'The definition of coming down to the wire': Amy Chapman's Finals Series preview
FOX Sports broadcaster Amy Chapman says momentum could be key for any of the four sides looking to emerge victorious in the hotly-contested battle to secure the 2020/21 Westfield W-League Championship.
The former Westfield Matildas midfielder knows what it takes to win it all in this league, having secured a Premiership and Championship with Brisbane Roar in the 2010/11 and 2012/13 Westfield W-League seasons respectively. But as the current Finals Series approaches, Chapman says she can't pick a winner out of the four teams remaining in the hunt for glory in 2020/21.
Sydney FC, Brisbane Roar, Melbourne Victory, Canberra United - this is the top four in its current order, but in one of the tightest seasons of Westfield W-League history, that can all change with just one game to play in the regular season, kicking off between Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC on Wednesday, March 31.
Victory began Round 14 in fifth position and out of the Finals Series standings, but after winning the first of their two games remaining in the final round of action Jeff Hopkins' side can now clinch the Premiers Plate with a win over Sydney in the Big Blue on Wednesday.
It's an example of just how tightly the top sides - including Adelaide United in fifth - have ran their race throughout the 2020/21 campaign.
"What an exciting week we’ve got coming up," Chapman said.
"I think it’s one of the closest W-League’s that we’ve had in the history of the league.
"Certainly this one is the definition of coming down to the wire."
Three points currently separate Canberra in fourth from Sydney FC at the top, ahead of the all-important Premiers Plate decider between the Sky Blues and Victory on Wednesday night.
The Green Machine have relied heavily on the goals of Michelle Heyman on her return to the Westfield W-League this season. However, with the immense defensive work typified by Kendall Fletcher and a dynamic midfield three of Grace Maher, Laura Hughes and Bianca Galic, Canberra boss Vicki Linton has a settled squad on her hands on a five-game unbeaten run heading into the post-season.
At the top of the table, Sydney FC have had their recent struggles after winning the first six games of the season. A heavy 4-1 loss to Brisbane Roar knocked the confidence of Ante Juric's side, who head into Wednesday night's Big Blue without a win in two games.
Brisbane Roar have lost just once this season. Two big wins over Adelaide United and Newcastle Jets have sent Jake Goodship's side steaming toward the Finals Series, but all attention will focus on how the Roar cope without Golden Boot leader Emily Gielnik and her Westfield Matildas teammate Clare Polkinghorne, who both depart the club for opportunities overseas as the regular season concludes.
That leaves Melbourne Victory, who have come out of nowhere to contend for the Premiers Plate. A 6-0 win over Perth Glory in Round 14 helped snowball the momentum of Jeff Hopkins' side ahead of Wednesday night's Big Blue.
"Brisbane Roar, Melbourne Victory, Canberra and Sydney, they’re not newcomers to Finals Series," Chapman said.
"They’ll know what they need to do to get the job done.
"Melbourne Victory are coming home with a wet sail. Momentum will be powerful to bring them home; they’ve got (Lisa) De Vanna and (Kyra) Cooney-Cross and some real goal-scorers there.
"I do think this will probably be one of the tightest W-League Finals Series that we’ll see.
"I am interested to see how Brisbane Roar (fare). I think if they had maintained their Matildas they would have been unstoppable, but how well they can rely on the rest of their squad will be interesting to see.
I honestly would not be confident to put my money on anyone at this stage.
I think come Wednesday we’ll see who the matchups are, and then you can quiz me on who I think will go on the way."
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The 2020/21 Westfield W-League campaign has been fantastic for many reasons, but much like in the current A-League campaign much has been made of the outstanding contribution rising stars have made to the game.
The instability of an off-season heavily effected by COVID-19 saw a plethora of big-name players depart the Westfield W-League, but in their void there have been a number of up-and-comers catching Chapman's attention as the season has progressed.
The FOX Sports presenter says unleashing these fearless, young talents into the spotlight throughout the Finals Series will be one of the stories of a post-season campaign set to provide action and drama aplenty as the four closely-matched teams battle it out in pursuit of glory.
"I think it’s been a great opportunity for the young rising stars to step up in this league, and we’ve seen a number of them across the board," Chapman said.
"Jamilla Rankin from Brisbane Roar, herself and Winonah Heatley, those two very forward and attacking wing-backs for Brisbane Roar have been incredible.
"Jamilla is definitely a rising star. She’s involved with the Young Matildas as well. It’s been a great opportunity for her to sign her first professional contract and play every minute of every game, some really wonderful opportunities there.
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"It’s been disappointing (for Brisbane) to lose the two Matildas. You want the best players in the best form playing in any game, particular the finals. It’s disappointing, but I think Brisbane have some squad depth.
"I think it’s the nature of what COVID has done to the season and the crossover of transfer windows.
"Unfortunately I know Emily Gielnik and Clare Polkinghorne would have loved to have stayed, and seen if they could go all the way with Brisbane this year. But Europe calls and the Olympics call, and the Matildas coach calls. So a great opportunity for these young stars to step up."
Chapman continued: "I was involved with the Westfield W-League for ten years in total across Brisbane Roar and one season with Canberra United. I think they’re the games you live for, they’re the moments you train every day in and out for.
"It think when you’ve got a good culture and some good confidence going into finals, the excitement is definitely there."
Round 14: Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC
Wednesday, March 31 2021
Kick-off 7.35pm AEDT