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Victory hit City for six; Gielnik struggling at Roar

The W-League weekend in 280 characters or less

Brisbane Roar opened the round with a 1-1 draw against Canberra; Sydney continued their perfect start with a 2-1 win over Newcastle; Adelaide get their first three points of the season after a tight 1-0 win over Perth; and Victory demolish crosstown rivals City 6-0 in the Melbourne derby.

Winners

Katrina Gorry

Gorry is synonymous with scoring worldies; the 28-year-old Brisbane player has made a name for herself by scoring outrageous goals for both club and country. Her dipping 30-yard strike for the Matildas against France in 2013 and her bullet strike against South Korea in the 2014 Asian Cup semifinal are some of the most memorable. And with two W-League Premierships under her belt, Gorry is never far from conversations about Australian football’s best and most deadly midfielders.

It came as a surprise, then, when Fox Sports commentator Brenton Speed mentioned that Gorry’s long-range strike against Canberra United on Thursday night was her first W-League goal since the 2017-18 season. For such an ever-present player whose reputation is built upon absolute pearlers in and around the 18-yard box, such a dry-spell seems almost unthinkable.

But Gorry has been through a lot in recent years, from injuries to dips in form, to being slowly pushed to the periphery of the national team. However, her goal against Canberra — and the way in which she dictated the game on either side of it — suggests she could be easing back into her old ways, which is something that both Brisbane and Australia fans will be overjoyed to see.

– W-League on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)
– W-League Club-by-club guide

Sydney’s kids

We knew that Sydney FC were one of the better-prepared clubs heading into this season, having slowly introduced a variety of young Australian players into their set-up over the past few seasons. They were also the first club to show genuine initiative by announcing almost their entire playing squad months before other clubs got their act together.

So it feels like just reward that two of the youngsters on that early roster — Taylor Ray (19) and Rachel Lowe (20) — were at the heart of the Sky Blues’ second consecutive win of the campaign. The two Young Matildas midfielders have impressed in their own ways, with Ray looking a natural replacement for Sydney captain Teresa Polias at the base of midfield, while Lowe has introduced a new dynamic to Ante Juric’s side, floating into an attacking midfield role and offering a much-needed creative outlet in the absence of Caitlin Foord. Her clever, curling dink over Claire Coelho to give Sydney the lead was a testament to that added flair and multi-dimensionality.

That each of their goals came from central midfield speaks to their growing influence in this area for Sydney; an influence that may become more necessary as the season rolls on, particularly as centre-forward Remy Siemsen — who is being played as a more classic striker rather than last season’s deeper-dropping false No. 9 — has been looking quite isolated.

The win over Newcastle on Friday was a particularly nice moment for Ray, who scored just her second goal for a club she’s been with since 2017. She now has as many W-League goals as she’s had ACL injuries. Here’s hoping one of those numbers continues to tick upwards and not the other.

Lisa De Vanna

When Melbourne Victory announced the signing of De Vanna a few weeks before the season, there were a few whispered questions about her form and fitness. The veteran Matildas striker returned to the W-League after being stuck in lockdown in Italy for several months, playing no competitive football and struggling (like most of us have) to stay emotionally and psychologically healthy.

Her first game for Victory in their 0-0 draw against Brisbane showed a bit of that rust: being called offside several times and not really making much of an impact besides.

Safe to say that rust is well and truly shaken off now.

De Vanna’s performance against Melbourne City on Sunday was exactly the kind that W-League fans have been waiting for. It began in the 14th minute with a perfectly-weighted through-ball for Annalie Longo to open the scoring. It continued in the 28th minute, with De Vanna picking up the ball down the left wing and charging towards the byline before cutting back for Angie Beard to have a shot, which Teagan Micah spilled and Melina Ayres poked home for 2-0.

It ended with a classic De Vanna goal. Deep in her own half, she pulled out a cheeky stepover feint that nutmegged fellow Matilda Jenna McCormick. She spun around the centre-back and took off, picking the ball up again and flying into her own attacking half. A clever change of pace saw City defender Tori Tumeth easily left in the dust before De Vanna sliced into the box and drove the ball low and hard across Micah to make it 3-0.

The 36-year old received a standing ovation from her bench and from a number of fans in the stands when she was substituted off in the game’s closing stages. She may have faded from view over the past 18 months but De Vanna is not done with football yet.

Losers

Emily Gielnik

Like De Vanna, Gielnik’s return to Australia from Europe was seen as a coup by the W-League; the kind of player with the kind of name that gets fans into seats. But with three games now played, the towering winger doesn’t seem to be living up to the buzz that her reputation generated when she was first announced by Brisbane Roar.

The stats paint an alarming picture for a player who’s supposedly using this season to cement herself in the Matildas squad ahead of the Olympics. Although Gielnik leads the league in the number of shots taken (19) as well as the Expected Goals tally (1.97) — ahead of the next most promising player, Michelle Heyman, who’s on (1.82) — none of them have hit the back of the net.

