fairytale finish to the season and capture the first WPS premiership after defeating Los Angeles Sol (who had none other than Brazilian champion Marta in its team) in the final on August 22nd. In a journey that has to be read about to be believed, after three sacked coaches and then captain/coach Christie Rampone revealing she was actually pregnant while she coached the team and played in the final month, Sky Blue FC still triumphed. "...It was such an achievement to win and also with all the ups and downs that we did have, my team was just crazy in all the stuff we went through, so to get to the end and then actually win it, it was just great," McCallum told girlswithgame.

OCTOBER - The second season of the W-League kicks-off with the same eight teams, Sydney FC, Brisbane Roar, Central Coast Mariners, Canberra United, Melbourne Victory, Perth Glory, Adelaide United and Newcastle Jets, but a host of new faces. There is new coaches at Canberra (Ray Junna), Perth (John Gibson) and Newcastle (Wayne O'Sullivan) and even more new captains. Clare Polkinghorne took over at Brisbane, Lydia Williams became a co-captain with Ellie Brush in Canberra, Melissa Barbieri became a co-captain with Tal Karp in Melbourne, Hayley Crawford stepped into the very big-shoes of Cheryl Salisbury at Newcastle and Chistina Papageorgiou took the armband at Adelaide.
NOVEMBER - The Australian under-16 girls team fail to qualify for the 2010 under-17 Women's World Cup. After going undefeated throughout the round stages at the 2009 under-16 AFC women's championships, the Robbie Hooker coached team just came up against a Korean side that just kept coming and ended-up winning 4-3 in a thriller. It means apart from the Matildas, an Australian underage team hasn't qualified for a FIFA junior World Cup since 2006. They haven't qualified through Asia once. Out of all teams, this one had high expectations with players like Sam Kerr, Emily van Egmond and Tara Andrews, but they missed out by the smallest margin when they went down in the third-placed play-off against Japan. They would have played in the final if they had beaten Korea Republic. Instead North Korea, South Korea and Japan went through. You can re-cap the campaign, including previews with Hooker in my November archives and the original preview here.

DECEMBER - After a W-League season that turned into a three-team race, Sydney FC down the Central Coast Mariners in the final-round of regular season games to take the league championship by a single point. They then thumped Canberra United in their semi-final despite being a player down, with Canberra only just sneaking into fourth spot courtesy of a Perth win over Melbourne and better goal difference than the the Victory, to win a home final. In the other semi, Brisbane Roar ended the Mariners chances of a fairytale season with a 1-0 win in that semi. It set-up the final that everyone had predicted at the start of the year though, with almost every player who started in the grand final either a Matilda or a Danish international (Sydney FC's Cathrin Paaske and Julie Rydahl). In a thriller where Brisbane Roar scored first, Sydney then scored three brilliant second-half goals to claim its second title for the 2009 season. The Roar did score a late goal to make it 3-2, but Sydney already had the game wrapped-up. Alen Stajcic was a very happy coach. "It was a fantastic second-half performance," Stajcic declared. "It often takes us 15-20 minutes to warm up into but once a game settles, we play the football we want and we get on top and that is what happened today."
"I thought in that half-hour spell in the second half we could have got five or six goals."
"We really dominated and scored some good goals, and probably could have scored a few more."
"Brisbane obviously had to come at us in the last 15 minutes so they were a little bit exposed at the back." And while Michelle Heyman couldn't complete her amazing year, from Sydney FC sub in season one to golden boot winner in 2009, with a finals appearance, the Mariner who could did finish with plenty of personal glory as the Julie Dolan medallist for season 2009. Heyman scored 11 goals in the season, including a hat-trick. In the other major awards, Perth pocket-rocket Sam Kerr won Players' Player, Ellyse Perry and Elise Kellond-Knight tied the young player of the year and Ray Junna (Canberra) and Stephen Roche (Mariners) tied the coaches award. For a full list of the winners, see here.

And that's all folks. But did I miss anything? Feel free to comment away!

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!