The W-League weekend in 280 characters or less
Sydney make club history with six wins in their opening six games after two victories over Melbourne City (2-0) and Canberra (4-0), the Wanderers come from behind to draw with Adelaide 2-2, and Victory jump into the top four after a 4-2 win over Newcastle.
In a season that has been bogged down in off-field controversy recently, Katrina Gorry's announcement on Monday morning that she's expecting her first child is exactly the kind of good-news story W-League fans have been craving.
The revelation that Gorry is already 12 weeks pregnant also explains why, after she had started to warm into her season with Brisbane Roar -- including scoring a screamer in an important 1-1 draw with Canberra United -- the midfielder all of a sudden dropped off the team-sheet. As it happens, Gorry was pregnant when she sent that ball sailing into the roof of the net in early January, the last game competitive game she will play until her due date in September.
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Speaking to News Corp, Gorry said the reason her teammates celebrated that round 3 goal so enthusiastically is because they were in on the secret. In fact, her Roar colleagues were some of the first to find out, having noticed Gorry's changing habits and routines in and around the Roar training environment, but all of them admirably kept the news to themselves. And that in itself is a reflection of another, little-known aspect of the news: the Matildas veteran currently does not have a life partner (or partners) who will be helping her through this process -- she'll be going through pregnancy on her own.
Or as "on her own" as one can be when surrounded by a tight, vibrant, caring network of family and friends. When asked about her relationship status, Gorry was quick to clarify that even though she's not in a relationship, she doesn't feel alone -- a heart-warming reminder of just how important the W-League community has become not just to fans, but also to the players themselves.
While she's still open to the possibility of training with Brisbane over the next few months, she has ruled herself out of the Tokyo Olympics. She hopes to follow in the footsteps of many pioneering women footballers and come back to represent her country after she gives birth, with the 2023 Women's World Cup her ultimate goal. From all of us at ESPN and in the Australian game more widely, we hope that she does, too.
This is, you feel, Sydney's Premiership to lose. Their early-season wins against Western Sydney and Newcastle Jets certainly indicated that this could be their year; that they had all the right puzzle pieces in place. However, Sydney have almost always dominated their state-based rivals -- it's only now that they have been released (or unleashed?) on the non-NSW sides that their Premiership credentials are being highlighted.
Despite the fact the Sky Blues have appeared in four of the last five Grand Finals, they haven't lifted the Premiership trophy in 10 seasons. But after their two back-to-back games against Melbourne City and Canberra in round 7, it's starting to look like this albatross will soon be lifted from their necks.
There's a neat kind of symmetry to the way Sydney kicked off this round, defeating the same side that beat them almost exactly a year ago in last season's Grand Final (and in the same behind-closed-doors setting of AAMI Park that ushered in the pandemic's tidal wave of silence).
But it wasn't until they backed up that impressive performance to defeat their nearest challengers, Canberra United, on Monday afternoon that Sydney truly threw the gauntlet down. 4-0 score-line aside, the variation they showed in their attacks, their threat from set pieces, the impact of their substitutes, their relentless pressing, and the solid execution of the simple elements of football all added up to arguably their best game of the season so far, and the clearest sign yet that this team is well on track to break their Premiership curse.
Sydney are now six wins from their opening six games, taking them seven points clear at the top. They've scored the most goals in the league so far (15) and have conceded the fewest (1). It's officially their best ever start to a W-League season; their undefeated streak matched now only by the extraordinary Melbourne City teams of 2015-16 and 2019-20. If they continue to show the kind of all-round dominance as what they did against their two opponents this round, there's no reason they can't match -- or even surpass -- that other Sky Blue dynasty.
Things just seem to be getting harder and harder for Jenna McCormick. Following her disappointing six-month stint with Spain's Real Betis, the Matildas centre-back returned to the W-League with a desire to get the match minutes she'd been missing, work her way back into form, and start to enjoy her football again.
But it seems like those things are increasingly difficult to come across. Not only did the now-Melbourne City captain lead her team to their second ever loss to Sydney FC on Thursday, but McCormick wasn't even able to see out the full game, having been substituted off 15 minutes before full-time after struggling with a knee issue.