It’s an eerie trend emerging with Brisbane Roar as a whole, having scored just one goal despite leading the league in shots (69) and chances created (59). Their Expected Goal tally is a whopping 6.91, more than twice as much as the next highest team (Canberra with 3.42). But, so far, they have just three points from three draws to show for it.

Hopefully Gielnik can shake off this weird aura she’s got hanging over her and return to the form that saw her score eight goals for Vittsjo in Sweden barely six months ago. Brisbane Roar and Matildas fans will be grateful for it.

Melbourne City

Well, where do we start? We knew Melbourne City would struggle coming into this season. They lost the entire starting XI that played (and won) the grand final last year — players who are now working at some of the biggest and best clubs on the planet — but even then, I don’t think anybody expected the drop-off would be as huge as this.

City’s 6-0 derby loss to Victory was the club’s biggest-ever defeat in their six-season history and the clearest evidence yet that City had no long-term plans for how they would rebuild following the somewhat predictable exodus of their best and brightest.

Now, they’re facing the consequences. City’s performance on Sunday afternoon was not just that of a brand new team who have been hastily and somewhat indiscriminately assembled, but also of a coach who doesn’t seem to appreciate that the players he’s now working with don’t share the same qualities that he’d been blessed with over the past two seasons.

The defensive situation is a case in point. Last season, City played with a back three of Emma Checker, Lauren Barnes and Rebekah Stott, complemented by the athletic, overlapping wing-backs of Steph Catley and Ellie Carpenter — arguably two of the best wing-backs in the world. This season, despite losing all five of them (with Checker sidelined due to injury), head coach Rado Vidosic still expects this system to work, even though his players clearly do not possess the same individual abilities as those they’ve filled in for.

Their 6-0 loss may be the wakeup call Vidosic needs to play a more malleable type of football that actually caters to the talent in his squad. Indeed, if results continue to go this way, you’d have to wonder how much of it stems from the quality of their players versus the stubbornness of a coach who’s asking them to replace the seemingly irreplaceable.

Here’s the tea

Refereeing standards must improve as the W-League does

First, it was Tameka Yallop’s wrongly disallowed goal that clearly crossed the line in Brisbane’s opening game against Melbourne City. Then it was a missed handball on City’s Sam Johnson in the same match, which ultimately ended 0-0. Then it was Wanderers striker Leena Khamis’ bizarre yellow card after being clattered by Jets defender Gema Simon. Then it was Sydney striker Remy Siemsen being tripped in the penalty box and having her appeal ignored. Then it was Adelaide winning (and scoring) a penalty after what appeared to be a legal challenge by Perth’s Natasha Rigby.

Pretty soon, these moments start to add up to something that’s more concerning than a few misplaced points here or there.

Referees fundamentally shape the way football is played; they aren’t just there to dish out cards or point in the direction of a throw-in … they’re crucial in dictating the rhythm of games. A single decision can shift the momentum of a match from one team to the other; a single decision, particularly if it’s wrong, can change the entire dynamic of 22 players on a field, as well as the energy in a fan-filled stadium.

It’s this dynamic that audiences engage with; that gets new fans interested and keeps them coming back. It can also be what turns them away.

Referees in women’s football have been regularly accused of being below standard. There are, of course, important reasons for this. Most referees in the women’s game are women, and the vast majority of women referees have not had either the career pathways or the professional support systems that have allowed them to pursue refereeing in the same way their male colleagues, or colleagues in the men’s game, have done.

As women’s football improves at a rapid rate on the field, it’s perhaps natural that more scrutiny is being applied to its referees. One W-League referee once told me: a good refereeing performance is one that you don’t notice, a bad refereeing performance is one that you do. And the past three rounds of the W-League has produced a handful of moments in which referees have not just been noticeable, but noticeably error-prone.

All referees make errors, of course, but the growing list of blatant mistakes like thoseabove speaks to the need for urgent improvements when it comes to referee training and support in the women’s game.

We cannot underestimate the crucial role that referees play in growing women’s football as an industry. They’re not just responsible for enforcing the laws and administering things on the field, but they are inextricably tied to how the women’s game as a product is presented to audiences and other stakeholders. As such, while the W-League edges ever-closer towards full professionalism, the same structural support ought to be provided to its referees. Their decisions, after all, reverberate far further than the game’s final whistle.

Is there a gif of that?

Not quite a gif, but not exactly the way you’d want to celebrate scoring your first goal in three seasons. When the 5-foot-1 Gorry stepped up to the Fox Sports microphone for a postmatch interview, the staff on the ground didn’t seem to remember that she’s nicknamed “Mini” for a reason. Cue a Mike Wazowski moment that is sure to live on in #PeakDub infamy.



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