The second-to-last week of the regular season in the W-League was a perfect summation of how wild a league it is: 22 goals were scored across four games, every single home team lost, and Sam Kerr scored two goals, but her team lost anyway (though that particular stat might be familiar to NWSL fans). Three playoff spots have been secured, and five Thorns will be representing their teams there. Canberra have just one more week to make it six Thorns out of six.
Sydney sealed their place in the playoffs and went temporarily top on the back of a dominant first-half display from Sydney’s strikers, with Caitlin Foord in particular making her presence felt.
Foord was named to the W-League’s all-time best XI this week, and we got to see flashes of what makes has made her one of the best players in Asia. She was impressive with the ball at her feet, showing off the ability to link play and create opportunities from the wing as well as centrally. The first Sydney goal, just four minutes in, came from Foord getting free and putting in a dangerous cross that the Victory defense couldn’t deal with. The cross found its way to Taylor Ray—another W-League 16-year old—who put the ball in the net on her debut.
Foord was constantly switching around during the game in order to get time on the ball and make things happen. Just after the first goal, she dropped deep into midfield to win the ball and play in Chloe Logarzo for a few chances, before Logarzo eventually found the top corner from the edge of the area in the 30th minute.
After that initial period, Foord pushed up and played as the lone striker for most of the game, though she largely failed to get effective service there as Sydney lost control of the midfield. When she did finally break the offside trap and get one-on-one, the Victory goalkeeper closed her angles down quickly and was able to make a save.
Emily Sonnett, returning from international duty, did not start but came on in the 52nd minute to shore up Sydney defensively after Victory scored to get back into the game. She was immediately involved defensively, making a handful of important clearances within 10 minutes of coming on. She got the chance to contribute offensively as Sydney tried to wrestle back control of the match, carrying the ball out of defense a few times, and even showing a tidy touch around a Victory defender up to Foord after staying up for a corner.
Interviewed after the game, Foord was clearly not happy with how the team played in the second half, and although conceding that the three points were well earned, noted that that team would have to improve their composure and play calmer on the ball going into the playoffs.
Going into the final weekend, Brisbane came back after being down 2-1 early on away at Adelaide to go three points clear at the top of the ladder. The big news at the start of the match was the absence of Matildas and Brisbane Roar midfielder Tameka Butt, meaning Brisbane started with just Katrina Gorry and Celeste Boureille in central midfield. Without the extra presence in midfield, Boureille had more attacking responsibilities than usual, and she put a few balls off target early on. Boureille was effective defensively, but found it difficult to assert her influence without extra midfield support.
Hayley Raso opened the scoring from the left wing in the 20th minute, playing a one-two with Allira Toby before cutting inside onto her favored right foot and placing the ball in the far corner. Raso put in a few good crosses as well, including the one that drew Brisbane level in the 73rd minute. After the equalizer, with Brisbane bringing another forward on, Raso dropped to right back where she was both strong defensively and continued to deliver good service. Raso switched sides so often over the course of the game that the average position of her touches was directly in the middle of the park.
Switching Raso to the back line is a move that the Thorns might be making a few times in the coming year. It’s a position that she’s played for the Australian national team, so her coach may insist she sees some time there, but more importantly, she can be very effective from that position. Raso is excellent over the top, but she needs space in front of her to be at her best. If a defense is dropping deeper or marking closely and the situation calls for a different kind of forward, she’s proven herself to be capable defensively.
Canberra United 1, Newcastle Jets 5 (untelevised)
Newcastle Jets secured their position in the playoffs by demolishing Canberra United with Katie Stengel scoring a hat trick to go joint top of the W-League scoring charts with Sam Kerr. Ashleigh Sykes played the full 90 minutes, but did not make it into the box score. As lopsided as the score was, there were chances at both ends, with Britt Eckerstrom being called into action on more than one occasion as Canberra were pushing back.
Canberra now have a very difficult game away to Brisbane on the last day, and they will need to have results elsewhere go their way in order to sneak into the playoffs. Perth Glory’s loss on the weekend means they are out of contention.
For once, the one televised game is absolutely the correct one: Brisbane Roar host Canberra United with massive implications for both teams. Brisbane can win the league, while Canberra go through to the playoffs with a win and a City draw or loss. If Canberra draw, they will need City to lose by two goals or more to sneak in.
Britt Eckerstrom and the Newcastle Jets host Melbourne City in the other game with playoff consequences, giving Newcastle the opportunity to undo some of the damage they did to Canberra’s goal difference this week. City control their destiny and will make the playoffs with a win.
Sydney FC will be finishing their regular season with a local rivalry, hosting the Western Sydney Wanderers. Wanderers have been finishing a poor season strongly: they beat Perth Glory in their previous game to knock them out of playoff contention. Sydney must win and hope Brisbane lose to claim the league title on goal difference.