Is this the year that the Wanderers make the finals?
Last season, the team from the Red & Black half of Sydney once again showed their inconsistency. After a slow start, back-to-back wins against Melbourne City and Newcastle put them in a strong position to challenge for their maiden finals appearance. However, one win in their last five games consigned the Wanderers to a disappointing eighth place finish.
Nothing summed up the team’s unpredictability more than their devastating 10-2 loss to Adelaide United in Round 12, which was followed by a 1-0 win over Premiers Canberra United a week later.
Despite the struggles that the team encountered at times, Richard Byrne is back for his second season in charge of the team from Sydney’s west, describing the choice as a “no-brainer,” and the position itself as a “fantastic job with a fantastic club.”
While Byrne remains with the Wanderers, there have been some changes with the coaching staff. After Leah Blayney took up a position with the Young Matildas, the club selected former Wanderers and Matildas player Catherine Cannuli as an assistant coach, a move which Byrne said was simple.
“Catherine’s been around the club since day one, so that was a really easy decision. The players like her, and everyone I speak to loves Catherine.”
Byrne has been active in recruiting new players for this season. 14 players have signed on with the Wanderers for the first time, while Trudy Burke and Alexandra Huynh return for their second stints with the club.
The squad will have more of a European feel this season, with two players from the Netherlands (Marlous Pieëte and Maruschka Waldus) and one from Israel (Lee Falkon) joining the Red & Black. Byrne has praised them not only for their quality, but also for their versatility.
“All three of them can play in more than one position. Marlous is a former Dutch national team player with almost 50 caps. She’s played for big clubs in Holland (FC Twente and Ajax), and she’s coming off a successful season with Ajax.”
“Marlous is attacking minded, and can play in different positions in the front third, but she could also play a little bit deeper if we needed. Maruschka has played for big clubs in Europe and also had a brief spell in the NWSL. She will be a great presence at the back.
“Lee Falkon played two seasons in the German Bundesliga, which is a very technical and tactical league. She’s a national team player, so she’s played at a very high level. Lee can be a striker, or she can play just behind the forwards.”
The final import spot will be filled by American midfielder Lo’eau LaBonta, who signs after spending the last two years playing for NWSL side FC Kansas City. She is expected to play a more defensive role for the team, and this should complement the attacking skills of Pieëte and Falkon.
Byrne has also been busy scouting domestic players, with midfielder Jennifer Bisset returning to the W-League after a couple of years away from top level football. The 25 year old spent six seasons with Canberra United between 2008 and 2014, and will add valuable experience to the squad.
The Wanderers were very active in looking at players during the NPL NSW season, signing eight new players from this competition. Of these players, Olivia Price, Sunny Franco, Trudy Burke and Alexandra Huynh have previous W-League experience.
The other four players are W-League rookies who all bring something different to the team. Young attacker Susan Phonsongkham joins after impressive displays for Football NSW Institute. Talitha Kramer put in some eye-catching performances for Illawarra Stingrays, and can operate in both midfield and defence. Katelyn Leadbeatter also comes from the Stingrays, and will look to secure a spot in the Wanderers backline, while Nicole Simonsen (previously of Manly United) adds depth to the goalkeeping stocks.
The squad has an intriguing blend of experience and youth. Ellie Brush has been involved in the W-League since its inception, and along with Marlous Pieëte and Lee Falkon has played international football at senior level. Maruschka Waldus is another player who can direct the team, and her ability to organise the defence has already been apparent in preseason.
With experience comes leadership, and although a captain for this season has not yet been named, Richard Byrne is pleased to have leadership qualities spread throughout the team.
“We have a number of players who could fill that role. Whether it’s one single captain or a shared responsibility, that will be decided later on.”
The Wanderers also have plenty of talented youth to complement the more experienced members of the squad. Eleven Wanderers players are aged 23 or under, with three of those players selected in the Young Matildas squad for the 2017 AFC U19 Championships (Jada Whyman, Rachel Lowe and Susan Phonsongkham).
Byrne is also happy to see that the players are getting along with each other, noting that, “the character of the players, individually and collectively, is a strength.”
The flip side of having plenty of exciting new signings is that the squad will need more time to get familiar with each other. However, with such a short season, cohesion will need to come sooner rather than later if the Wanderers are to play finals football. Only five members of last season’s squad return for 2017-18 (Jada Whyman, Chloe O’Brien, Erica Halloway, Rachel Lowe and Alix Roberts).
The transition will need to be especially quick at the back as the Wanderers have lost three defensive starters from last season. Fan favourite Ellie Carpenter has moved to Canberra United, while former captain Caitlin Cooper and promising young central defender Angelique Hristodoulou have opted to sign for cross-town rivals Sydney FC.
The performances of Ellie Brush and Maruschka Waldus will be key, and they will play a vital role in the development of players such as Alix Roberts, Talitha Kramer, Alexandra Huynh and Katelyn Leadbeatter.
Ellie Brush (Defence): After nine seasons at Canberra United, Brush joins the Wanderers for 2017-18. One of only four players to make more than 100 W-League appearances, Brush’s leadership skills will be vital in a squad that contains a lot of young players. While she has a reputation as a solid defender, Brush is a versatile player, and can play in central midfield. With 17 career W-League goals to her name, she also has the ability to make an impact in an attacking sense.
Chloe O’Brien (Midfield): O’Brien has just turned 20, but is already set to play in her fourth season with the Wanderers. The former Young Matilda will be relied upon to control the play in the middle of the park, and her ability to both win the ball and distribute it to teammates in forward positions will be vital. She is coming off a good season in NPL NSW, where she started regularly for Championship winners Manly United.
Rosie Sutton (Forward): Scoring goals is the hardest thing in football, and the struggle will be familiar for the Wanderers: they had the league’s least prolific attack in 2016-17. Sutton has been signed to help boost the Wanderers attack, and she arrives in Western Sydney with a proven goalscoring record in the W-League, having scored 21 goals in 48 appearances. The former Perth Glory and Adelaide United player will be expected to fill the gap left by last season’s top scorer, Katie Stengel.
ONE TO WATCH
Kahlia Hogg (Midfield): Hogg joins the Red & Black after her second stint at Canberra United. Previously she had been playing college football in the United States, first with Florida State University and then for the University of Colorado.
While she was mainly used as a defender during her time in the United States, Hogg has been playing in both central midfield and on the right wing during preseason. Hogg is another player with Young Matildas experience, and she has impressed the coaching staff with both her technique and her ability to read the game.
1.Jada WHYMAN (GK), 2.Maruschka WALDUS, 3.Jennifer BISSET, 4.Chloe O’BRIEN, 5.Kahlia HOGG, 6.Lo’eau LABONTA, 7.Ellie BRUSH, 8.Erica HALLOWAY, 9.Rosie SUTTON, 10.Lee FALKON, 11.Marlous PIEËTE,12. Rachel LOWE, 13.Olivia PRICE, 14.Sunny FRANCO, 15.Talitha KRAMER, 16.Alix ROBERTS, 17.Katelyn LEADBEATTER, 18.Alexandra HUYNH,19. Susan PHONSONGKHAM, 20.Trudy BURKE (GK), 30.Nicole SIMONSEN (GK)