The W-League weekend in 280 characters or less
Adelaide opened round 4 with their second-straight win over Perth 2-1, Sydney go top after 2-0 victory over Western Sydney in the second Sydney Derby, Melbourne City get their revenge with 3-2 win over Victory, and Brisbane draw their fourth-straight game after 1-1 result against Newcastle.
Melbourne Victory's active fans
Picture this: It's the 87th minute. Your team is a goal down against your cross-town rivals. Not all hope is lost, though. You know you're capable of getting one back; you proved it barely 40 minutes ago, snatching two goals in the space of five minutes to bring the scores level after being 2-0 down at half-time. The clock is ticking towards stoppage time, of which there will be at least five minutes -- more than enough time to find an equaliser. What do you do?
I know what I wouldn't do. I wouldn't throw a glass bottle at one of the opposition players on the field, forcing the referee to pause the game for several minutes, losing all momentum for my side and giving the winning team a breather. I wouldn't give the opposition the moral upper hand on top of the score-board one they already have. I wouldn't hand them a log to fuel their competitive fire, inspiring them to hold onto their lead barely a week after we demolished them 6-0.
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I also wouldn't draw more negative attention to a game already fighting against wider misconceptions about football being filled with violent hooligans. I wouldn't want to make the different demographic make-up at W-League games -- women, teen girls, queer people, young families -- feel unsafe or unwelcome by my behaviour. I wouldn't want my team, filled with people who have had to work twice as hard for half as much exposure and opportunities as their male colleagues, to feel that I don't value their sacrifices or the platform that televised football offers them for their livelihoods. And I wouldn't want to make the community that has flourished despite the wider culture that has actively ignored them to believe that I'm there to destroy it. And I sure as hell wouldn't stand by in silence if someone beside me did it, either.
But I'm not the group of Melbourne Victory supporters behind Teagan Micah's goal on Sunday afternoon, hurling abuse and throwing projectiles onto the pitch like a child throwing toys out of a pram.
Active support in the W-League is welcome, but not when it comes with the same aggressive behaviour that often soils A-League games and further cements the stereotypes that lead to the disproportionate over-policing of fans. You can be a passionate supporter without making players feel worthless and fearful for their safety. You can support your team without endangering the safety of the opposition. You can want to make the W-League more like the A-League without bringing across the same toxic behaviour that has made men's active fan groups some of the least welcoming in Australian sport.
And if you can't, then don't bother showing up at all.
Is it time to talk about Brisbane yet?
At the start of the season, the Roar were clear favourites. On paper, their team has the highest number of cumulative international caps and the most Matildas (both senior and junior) of any other team in the league. But that doesn't seem to be translating into results on the pitch, with the club recording their fourth consecutive draw to start their campaign -- this time 1-1 against an inspired Newcastle Jets -- the first time a team has done so in the competition's history.
Their stats across other areas of the park on Sunday night spoke to a team that had the edge over their opponents, just as they did in their previous three games. But there is something about the little white rectangle that seems to put Brisbane off. In fact, despite dominating Newcastle everywhere else, the two sides recorded almost exactly the same stats when it came to the thing that matters: shots (20 vs. 19), shots on target (6 vs. 6), shots outside the box (7 vs. 7), shots inside the box (13 vs. 12) and shooting accuracy (31% vs. 30%). It makes sense, looking at these, that the game ended 1-1.
So what's going on? Perhaps it comes down to pressure and expectation. This isn't the first time Brisbane Roar have stacked their squad with big names only to underperform. The players and the club know that, and they know that we know that. There's an element of not wanting to let themselves down, but there's also a sense of not wanting to let us down -- people like you and me, who talk about squads on paper and assume that star-power equals league power.
Putting the Roar into the context of their own history shapes these expectations, too; they were, at one stage, the pinnacle of women's club football in Australia. Their recruitment this season -- bringing all these Matildas like Emily Gielnik and Kim Carroll back home -- seems to have been in the spirit of rediscovering that. But history is a fickle thing; it can inspire you to recapture former glories or act as an anchor that achieves the exact opposite. It's starting to feel like when it comes to Brisbane Roar, one of those things is ringing truer than the other.
For all the talk of young Australian players this season, there's still a handful of veterans who are helping make the W-League's current transition from one generation to the next as smooth as possible. Sydney FC captain Teresa Polias is one of them. Not only did Polias mark her 10th straight year with the club, but on Saturday night she also became the first player in the history of the league to reach 150 games.
Not yet 30 years old, Polias has been as ever-present in the W-League as she is in Sydney's midfield. Her performance against the Western Sydney Wanderers in the second Sydney derby was yet another reminder of how crucial she has become to the machine that is the Sky Blues, the only club to have finished in the top four in every season since the league began -- including four seasons under her captaincy.