It was perhaps this niggling injury that meant her performance against the Sky Blues wasn't anything to write home about. She didn't follow the run of Remy Siemsen, who went on to score Sydney's first goal, and she also gingerly walked off the field moments before Nat Tobin banged in a header from a corner that McCormick absolutely would've helped defend had she been there.
City now sit seventh after seven games, having lost five, won once, and drawn once. In stark contrast to the Sydney side that handed their season to them on a platter this week, this is now City's worst start to a campaign ever. You have to wonder whether McCormick is looking further up the ladder at her old sides -- Canberra, Adelaide, Brisbane, Victory -- and daydreaming about what could have been.
It's not quite squeaky-bum time for Adelaide United, but dropping five points against two less-favoured sides in consecutive games has got some raising a few concerned eyebrows.
While their loss to Melbourne Victory last week and their draw against Western Sydney this past Sunday were not collapses, by any means, the Reds will likely be miffed that they find themselves now out of the top four on goal difference. Just one goal separates them from Melbourne Victory, who have crept up into fourth spot thanks to the one goal they scored over the Reds last week (as well as their win over Newcastle on Sunday). Three teams -- Brisbane, Victory and Adelaide -- are now on equal points (10), but it's the next most important statistic that is currently keeping the Reds out of finals.
Adelaide will be especially frustrated that they couldn't get the job done against Western Sydney, the team who've won just one of their opening six games and which the Reds recorded their biggest ever win over: a 10-2 thrashing in the 2016-17 season. And while results have been fairly evenly split over the course of this fixture's history, Adelaide had made a habit of snatching late wins against Wanderers when playing them on their own turf -- three of their last matches produced wins for the Reds after the 85th minute.
They looked well on track to maintain that streak on Sunday, peppering Western Sydney's defence in the closing stages. And were it not for former Adelaide goalkeeper Sarah Willacy and some resolute, body-on-the-line defending by her back four, the Reds may not be going into the second half of the season knowing that their potentially historic first top-four finish could be decided by a single goal for or against them elsewhere. Now that is what I would call squeaky-bum time.
The next gen
Eighteen months ago, 17-year old Sarah Hunter was watching the W-League from her couch at home, her knee in a brace after suffering an ACL tear. She hadn't kicked a football all year.
Fast forward to Sunday afternoon and the midfielder was not only back on the pitch, she was starting her second professional W-League match for Western Sydney, having been promoted to the senior squad after impressing head coach Dean Heffernan as a train-on player earlier in the season.
The Junior Matilda's performance against Adelaide epitomised what the current W-League season is all about: young players grabbing their opportunities with both hands and repaying the faith shown in them. Hunter didn't look out of place amongst more experienced teammates, nor did she shy away from the challenges of more physical opposition players like Georgia Campagnale, Dylan Holmes or Emily Condon -- players who are already considered W-League veterans given the number of seasons they've been around.
Add to that Hunter's two crucial goals, each of which came when her side was in a losing position: scoring twice against a Reds defence that had been widely praised for their composure and solidity is one thing, but to do so when her team was facing an uphill battle and then to defend the way that she did -- throwing herself in front of passes, helping lead the midfield press, even popping off a couple more shots as the clock wound down -- is quite another.
Indeed, Hunter's name has been increasingly circulated among junior national team coaches and scouts as a future senior Matildas starter due to her skill as much as her attitude and maturity on and off the field. No wonder the youngster had a large fan club in the Marconi stands, all holding hand-made signs and posters and squealing whenever her name came over the loudspeaker -- the purest example of Australian football's "homegrown heroes" energy this season.
"It's good to have home fans here, and the team has been really supportive. It's lots of fun on the field," Hunter told ESPN afterwards.
"All my friends from school, my family, they all came. So I had to score for them.
"Last season, I was pretty much coming back from my ACL so I wasn't focusing on anything like [playing], just focusing on myself. This season, I went in as a train-on, then they signed me, I got a few bench starts, and now here we are."
Is there a gif of that?
If there was ever an argument for why the W-League should introduce goal-line technology, Siemsen's wrongly-disallowed goal against Canberra is it.
Let the record show that the Sydney striker's 2020-21 season goal tally will forever have an asterisk next to it.
Oof, flashback of Frank Lampard's effort pic.twitter.com/MW1M3ogEUg— A-League Memes (@TheRealALM) February 8, 2021