Canberra United season preview: Gill backs 'ultimate competitor' to lead United back to Finals

The 2018/19 Westfield W-League campaign was a disappointing one for Heather Garriock and two-time Champions Canberra United, who finished in eighth position.

But former United stalwart Grace Gill says Garriock has benefited from a reflective off-season which she’s returned from rejuvenated, focused and determined to haul Canberra back into finals contention.

Last season: 8th 
Gill’s predicted position: 4th

W-League.com.au’s two things to watch

Coping without Carpenter

Ellie Carpenter elected to join Melbourne City in the off-season, leaving Canberra the unenviable challenge of replacing the Westfield Matildas fullback for the 2019/20 campaign.

A leader both on and off the pitch, Carpenter’s influence in the nation’s capital will be sorely missed but look out for Karly Roestbakken who Canberra boss Garriock will bank on to step into Carpenter’s shoes this season.

Early home run

Garriock’s side have been given a solid platform to launch their season from, with three home games out of their first five fixtures.

Establishing McKellar Park as a fortress early in the campaign will result in a healthy points tally, giving Canberra the confidence to carry that form throughout the season.

Could a fast start be the catalyst for Canberra’s return to the finals?

TRANSFER UPDATE: Every Westfield W-League In for the 2019/20 Season
CAN'T MISS GAMES: Five matches that could shape the Westfield W-League Season

Ellie Carpenter
Former Canberra United star and Westfield Matildas Ellie Carpenter has joined Melbourne City

First five fixtures

Perth Glory (H)
Melbourne City (H)
Newcastle Jets (a)
Brisbane Roar (H)
Perth Glory (a)

Key match-ups: Perth Glory, Melbourne City 

Perth Glory 

In the past two Westfield W-League seasons Perth Glory and Canberra have dished up some of the most entertaining clashes the competition has seen.

Two 4-4 draws in the past two seasons highlight their entertaining rivalry, including last season’s breathtaking Round 2 clash where Glory trailed Canberra 4-1 with ten minutes to go, before three quick-fire goals brought them level at full-time.

Canberra and Perth meet twice in the first five rounds of the 2019/20 Westfield W-League campaign, and with a fast start imperative the two fixtures between these rivals could heavily impact the fortunes of both sides this season.

Melbourne City

Canberra host Melbourne City in Round 2 of Westfield W-League action, where they’ll have their first encounter with Carpenter.

After a strong off-season of recruitment City are shaping as one of the favourites for the Westfield W-League title, and an early result for Canberra the three-time Champions will send a positive statement of intent to the rest of the league that they’ll be serious contenders this season.

Canberra United and Perth Glory drew 4-4 last season in an absolute thriller

KEY MATCHES: Every key date & derby for Westfield W-League 2019/20 Season
HOW TO WATCH: Every Westfield W-League 2019/20 match live and free

Gill’s players to watch

Katie Stengel

“I really rate Katie Stengel, I think she’s a quality player.

“I’ve kept an eye on her for a few years, she’s a quality central striker, kind of like a traditional number nine, she can hold the ball up really effectively, she’s a really good target that can turn and finish as well.

“We’ve seen her knock some belters home with both Wanderers and Newcastle, so pretty exciting to see her line up for Canberra United this year.

“With the international players Canberra lost from last season, bringing Katie Stengel in is adding the strength of that international-type marquee player.

“She had a good stint in the NWSL with the Utah Royals, she gets plenty of minutes there.

“She had some time at Bayern Munich as well, which is just awesome because she’s got this level of experience that really adds a whole lot of value which is invaluable to a younger playing group, having someone like her who has had that worldly experience.”

Jessie Rasschaert

“Jessie is a fantastic player and she has been for a number of years.

“She’s a great aerial threat, she’s really tall and really confident in the air, and she’s also quick as hell.

“She’s really fast, she’s really hard to get around.

“I’m excited for her to get the opportunity but also really excited to see her on that stage, stepping up from Canberra NPL to the W-League, really hoping she gets some quality game time as well.”

Katie Stengel
Former Newcastle Jets and Western Sydney Wanderers forward Katie Stengel has signed for Canberra

Karly Roestbakken

“It is a loss to lose Ellie Carpenter and also to lose what she brings to Canberra in terms of a really popular profile that young players look up to.

“But stepping up into that role we’ve got Karly Roestbakken, who plays a similar style to Ellie; she’s super athletic, can run all day, great defensively but also has the ability to get forward and then track back as well.

“I think Karly returning to Canberra again will step into that role that we saw Ellie involved in the team last year.

“She’ll take that place as a marquee-type Matildas player, really athletic defensive and attacking option.”

The squad

IN

Karly Roestbakken Story
Elise Thorsnes Story
Nikola Orgill Story
Shamiran Khamis Story
Annalee Grove Story
Taren King Story 
Olivia Price Story 
Laura Hughes Story
Hayley Taylor-Young Story
Jessie Rasschaert Story
Leena Khamis Story
Katie Stengel Story 
Simone Charley Story

Gill's squad verdict

“If you look back to Heather’s time as Head Coach, in the first year she had a playing group that was more or less a complete change to her second year.

“It wasn’t like she was able to build on the second year and go from strength to strength, she almost had to recreate her roster in the second year, establish that team.

“That’s a hard thing to do as a coach.

“Looking into this season I think she’s maintained and retained a few of those girls from last season which is always going to be a strength going into the season, having some familiarity in the squad and playing group.”

WATCH: The highlights from Canberra United's 2018/19 campaign

Canberra United 2019/20 squad

Karly Roestbakken, Elise Thorsnes, Nikola Orgill, Shamiran Khamis, Annalee Grove, Taren King, Olivia Price, Laura Hughes, Hayley Taylor-Young, Jessie Rasschaert, Leena Khamis, Katie Stengel, Simone Charley

*Full squad TBC

The boss

“With Heather, you go back to her time as a player and anyone who played with Heather or against Heather knows she’s an absolute competitor.

“That really comes through her coaching style as well.

“I think over her last couple of years with Canberra it’s been a really valuable experience for her.

“After last year she stepped away and has done a fair bit of reflection on what she needed to improve on for this year, I think she’s done that.

“She’s gone away and reflected on her strengths and weaknesses; she’s given herself the time and space to improve on those.

“I think she’s going into this season with a bit more of an open mind than she has in the last couple of years.

“I think that will be a really positive thing going into this season, but her default is she is just an ultimate competitor; she epitomises the Matildas never-say-die attitude and you see that come through.

Heather Garriock
The 'ultimate competitor' - Canberra boss Heather Garriock

Gill's prediction

“I think they’ll finish 4th.

“I think Canberra certainly has the capability for a top four finish, but it’s not going to be an easy thing.

“I think if they can get some really early results in their string of home games they’ve got down at McKellar Park they’ll be able, they’ll be able to solidify their position in the first half of the season.

“If they struggle in these early games and drop a few points where perhaps they should have buried some of them, they might just drop out of the top four.

“Certainly, I think they’ve got the roster with them to make the top four.”

The kit

Canberra United star Katie Stengel
Canberra United star Katie Stengel