Six Westfield W-League 2020/21 fixtures to look forward to
In the afterglow of today's Westfield W-League 2020/21 fixture release, several clashes are emerging as particularly compelling, not just in the context of the league this season but also the Australian women's game more widely.
1. Sydney FC v Melbourne City
Round 1, Wednesday 30 December, 4:30pm
Two massive games have been selected to kick off the Westfield W-League’s new independent era, but the one that’s shaping up as the most enthralling is last year’s Grand Final replay between Sydney FC and Melbourne City.
Since City’s introduction to the league in 2015, the two Sky Blue sides have developed their own cream-of-the-crop rivalry. Sydney FC (the only club to finish in the top four every season since the league began in 2008) will host City (the only club to win the Premiership-Championship trophy double twice) at ANZ Stadium on the penultimate day of 2020 as the first part of a 2019/20 Grand Final double-header with the A-League.
City come into this game with a massive historical edge, having defeated Sydney in eight of their ten all-time meetings. Sydney’s single win over the Melbourne heavyweights came in the 2017/18 regular season (a 3-2 win in round 4), only for City to exact revenge later that year by defeating Sydney 2-0 in the Grand Final.
But this season, and this game, could be different. City has been gutted in the off-season, losing most of last year’s regular starting XI – including their highest goal-scorers and chance-creators – and bringing in a number of fresh faces to fill the void.
Sydney’s squad, meanwhile, has remained largely the same. Despite losing some key internationals, their core group (complemented by a handful of talented youngsters poached from elsewhere) has carried over into this season. This consistency could see the Sky Blues kick off their 2020/21 campaign with a win over the club that’s been their elusive ‘white whale’ for the past five years.
2. Perth Glory v Newcastle Jets
Round 3, Sunday 10 January, 5:00pm
It was one of the most chaotic, entertaining games of the 2019/20 season. In round 11, with both teams mathematically out of finals, Newcastle Jets and Perth Glory went ham. Six goals were scored in that 90-minute match at McDonald Jones Stadium, including a shanked cross-shot that earned Newcastle’s young full-back Tessa Tamplin a Goal of the Year nomination, as well as viral fame.
This season will see the two teams meet again, and both – like many others across the league – are at the beginning of rebuilds. Two new head coaches have been given their first shot at senior level with former assistant Ashley Wilson taking over from Craig Deans at Newcastle while successful NSW National Premier Leagues coach Alex Epakis will make the trek across the country to step in for Bobby Despotovski at Perth.
Both squads will look different this season, too. While Newcastle have yet to announce their signings, the loss of a handful of key players including 2018/19 W-League Player of the Year Clare Wheeler (Sydney FC), Teigan Collister (Western Sydney Wanderers), Nicki Flannery (Canberra United) and Libby Copus-Brown (Western Sydney Wanderers) suggests that Wilson has a big task on her hands.
Likewise, Perth is still grappling with their post-Sam Kerr malaise, and Epakis’ late appointment hasn’t been helped by the exit of veteran defender Kim Carroll (Brisbane Roar) alongside Leticia McKenna (Brisbane Roar), Morgan Aquino (Brisbane Roar), Julia Sardo (Melbourne City), Isabella Foletta (Canberra United) and Shannon May (break).
However, the re-signing of captain Natasha Rigby, whose stand-out 2019/20 season earned her a call-up to the recent Westfield Matildas Talent Identification Camp, as well as retaining young attackers Hana Lowry and Caitlin Doeglas points a way forward for the Glory. This game will see how each club is starting to write their new chapters.
3. Sydney FC v Western Sydney Wanderers
Round 4, Saturday 16 January, 4:30pm
Round 10, Sunday 28 February, 6:00pm
While Melbourne City were the initial tide that lifted all Westfield W-League boats, Western Sydney Wanderers are emerging as the second wave. Their impressive off-field moves in recent years, such as the completion of their Blacktown training base – to which all women players have equal access – and further investment in their women’s team resulted in the Wanderers’ best-ever season in 2019/20.
Epitomising this renewed focus was their 5-0 demolishing of Sydney FC at their first Sydney Derby held at Bankwest Stadium in Parramatta. The Wanderers posted their biggest-ever win over the Sky Blues that day, the result of both the quality of their international imports in Americans Lynn Williams and Kristen Hamilton, as well as highly-rated future Westfield Matildas star, Kyra Cooney-Cross.
While Sydney responded to that big-ticket loss with a 3-0 victory in the return fixture in Round 12, there was a feeling of a gauntlet being thrown down on that Bankwest pitch: the start of a rivalry that has given the A-League some of its most intense, memorable moments.
Sydney will host the Wanderers at ANZ Stadium as part of a blockbuster Sydney Derby Double Header with the A-League. However, both teams will return to this fixture without the international players who twisted the knife last season. The result, though, could be an even tighter, more exciting Sydney Derby instead of another lop-sided blow-out, with younger local players carrying the torch.
