The Week in Women's Football: TribalFootball W-League 2020/21 awards; Matildas suffer in Europe; Gustavsson learns Olympic opponents

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This week, we catch up on the exciting conclusion to the 2020/21 Westfield W-League Season in Australia with the Grand Final which saw the first overtime in the 13 year history of the league. We also present our Player of the Year, Goal of the Year, Import of the Year and Coach of the Year along with our W-League Best 11 selections. We also examine the Matilda's two recent heavy losses in Europe to Germany and the Netherlands and look at their recently announced group opponents for the first round of the Olympic Games Finals this summer.

2020/21 WESTFIELD W-LEAGUE GRAND FINAL

Melbourne Victory 1 Sydney FC 0

Premiership winners Sydney FC and regular season third place side Melbourne Victory qualified for the Grand Final on April 11 in Sydney after scoring a combined 51 goals in the regular season and nine in the semifinals, but it was a single goal from Kyra Cooney-Cross deep in the second overtime session that gave Melbourne Victory a 1-0 win and their second ever Grand Final win in 13 W-League seasons. The game attracted 4,619 fans in Sydney, the second highest attendance total of the season after Adelaide United's 5,159 in Round 13 to see their 3-1 win over Western Sydney Wanderers. The Victory's Cooney-Cross took a corner kick in the 120th minute which sailed in front of the goal and Sydney FC goalkeeper Jada Whyman didn't jump high enough to snare it, tipping the ball backwards and into the net, despite three Sydney defenders around her trying to keep the ball out as well. It was the first-ever W-League Grand Final to be decided in overtime; after Cooney-Cross's late goal, the Victory had to see out four injury time minutes for the win, in a game that was looking for a long time like it would have to be decided by penalty kicks.

The Victory had the edge in possession over Sydney FC (52% vs. 48%) and corners (9 vs. 7) but had a huge advantage in shots (30 vs. 14), with shots on goal being similar (6 vs. 4). Cooney-Cross (19) was a difference-maker all game, finishing with nine crosses (second to Victory captain and wingback Angie Beard's 15) and tied with New Zealand international Annalie Longo with seven shots. Cooney-Cross also had a shot strike the crossbar in the 12th minute and then lifted a cross to Lisa De Vanna, who also hit the crossbar with a shot just before half time. In the second half, Cooney-Cross was denied twice in the 83rd minute from Jada Whyman's double save near the goal line. Whyman made two strong saves from long-distance Longo shots in the first overtime period and she finished with five saves, while Argentinian international goalkeeper Gaby Garton made four saves for Melbourne.

Lisa De Vanna won her fifth Grand Final—her second with the Victory—as well as titles with Sydney FC, Melbourne City and Brisbane Roar. She is tied in Grand Final wins with Aivi Luik (now Sevilla FC in Spain) and Steph Catley (Arsenal in England).

Below are Tribal Football.com's top W-League awards for 2020/21 and Team of the Year, as we have done in past years.

Player of the Year—Michelle Heyman—Canberra United

Michelle Heyman retired after the 2018/19 season and worked on Fox television broadcasts, but she came back in 2020/21 to the side where she had spent 8 out of her previous 11 W-League seasons; she was instrumental in guiding the Greens to their first playoff spot in four seasons. She scored 10 goals to finish second for the Golden Boot, with two winners in injury-time, showing the importance of her experience and reinvigorated love for the game. She also recaptured the all-time goal scoring lead in the W-League, replacing Matilda Sam Kerr (now Chelsea in the WSL) and stands on 72, while also eclipsing 100 league games.

Goal of the Year—Nicki Flannery—Canberra

Heyman's fellow front-runner at Canberra had a strong season with four goals, and her injury-time winner in game two helped the Greens with their fast start of the season, going undefeated with three wins in their first five matches. For her late winner against Melbourne City on January 2, Flannery dribbled past two defenders way beyond the penalty box and then launched a grass cutter past ex-UCLA and current Matilda goalkeeper Teagan Micah just before the final whistle. She returned to Canberra for her fifth season with her hometown club after a year in Newcastle with the Jets.

