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Thorns Down Under: And Then There Were Two

W-League Semi Final - Sydney v Newcastle Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

An emotional weekend of soccer for the Thorns observer. The semifinals had almost everything: top quality goals, a red card, comedy defending, and heartbreaking injury.

Sydney FC 3, Newcastle Jets 2 (a.e.t.)

Just like their last meeting with Newcastle, Sydney rushed out to a quick lead and looked unbeatable. Just like last time, Sydney took their foot off the gas and let Newcastle back into the game. Just like last time, Newcastle tied it late. The difference, in extra time, was Emily Sonnett.

Sydney went up by one in the ninth minute thanks to some individual brilliance from Caitlin Foord. Foord, playing as a striker, received the ball from Lisa De Vanna from the left wing, and rather than running directly at the Newcastle goal, held the ball up for a half second to steady her control. Initially it looked like a poor decision, as Hannah Brewer recovered and got in front of Foord, leaving Foord with two players to beat. It didn’t matter: Foord cut right, left, and right again, leaving both defenders on their heels and slotting past Britt Eckerstrom at the near post.

Foord was consistently the best player on the pitch for the first half, running the offense from the front. She dropped deep to receive the ball and settled with Sydney’s attack, protecting the ball and playing in wide runners. Kylie Ledbrook scored a beautiful volley from the top of the box in the 35th minute, and Sydney were cruising.

Then, in the 40th minute, Foord was chasing down a long ball and struck the ground with her foot at an odd angle. It looked innocuous at the time, but the players on the field immediately ran over to her and play was blown dead quickly.

W-League Semi Final - Sydney v Newcastle Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Sydney wanted to wait out until halftime to assess the injury (which has since been determined to be a Lisfranc ligament rupture), so continued the half with 10 players, but the Newcastle advantage didn’t last long: Lisa De Vanna switched up top and was running at goal when she collided with Hannah Brewer, who was judged by the referee to be preventing a goalscoring opportunity. Brewer was shown a straight red card and Newcastle were reduced to 10 going into half time.

In the second half, without Foord up top to hold onto the ball and settle play, Sydney looked aimless in possession. They were rushing passes, giving the ball away at every opportunity, all despite having an extra player. Newcastle quickly took advantage, with Arin Gilliland scoring a header from a corner in the 53rd minute.

Sydney had chances to put the game away: Lisa De Vanna had the opportunity to play in the onrushing Chloe Logarzo late on when 2-on-1, but made the decision to try for the spectacular instead and failed to hit the target.

Then, in stoppage time, with Newcastle rushing forward on the counter, Sonnett made a block off the line, and Aubrey Bledsoe made the poor decision to reach out at full stretch to prevent the corner kick with three Newcastle players closing her down. The result was predictable—with Bledsoe on the floor, Newcastle made a few quick passes and put the ball in the back of the net to draw level and send the game to extra time.

Newcastle kept pushing up through extra time, but this would be their undoing. After a Newcastle corner in the 97th minute, Sonnett received the ball from a quick Bledsoe throw out, drove halfway down the field and fed Lisa De Vanna with a beautiful pass. De Vanna made no mistake and put Sydney in the lead again.

Sydney looked miles better after going back in front, and Eckerstrom had to make two excellent saves one-on-one to keep Newcastle in the game, but the Jets looked gassed after chasing the game a player down for 55 minutes, and couldn’t prevent Sydney from closing down the match and heading into the final.

W-League Semi Final - Brisbane v Melbourne City Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images

Brisbane Roar 0, Melbourne City 2

After the rollercoster of the previous night, a slow game in sweltering heat in Brisbane brought us crashing back down to earth.

It was, as expected, a bit of a midfield slog. Both teams had only one shot on goal each in the first half as they struggled to make things happen. Katrina Gorry and Celeste Boureille had difficulty getting hold of the midfield, forcing Tameka Butt to drop deeper instead of making incisive runs. The one significant incident of the half saw City’s Aivi Luik tackle Hayley Raso in the box and controversially not get called for a penalty.

Things livened up a bit after halftime. In the 48th minute, Boureille sent the ball just across the face of goal with a header from a free kick but Tameka Butt just couldn’t reach the ball. Boureille almost got a shot off on the edge of the box not long after but spent a little too long trying to complete a stepover and had the ball nicked off her feet.

City were growing into the game, though: Kyah Simon hit the bar from outside the box in the 63rd minute and City got a few corners in a row and a few minutes later Aivi Luik took a shot from outside the box which deflected off Clare Polkinghorne, leaving Mackenzie Arnold in goal helpless to keep the ball out. After conceding, Brisbane pressed forward for an equalizer and were pegged back on the break almost immediately, with Jess Fishlock chipping Arnold in the 72nd minute to put the game on ice.

It’s the second year in a row that Raso and Boureille have won the Premier’s Plate only to draw Melbourne City in the semifinals and get knocked out by them. Last year they did the exact same thing playing for Canberra United.

Next Week

Sydney FC will host Melbourne City in the W-League Grand Final without a key attacking piece in Foord. Remy Siemsen, an under-20 Australian international who won Young Footballer of the year in her debut season for Sydney, will likely come in as a replacement. The two teams last played each other back in week four, a 3-2 Sydney victory featuring a late Siemsen winner that marked the start of Sydney’s 9-game unbeaten run to end the season. Neither Lisa De Vanna, Emily Sonnett, Jodie Taylor or Jess Fishlock played in that match, so in truth it will be the first time that the teams meet each other in their current form.

What: W-League Grand Final, Sydney FC vs. Melbourne City

Where: Allianz Stadium, Sydney

When: Saturday, February 17, 10pm PST