4. Melbourne City v Melbourne Victory
Round 6, Thursday 28 January, 7:00pm
Round 10, Saturday 27 February, 4:30pm
Big derbies aren’t just reserved for NSW. In fact, of all the major derbies in the Westfield W-League over the past five years, the Melbourne Derby has been the most competitive – and is looking to stay that way this season.
Surprisingly, across their ten meetings, Melbourne Victory has come out on top with six wins to City’s four. There has also never been a draw between the two Victorian clubs since their derbies began back in 2015, meaning goals are almost guaranteed.
There are some tasty rivalry storylines emerging within the two squads, too. City snapped up former Victory and current Westfield Matildas number 3 goalkeeper Teagan Micah in the off-season, as well as luring former Navy Blue defender Sam Johnson out of retirement to pull on the lighter shade jersey. They’ve also snapped up promising Queensland attackers Hollie Palmer and Leah Davidson.
However, Victory haven’t been quiet on the recruitment front either, retaining the services of players who have represented City in the past including Amy Jackson and Melina Ayres – the latter of whom is known for scoring worldies against her former employers.
Victory have also started filling up their international quota, signing New Zealand international defender Claudia Bunge alongside Americans Kayla Morrison and Catherine Zimmerman, who has made serious waves in Victoria’s women’s NPL competition after taking out consecutive Golden Boots with a whopping 78 goals in 56 games across two seasons. How the balance of power in Melbourne shifts this season will be one of the league’s most compelling long-term storylines.
5. Brisbane Roar v Adelaide United
Round 8, Friday 12 February, 8:00pm at Lions Stadium
Round 13, Sunday 21 March, 3:30pm at Coopers Stadium
As far as squads go, Brisbane Roar and Adelaide United are looking the deadliest when it comes to goal-scoring weapons this season. In the absence of so many international players due to travel restrictions and league movements elsewhere, every Westfield W-League club has been forced to dig through the rough of Australia’s domestic pathways and pluck out some potential diamonds.
Brisbane Roar’s clash against Adelaide in Round 8 will see how brightly some of these new diamonds can shine. It’s fitting that this game will kick off at Lions Stadium in Brisbane, home to local heavyweights Lions FC – the club from which the Roar’s newest attacking recruit Mariel Hecher made a splash this season, winning Queensland’s women’s NPL Golden Boot with 21 goals, including two on their way to a Championship trophy.
Adelaide, too, will be looking to a local player who dominated their state-based competitions to lead the line for the 2020/21 season. 20-year-old striker Chelsie Dawber has re-signed with the Reds after winning the club’s Rising Star award last year, and there’s every chance she will do so again if she can translate her 33-goal haul in the South Australian NPLW – which saw her also win the Golden Boot – into W-League form.
The return fixture in Round 13 will be something to watch, too, as it will be the first time since 2018 that Adelaide’s Westfield W-League side will play a stand-alone match at the much-adored Coopers Stadium, which is one of the stadiums nominated to host Women’s World Cup games in 2023. These two games will not only test the off-season recruitment tactics of both clubs, but also shine a light on the talent available in the lower tiers of Australia’s football pyramid – if only you know where to look.
6. Canberra United v Western Sydney Wanderers
Round 13, Sunday 21 March, 6:00pm
Finally, the penultimate round of the 2020/21 season will see Canberra United host Western Sydney at their new home of Viking Park in Tuggeranong. At first glance, this isn’t a clash that many would pay attention to, but these two clubs represent the deeper dynamic that has shaped the Westfield W-League in recent years.
Western Sydney’s emergence onto the women’s football scene has occurred in parallel with the decline of Canberra United over the same period. Once the league’s undisputed heavyweights (alongside Brisbane Roar), United’s past three seasons have been a slow slip into mediocrity. Missing finals for the third consecutive year in 2019/20 signalled the need for rejuvenation and a renewed desire to capture what made the club the beacon of the women’s game in Australia across the 2010s.
The recruitment of highly experienced head coach Vicki Linton to take the reins at Canberra was the first evidence of Capital Football’s about-face, followed swiftly by the return of a number of former players who contributed to their pre-2016 success including Michelle Heyman, Kendall Fletcher, Nicki Flannery and Grace Maher.
This game, coming at the back-end of the 2020/21 season, will be a barometer for how Canberra is doing in their own Project Rebuild, and whether they’ve managed to re-light the spark that made them so successful. Standing in their way, though, are the Wanderers: the new kids on the block with their own desire to imprint themselves on Australian women’s football as the next decade unfolds. How both of these clubs go about it isn’t just a storyline for this season, it’ll be one that runs through many more seasons to come.