Special mention must go to Lisa De Vanna's 70 yard solo sprint against Melbourne City, her only goal of the regular season before scoring a brace against Brisbane Roar in their 6-2 semifinal win on the road to make the Grand Final.

Import of the Year—Gaby Garten—Melbourne Victory

Melbourne Victory had three new Americans to the league in 2020/21—Argentinian international goalkeeper Gaby Garten, forward Cat Zimmerman—both coming from the NPLW state leagues—and Kayla Morrison in the back, who had been playing in Sweden, and all were significant and important new additions to the club for this season. Garten gets our nod for import of the year over Zimmerman, who finished with 6 goals. Garton (30) led the league with 6 shutouts in the regular season plus one in the Grand Final and had 40 saves (from her 12 regular season games) to finish third to New Zealand's Lily Alfeld 54 (in 12 games) with bottom side Perth Glory and Claire Coelho of second from bottom Newcastle Jets (42 saves in 11 games). Garton, American-raised but who plays internationally for Argentina, stepped in flawlessly for our top selection last year, Victory's Casey Dumont, who was lost for the season due to injury.

Perth's Lily Alfeld was another strong consideration—coming from Louisiana State University in the States—to lead the league in saves (54)—some outstanding—on a team that gave up the most goals in the league (32).

Coach of the Year—Adrien Stenta—Adelaide United.

The first year head coach—promoted from an assistant role with the W-League side—led the Reds to a record seven wins and 22 points in the season, two wins more than their record previous best two seasons ago. They just missed a first ever playoff berth as Stenta mixed experienced NWSL loanee Mallory Weber, Chilean international Maria Rojas and home-grown talent like Dylan Holmes (now BK Hacken in Sweden) and Chelsea Dawber (5 goals) to great effect. The return of Weber with her sublime leadership skills and another forward or two to increase the goals production should lead the club to the promised land of the playoffs in 2021/22.

The runners-up nod goes to Brisbane Roar coach Jake Goodship, who had significant pressure on him after missing the playoffs in his first season. He utilized veterans Matilda veterans, Claire Polkinghorn, Tameka Yallop and 13 goals from Emily Gielnik—back home after a summer with Vittsjo in Sweden—and were undefeated in their first nine games or three-quarters of the short regular season.

2020/21 W-League Best Eleven—First Team (3-3-4)

Goalkeeper—Gaby Garton—Melbourne Victory—(See above)

Defender—Angie Beard—Melbourne Victory—The veteran wing back (still only 23) spent the summer in Iceland with KR for her first stint abroad and was vital in this transitional year for the W-League, with so many Matilda and NWSL loanees not in the league this year; she lifted the Grand Final Trophy for league champions Melbourne Victory as team captain.

Defender—Ellie Brush—Sydney FC—The former Houston Dash central defender had stepped aside from her Sydney Giants AFL career to concentrate on soccer and was outstanding for high-flying Sydney until she was unfortunately lost for the season when she went down with an injury during the first half of the season.

Defender—Clare Polkinghorn—Brisbane Roar—Another stellar season with the Roar—her 13th in the league—earned the Matildas veteran defender a high-profile move to Swedish side Vittsjo.

Midfielder—Isabel Dalton—Brisbane Roar—Dalton had 7 assists to lead the league for the highest scoring club in the league (29). Dalton spent a few months in Italy with struggling side Napoli after playing in the U.S. (University of Colorado) and England (Bristol); her return to Brisbane for a third season in Queensland was a huge success.

Midfield—Teresa Tobias—Sydney FC—She was a W-League original and she just simply wins for the team that has never missed the playoffs in 13 W-League seasons. She is the consummate captain and her corner kicks led to frequent goal attempts by her strikers; she recorded 5 assists to finish second in the league. She had a phenomenal year and was third in the league in crosses with 73 and fourth in chances created with 24.

Midfield—Chelsea Dawber—Adelaide United—The 21-year-old had 5 goals and 2 assists in her fourth season for the South Australian native. The former U-17 international may see more international action in her future, particularly if she moves abroad.