Polias' calm decision-making, technical precision, ability over a dead-ball, and wisdom to change and dictate tempo not only sets her apart from her teammates, but it makes her arguably one of the greatest midfielders the league has ever seen. And while she notched an assist for fellow veteran Ellie Brush's goal on Saturday, it's what Polias did (and does) elsewhere on the field -- putting her body on the line, leading those around her, being everywhere all the time -- that makes her such a valuable player.
Speaking to media afterwards, head coach Ante Juric singled out Polias for her player of the match performance and commended her on how she's grown into her leadership role over the last few seasons.
"When you have someone who drives people in their attitude -- she's a shorter lady but she's challenging people who are very aggressive and taller than her -- and when you have someone doing that in the defensive role, which is not her main trait, then others follow," he said.
"And on the ball, she's perfect. So she was fantastic today, she really was. And she's been the best player in my books for the last three games. Seriously, can't be more proud of her, but today, for me, she was a stand-out."
Polias was predictably humble when asked about her milestone; even more of a reflection of her legendary status.
"I'm just extremely privileged to have been with the club for so long," she said. "It's a special year this year -- it's a different role for me, there's a lot of young ones around too -- but I'm loving it, I'm really loving it. We'll see how long it continues for."
I, for one, hope it continues for as long as the club exists, because Polias is Sydney FC. The club now move to the top of the ladder with three wins in three games and are looking one of the most settled teams so far in the competition. There's no mistaking who has played a major part in that.
When Alex Chidiac signed for Atletico Madrid in 2018, she was touted as Australia's next big thing in central midfield. But her time in Spain didn't quite live up to expectations -- be it hers, or those of Matilda fans. Dips in form, a run of injuries, and an increasingly star-studded team to try to crack into, Chidiac's European adventure resulted, like her old Adelaide teammate Emily Condon, in simply dropping off the radar.
Well, she's sure as heck back on it now after a stellar performance for Melbourne City in the return derby against Victory on Sunday afternoon; a reminder of the kind of talent that saw her signed by one of the world's biggest clubs in the first place.
Chidiac opened the scoring for City in the 21st minute and helped lead Rado Vidosic's high-intensity press that saw them win the ball back ahead of their second -- an own goal scored by Claudia Bunge off Chinatsu Kira cross. But it was her mazy, tip-toe run through three midfielders and her delightful through-ball for Harriet Withers' goal that was the pick of Chidiac's moments of influence, capping off a sensational first 90 minutes for the club she's returned to after a few years in the wilderness.
What's perhaps most impressive is that while Chidiac comes into this season having played little to no competitive football in recent years, she put on a performance that set her apart from almost every other player on the field. Her energy and movement on and off the ball completely transformed a City side that looked absolutely bereft of life and understanding just a week ago. They now move to fifth on the ladder, one point ahead of both Brisbane and Western Sydney. And if the continues in this vein, both Chidiac and Melbourne City could defy their early-season wobbles and prove their doubters (including this writer) very, very wrong.
The Next Gen
Every week, the W-League reminds us just how old some of us are in comparison to players who have been around forever. Adelaide United's Emily Condon is one of those players. Condon made her debut for the Reds as a 15-year-old back in 2014 and has appeared in all but one season since then, with all the ups and downs that come with a footballing career of someone twice her age.
She started almost every game for Adelaide between 2014 and 2016 but dropped off the radar the following year due to illness. Her return for the 2017-18 season was also her break-out year, resulting in her first senior Matildas cap at the 2018 Algarve Cup in Portugal. Now, the 22-year-old (!!!) is having the kind of start to her that could see her earn another soon.
Condon's winner against Perth Glory on Thursday night made her one of just five players who have scored more than a goal so far this season, and one of three who's under the age of 23. She's also in the upper echelons of other statistical areas such as shots (=6th with 7), chances created (3rd with 8) and crosses (2nd with 21). With the ever-dependable Dylan Holmes and Georgia Campagnale alongside her, the midfielder has been given the freedom to move forward and show off her impressive bursts of pace, her keen eye for a pass, and her goal-scoring instincts in her opening three games.
Adelaide United hasn't been a club that has typically dominated Matildas conversations, but with young full-back Charlotte Grant and striker Chelsie Dawber also emerging onto the scene after being called into the Matildas' Talent Identification Camp back in November, and with the Reds playing some impressive football in the opening stanza of their campaign, this could turn out to be a big year for both the club and one of the young players at the heart of it.
Is there a gif of that?
They may not have claimed the points, but Western Sydney can be pretty happy with the season debut of returning defender Nikola Orgill, who deputised for the concussed Caitlin Cooper and pulled off this ripper goal-line clearance to keep her team in the game. My hamstrings hurt just watching this.