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Thorns Down Under: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like a Wild W-League

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Halfway through the season, two points separate first and fourth.

W-League Rd 8 - Sydney v Canberra Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

If the W-League left us a bit wanting last week, it certainly made up for it this week. Two high quality games on television both featuring Thorns, and an even better one they had to release highlights of because it featured Sam Kerr scoring a hat trick.

The league is officially in its second half (yes, it’s a very short season) and the table is starting to take shape, with Thorns in three of the four teams in contention for playoff spots. All top four teams are separated by two points. Only Ashleigh Sykes and Canberra are not, and they aren’t out by much, six points off the leaders. It’s entirely within the realm of possibility a team misses out on the playoffs by goal difference. There are still plenty of games to play, but in a league where it seems like anyone can beat anyone, teams have to start making a case that they’re capable of rising above the pack.

Sydney FC 3, Canberra United 0

Sykes failed to make the Canberra squad for the second week as Sydney FC controlled the game on both sides of the ball. Emily Sonnett put in a characteristically rangy performance in her first televised appearance since the start of the season, coming far up the pitch to close down the ball, and even scoring a goal, which was called offside through no fault of her own. Sonnett didn’t do a lot of dribbling up the field, but she didn’t particularly need to, as Canberra weren’t offering any pressure on the ball. Instead she had time to put her foot on the ball and pick out accurate passes to midfield, which Sydney quickly turned into attacks down the flanks.

Recap

Sydney’s first goal came from a Sonnett distraction, albeit an unintentional one. She made an excellent read of play, intercepted a Canberra through ball, and got completely flattened by Canberra and Orlando Pride defender Toni Pressley (who started the match in midfield for some reason). While she was down and her midfield teammates ran to check on her, Lisa De Vanna and Princess Ibini broke quickly and scored past a Canberra defense that seemed not to be paying complete attention.

While waiting to come back on, Sonnett happened to be standing near the sideline mics and asked the fourth official, “Do they call that a love tap here?”

Sonnett scored a goal, but it was waved off. She found herself with the ball in the box staring down three defenders, cut to her right to open up space for a shot and put a brilliant ball in the back of the net which bounced right under the arms of the outstretched Hayley Kopmeyer. Only Princess Ibini being called offside in the build up kept it off the scoreboard.

Near the end of the game, with the result looking secure, Sonnett went back to doing whatever she wanted to, including attempting to dribble away from two Canberra defenders in the box—because it isn’t really W-League game for Sonnett unless she’s allowed to do something over the top.

Takeaways

Defensively, Sonnett and her partner in defense, Caitlin Cooper, let nothing past them. Their job was made a lot easier by the fact that Canberra struggled to get the ball wide and put crosses in. Without Sykes running down the wings, Canberra were trying to send balls over the top to their two strikers, which Sonnett and Cooper were able to clear with relative ease.

Sonnett’s snarky retort to the fourth official wasn’t the only remark she made during the game, either—on corners, she was the one directing traffic, pointing out who to mark, despite only having been with her team for a few weeks. She’s clearly a leader on the team, and Sydney’s defensive improvements since she’s been back have been proof of this.

In the commentary box, Sarah Walsh couldn’t sing Sonnett’s praises highly enough, saying “She would be the best midfielder in the W-League if she were played there.” So, Emily Sonnett’s a good player. You heard it here first.

Brisbane Roar 2, Melbourne City 0

Brisbane Roar went top of the table with a dominant performance against Melbourne City. Melbourne City are stacked with talent and looked capable of challenging for the title against Canberra last round, but Brisbane Roar made them look average, winning back the ball in offensive areas and quickly getting into attacking positions.

Hayley Raso, as usual, was a big part of Brisbane’s defensive effort, marking Melbourne City and Orlando Pride defender Steph Catley almost out of the game in the first half. Raso put in two great tackles on Catley, refusing to let her get crosses in. Then as Brisbane were searching for more penetration, Raso was switched to the left flank, where she was able to beat players and dribble into space effectively. Raso repeatedly got to the endline, and her crosses looked good, but Brisbane weren’t quite timing their runs correctly, and the goals came from other sources.

Jess Fishlock, so effective in her past two W-League games, put in a few good balls early on, but was effectively denied the ball for the rest of the game, and looked frustrated and isolated by the end of the match. Celeste Boureille’s attentions ensured that Fishlock and her fellow midfielders weren’t ever in danger of getting a hold on the match. Boureille broke up attacks well, tracking Melbourne runs into the box and dropping into the defensive line when Brisbane were under pressure.

Boureille’s role is quite a conservative one for Brisbane, at times sitting too far deep to support attacks that Brisbane’s forwards clearly wanted her to, but her defensive duties are essential to the team, especially when passes got sloppy in the 90° heat. She managed to put in a few incisive passes as well as the game broke down, playing in Raso for one of her many runs down the left wing.

With the last kick of the game, Boureille forced Lydia Williams to stretch for a save from a curled shot that was just about to sneak in under the bar. Boureille has yet to score a goal in the W-League or the NWSL, but that shot made it two games in a row she’s been denied with an excellent effort.

Newcastle Jets 3, Perth Glory 3

Naturally, the wildest game of the weekend wasn’t on television. Britt Eckerstrom and the Newcastle Jets managed to keep Sam Kerr at bay for 70 minutes until she scored a 9 minute hat trick.

Alas, the highlights don’t show if Eckerstrom made any saves (it’s almost like Sam Kerr is who everyone wants to see, for some reason) but it’s hard to fault her for the goals that did go in.

Next Week

The W-League is off for the holidays. Happy Holidays!

The Week After

Newcastle Jets play away to Melbourne Victory in the only televised game of the round featuring a Thorn. Britt Eckerstrom should be facing a few decent shots at least: Melbourne and Boston Breakers striker Natasha Dowie scored a brace in her last outing against Adelaide. After staring down Sam Kerr for 90 minutes, how will Eckerstrom respond?

Off screen, Sydney FC are away at bottom of the table, against one-win Adelaide United. Given how average Sonnett made Canberra’s attack look, you might think it would be an easy game—but then, Adelaide’s one win came against the mighty Perth Glory, with North Carolina’s own Makenzy Doniak scoring a hat trick. In the W-League, anything can and will happen.

Meanwhile, the league looks foolish for scheduling its televised games in advance as Brisbane Roar go away to Perth Glory in a top-of-the-table clash featuring the two most impressive looking teams in the league. Sam Kerr and Rachel Hill against Hayley Raso and Celeste Boureille? You won’t want to miss it, but you will. (Though I have a feeling there will be highlights made available.)