W-League review: Melbourne City shine again; Victory are becoming Dowie FC
The W-League weekend in 280 characters or less
Sydney defeat Canberra 4-0 in a catch-up game before drawing 0-0 with Brisbane three days later; City stay top with 2-0 win over Newcastle; Victory climb into finals contention with 3-0 win over Adelaide; Wanderers bounce back with 3-1 win over Perth.
Melbourne Victory (aka Dowie FC)
It's weird to describe Melbourne Victory as a dark horse given they're the reigning W-League Premiers, but the team's shaky start to the 2019-20 season has forced them to dig deep and find ways back into the competition.
It took some time for Victory to click given the amount of player turn-over they experienced in the off-season, alongside the exhausting disruption of the AFC Women's Club Championship, but after their third consecutive win -- the latest being a 3-0 trouncing of Adelaide on Saturday -- they finally look like they're finding their groove again.
Spearheaded by captain Natasha Dowie, who scored her fifth goal and second brace of the season against the Reds, Victory also benefited from the return of long-injured centre-back Laura Brock (née Alleway), who partnered new Matildas recruit Jenna McCormick for just over an hour and contributed to the team's second clean sheet of the season. International recruits Hayley Hanson, Annalie Longo, and Darian Jenkins continue to improve each game, with Jenkins in particular finding her stride in Victory's last two outings, while Casey Dumont remains a favourite for goalkeeper of the year.
The win over Adelaide means Victory are now on equal points with Brisbane and with the added bonus of a game in hand. A finals spot is now tantalisingly within reach.
500 minutes. That's how long it has been since Melbourne City last conceded a goal. Sydney FC are the most recent team to have seen the back of City's net ripple, which occurred six entire rounds ago. As undefeated streaks go, they're edging ever-closer to the record of an entire season without losing a game, which was set by ... themselves, during their sensational debut season in 2015-16 where they claimed the Premiership-Championship double.
Newcastle were the latest team to be crushed beneath the steam engine that is Melbourne City, losing 2-0 on Saturday thanks to two lovely outside-of-the-box strikes from Serbia international Milica Mijatovic and Matildas midfielder Emily van Egmond.
As they tend to when it comes to City games, the stats tell the story: 67% possession to Newcastle's 33%; 24 crosses to Newcastle's 14; 23 shots to Newcastle's nine.
Given that City's traditional narrative is that they start to hit their straps towards the back-end of seasons and peak precisely around finals, it's difficult to see them slowing down.
Perhaps the best sign of City's almost-guaranteed title hopes is that their main rivals have all lost a key player this week: Western Sydney's midfield engine Denise O'Sullivan completed her seven-game guest stint, Brisbane's Hayley Raso departed for Everton, and Sydney's Caitlin Foord followed close behind after signing for Arsenal. Surely only a disastrous collapse in form can stop Melbourne from reclaiming the W-League throne from here.
Brisbane Roar and Sydney FC
Yes, both teams are in the top four (one more securely than the other) after playing out a frustrating 0-0 draw on Thursday night. And yes, both teams have relatively similar runs into the end of the season, playing just one team higher above them on the ladder in the remaining four rounds.
But two of the biggest reasons these clubs are where they are have just walked out the door: Hayley Raso and Caitlin Foord each departed their respective W-League clubs for England's WSL last week.
A glance at the season's stats demonstrates just how big a loss these two players are: in Raso, Brisbane lose their top goal scorer (4) and assist-maker (2), as well as the league leader in shot attempts (40); while Foord's departure means Sydney are now without the league's leader in assists (4) and the player who has created the most chances so far across the competition (22).
As we approach the sharp end of the season, every team will need all the talent and experience they can get. But both teams have a number of talented young players -- such as Sydney FC's Princess Ibini and Shadeene Evans, or Brisbane's Hollie Palmer and Leah Davidson -- ready to step up and fill the huge gap these two Matildas have left behind. The question now is whether they will.
Here's the tea
W-League's digital engagement needs to improve
Football has changed a lot in the past decade. The most significant shift -- and one that we may not fully comprehend without the benefit of hindsight -- has been in the digital arena. From watching or listening to games on television or radio and reading articles and score updates in the weekend paper, most of us now consume the game online.
Social media in particular has become central to how people access football, and is always needing to adapt to the ebbs and flows of online trends in order to stay relevant; to keep its loyal fan base engaged while also attracting new audiences. The women's game is especially dependent on savvy social media as it needs to be able to cut through the already-saturated online football world -- mostly dominated by the men's game -- in order to grow.
So when the social media channels of a women's league or club shoots itself in the foot, it feels like it has a bigger ripple-effect than if it happened in the men's game; such little space does the women's game occupy online that a small error can feel like a mountainous setback. This week saw it happen to Australian women's football twice, and within 24 hours of each other.
By now you'll have read that Brisbane Roar winger Raso has signed for Everton in England's Women's Super League, following Jacynta Galabadaarachchi at West Ham and Sam Kerr at Chelsea. It's a hugely exciting time for Australian women's football, and a move that will promote both the Matildas and the W-League throughout Europe, especially if Raso does well.
Everton's main Twitter account recognised the importance of the moment, even going so far as to organise a special video announcement from Socceroos and Everton legend Tim Cahill to welcome Raso to the club. And it would have been a brilliant marketing move ... had Cahill not got the names of both Raso's recent leagues wrong.
Instead of the NWSL, where Raso was a cult hero for the Portland Thorns, Cahill referred to the men's equivalent -- MLS -- where he himself played for the New York Red Bulls. And instead of the W-League, where Raso has been a shining light for several seasons, Cahill referred to the A-League, Australia's men's domestic competition.
The next social media gaffe occurred the following afternoon when the W-League's official Twitter account published an interview with Melbourne City captain Steph Catley, but instead of tagging City in the tweet promoting the article, they tagged Sydney FC. The tweet was deleted soon after being called out by the W-League community, but it's not the first (nor likely the last) time an error like this has been made since the league outsourced its social media strategy last year.
While it's great that women's football is finally getting the level of recognition it deserves, particularly as male players and clubs are getting on board, the effort put into digital engagement matters. Basic factual errors undermine the message that organisations are trying to send when it comes to supporting the women's game, especially when those facts are a single google search away from being corrected.
Yes, everybody makes mistakes, but this is literally your job. Taking women's football seriously starts with the people tasked with shaping those attitudes and conversations in online spaces, which has become the primary method of consuming football in the modern era. If you don't put effort and care into promoting your product, you won't get effort and care from your audience in return.
Is there a GIF of that?
Sydney FC's game against Brisbane Roar was strange, but there were few moments that summed up its strangeness quite as well as the 51st minute.
Sydney's entire back-line stopped running after they thought Allira Toby was offside, but a nick from Alanna Kennedy meant the striker found herself one-on-one with Sydney goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe with no offside flag raised. What happened next was ... well, take a look. My only conclusion is that Bledsoe is Neo from The Matrix but for getting in the way of the bullets.