Forward Michelle Heyman—Canberra United—(see above)

Forward—Emily Gielnik—Brisbane Roar—Gielnik scored 13 goals in 12 regular season games after going scoreless in her first three games back in Australia; she showed her class and how much of an asset she is to the Matildas' hopes at this summer's Olympic Games, despite not getting much of a look in at Bayern after the France Women's World Cup tournament. Gielnik tied the W-League record for most goals in the regular season with 13, tied with fellow Matilda forward Sam Kerr (now with Chelsea in England), who had 13 for Perth in both the 2017/18 and 2018/19 campaigns. Gielnik returned to Vittsjo in Sweden for her second season with the small village club this spring.

Forward—Mallory Weber—Adelaide United—American import Mallory Weber (Kansas City NWSL) came back for a second year and finished joint third with 4 assists along with 2 goals and was a dynamic threat up front all season to lead the Reds to their best season ever.

Forward—Kyra Cooney-Cross—Melbourne Victory—She led the league in crosses (82) and chances created with (41) and scored 5 regular season goal along with the crucial Grand Final winner in the waning minutes of the second overtime period. She is definitely one that we will see going abroad soon.

Honorable Mentions include Forward Cortnee Vine of Sydney FC with 4 goals and 3 assists and Forward Melina Ayers of Melbourne Victory, who had 5 regular season goals and 3 more in the 6-2 semifinal victory over Brisbane Roar.

Matilda News from Their Tough Trip to Europe

The Matildas gave up ten goals in their two matches in Europe last month during the FIFA international friendlies window, with only Emily Gielnik's brace in their 5-2 loss to Germany in reply—along with a 5-0 defeat to the Netherlands—which was not the most auspicious start for new head coach Tony Gustavsson.

Martina Voss-Tecklenburg—formerly the successful national team coach of Switzerland for six years and who guided the team to the Round of 16 in their WWC debut in 2015—saw her side defeat Australia 5-2 on April 10 in Weisbaden. Goals by Sjoeke Nusken (Eintracht Frankfurt), Kathrin Hendrich (Wolfsburg), Jule Brand (Hoffenheim) and Laura Freigang (Eintracht Frankfurt) gave the reigning Olympic Champions a 4-0 lead just after the hour mark. Emily Gielnik (Vittsjo of Sweden) scored her first goal in the 82nd minute before Linda Dallman (Bayern Munich) and Gielnik traded injury-time tallies for the final 5-2 score line.

Karly Roestbakken (LSK Kvinner of Norway) had to leave the game within the first 15 minutes with an injury, replaced by Beattie Goad (SV Meppen of Germany) for her full international debut. Alex Huynh (Napoli of Italy) and Indiah-Paige Riley (Fortuna Hjorring of Denmark) came on as second half substitutes for their first caps as well.

On April 13, Netherlands shut out the Matildas 5-0 in Nijmegen—with goals from Jill Roord (Arsenal), Lieke Martens (Barcelona) and Jackie Groenen (Manchester United) within the first half hour—then Lineth Beerensteyn (Bayern Munich) and Danielle van de Donk (Arsenal) scored around the 70 minute mark. Dylan Holmes (BK Hacken of Sweden) became the 209th Matilda in history after coming on at halftime and was not overawed by the occasion. Ella Mastrantonio (Bristol City of England) earned her first Westfield Matildas cap in over 12 years and seventh overall and also was positive in her play.

After the games, Gustavsson said, "I said in the beginning of the camp, I'm so happy to finally meet all the staff and all the players, to finally actually be in a camp with the team after a very, very long wait. It's been a pleasure meeting these people, a phenomenal group of staff that's been working extremely hard behind the scenes, but also, with all this laughter and a smile on their face. That's been a pleasure." Gustavsson was also pleased with the interpersonal dynamics on the team, "In terms of the players, I've been really impressed with [the] experienced players, how they brought these new players on board and make them feel welcomed. I also liked the vibe and energy and the commitment to always try to be one day better, whether that's in this meeting room that we're in right now, when we had a lot of theory, a lot of video sessions or whether it was on the field." Addressing the disappointing results, he said, "I knew this was going to be a very, very tough challenge. But from the very get go, even before I was appointed, this discussion was on the table. And I've been in this game for a long time. I know what it takes to prepare a team to win something. I know everyone wants us to be able to win something. I actually said to some people even before this camp, especially with the COVID situation, with player availability and the selection going into this camp, it's even going to be a more challenging situation than I thought to begin with. It was going to be a challenge, even if we had the strongest team and everyone available for selection. But we can't shy away from that, because that's exactly what this team needs."

Friendlies are just and we can't focus too much on the results but Australia lost to the Netherlands 3-0 just before the Women's World Cup Finals in France two years ago, when they went out to Norway in the Round of 16 (4-1) on penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie, coached by now A-League coach Ante Milicic. It was largely seen as a disappointment, as they had made the quarterfinals in the past three tournaments, with 2015 having 24 teams as did the 2019 event.

2023 Women's World Cup Hosts Are Drawn Together in the Same First Round Group at the Olympic Games Finals

On April 21, FIFA grouped the Matildas in Group G at this summer's Olympic Games with the U.S., Sweden and New Zealand. Australia's women's national team new head coach Tony Gustavsson of Sweden will relish facing the Americans, where he won two WWC Winner's Medals as an assistant coach, but under former head coach Jill Ellis. Now under Vlatko Andonovski, the Americans have not lost a game in his 18 matches since he took over in the Fall of 2019. Australia also only has 1 win all-time against the number one ranked Americans, along with three ties in 29 games. In the Olympics they drew 1-1 in Thessaloniki, Greece during 2004 in group play. The U.S. won the last meeting 5-3 in a friendly prior to the 2019 Women's World Cup.

Sweden is always dangerous in global tournaments, particularly in the Olympics where they knocked the U.S. out in 2016 Rio in penalties in the quarterfinals. Australia will benefit from a good knowledge base from Swedish native Gustavsson as well as a number of Matildas playing in the Damallsvenskan, including Polkinghorne and Gielnik (see above). Australia has only won one game against FIFA fifth-ranked Sweden, along with 3 ties in 11 matches. The teams drew 1-1 in the group stage at Sydney 2000. Four years later in Athens, the Swedes secured a 2-1 victory in the quarter final. The Europeans were silver medalists at Rio 2016, losing to Germany. Sweden defeated Australia 1-0 in their last meeting, at the 2017 Algarve Cup spring national teams' annual tournament in Portugal.

It is interesting that 2023 WWC co-hosts are drawn together. Australia will be heavily favored but former Matilda coach Tom Sermanni—now the head coach of New Zealand (ranked by FIFA as number 22 in the world) but a full-time resident in Australia—cannot be discounted and is good at getting more than expected from his sides. He did that with Australia over a decade ago, building the foundation for this now world class side. The Matildas lead the Football Ferns in the series with 30 wins, 8 ties and 9 losses in a series dating back to 1979, where met in Australia's first international. In their most recent match prior to France 2019, Australia won 2-0.

Gustavsson said about the draw that, "Obviously, it's a tough draw in terms of top ranked teams from each pot. But it also means we have a lot of knowledge about the teams. Sweden, I know a lot about for natural reasons. The US, I've been working with for years. And then obviously, all my staff know a lot about New Zealand as well. So we have a good insight of what we're facing. But I do look forward to making sure that this team is challenged against the best because we're on a long journey to prepare for the 2023 Women's World Cup as well." Australian football fans will be galvanized on the Olympics Football Finals as their women's and men's national team (the Olyroos) will both be in the finals for the first time since Athens in 2004.

AUSTRALIA - GROUP G MATCHES

Australia vs. New Zealand
21 July 2021
Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo

Sweden vs. Australia
24 July 2021
Saitama Stadium 2002, Saitama

United States vs. Australia
27 July 2021
Kashima Stadium, Kashima

Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham on the global game of women's football. Get yours copy today.

Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey

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