Good things come to those who wait...that might just be the case with Melbourne Victory.
For two seasons running, they were given the wooden spoon and yet, they rose from ninth to seventh in Season 10 – a small but welcome improvement in overall standings.
Defensively, goals scored against Victory fell from 28 (the 2016/2017 season) to 19. They did, however, only maintain one clean sheet for the season.
Season 10 started strong: a 2-1 win over the then-league-premiers, Canberra United. It took them another five games to grab another, a dominant 4-0 win over Adelaide United.
Winning the derby against Melbourne City was another season highlight – a mammoth goal from Melina Ayres grabbed the 2-1 lead. However, they had an inconsistent season overall: three wins, seven losses and two draws.
American internationals Christina Gibbons and Kristen McNabb both made a formidable impact, with Gibbons collecting the W-League Victory Medal and the Players’ Player of the Season.
Fan favourite Natasha Dowie secured herself the title of leading goalscorer for the club. Accumulating 17 goals in total during her three seasons at Victory, she netted 6 out of Victory’s 15 goals in Season 10.
Recruitment has been kept simple. Drawing on pre-existing connections to the club, the bulk of this season’s squad are resignings: Ayres, Laura Alleway, MelindaJ Barbieri, Angie Beard, Kyra Cooney-Cross, Casey Dumont, Alexandra Gummer, Annabel Martin, Beth Mason-Jones and Lia Privitelli.
Locally, Hopkins has brought over Grace Maher from Canberra United, Emily Gielnik from Brisbane Roar, Teigen Allen from Sydney FC, as well as Ella Mastrantonio, who has played with Victory in years previous.
Victory have not had to look far for their international signings either. Christine Nairn returns, bringing with her Orlando Pride teammate Dani Weatherholt. They are joined by Utah Royals’ defender Samantha Johnson. Nairn’s leadership qualities and her previous time with Johnson and Weatherholt will certainly add cohesion across the pitch.
Two notable departures will be retiring midfielder Gulcan Koca and attacker Laura Spiranovic. Koca holds the record-high number of games played for the club, playing for Victory across an impressive nine seasons. Spiranovic, too, has been a mainstay as an attacker for the past 7 seasons.
Gibbons, Korean midfielder Jeon Ga-eul, and locals Tiffany Eliadis and Whitney Knight will also not be returning.
There haven’t been too many surprises with the roster this preseason. Therein lies the squad’s strength. Coach Jeff Hopkins has steadily rebuilt a core-squad since his 2016 arrival. His ability to develop current club talent and hand-picking new players that fit with the pre-existing team strategy are noticeable.
Additionally, mature team leaders and younger players are evenly balanced. “Young” does not equal “inexperienced” – players including Annabel Martin and Mindy Barbieri have been with Victory for multiple seasons. Their individual development aids Victory’s collective development; their retainment a factor in any of Victory’s future successes.
And of course, you can’t mention Victory’s strengths without mentioning Natasha Dowie. Whilst Dowie is one of the best in the league at breaking apart defences on attacking runs, past seasons have seen Victory struggle to provide Dowie with service. Remedying this are midfield additions of Maher, Nairn and Weatherholt.
Regarding Dowie’s superstar status, her scoring abilities mean she can be easily isolated and locked out by opposition defence. Once again, Victory will need to be cautious in not placing all their goal scoring options in Dowie’s basket alone and instead capitalise on the talent across their forward line.
Past performances indicate that the bulk of Victory’s players are attacking-minded, with wing-backs often making runs and wingers running the ball to the corner. In doing so, they are often left exposed. A similar situation to last season (wherein they were scored against in all but one game) could result.
An organised defence with the ability to shut down quick counters is essential for improvements. If these problems can be managed, Victory has a strong chance of reaching the top 4.
Sam Johnson (Defender)
Versatility from players has served Victory well in the past, but an experienced centre back pair will be refreshing. Johnson will join a backline near-identical to last season, partnering-up with Alleway to form an intimidating duo. She played as centre back for the Chicago Red Stars in their 2016 and 2017 campaigns, both time they reached the top 4. Her performance for Victory in the 2016/2017 season emphasized her ability to put her body on the line and shut down difficult situations quickly.
Dani Weatherholt (Midfielder)
Victory have midfield power in spades, but converting that into goals will require harnessing possession from the defence. A good defensive midfielder, someone with good passing vision who can also get back when needed, is crucial for Victory’s game. Weatherholt, one of three brand new faces at Victory, will likely fill this role. Playing in all but one of Orlando games last season, she is known for her incredible work rate and passing accuracy.
Emily Gielinik (Forward)
It is expected that Gielnik will continue to play on the wing this season. Her pinpoint crosses into the box will be excellent paired with Dowie’s sharp shooting, and her eye for the ball during set pieces will undoubtedly strengthen the front-line. Her experience also means expanding the leadership responsibilities up front, beyond Dowie. Victory play quite a different game to her former team Brisbane– it will be interesting to see where Gielnik goes.
ONE TO WATCH
Grace Maher (Midfield)
This role is usually dedicated to a newcomer, but it feels a little unusual to refer to Grace Maher as such. Departing from Canberra after four seasons, Maher will be put to the test in a new position at a new club. She has no doubt proved she is up for the challenge, previously having captained the Young Matildas and played for Canberra on their 2014 premiership winning side.
She has proven herself a smart, consistent player but this season she will be revisiting more creative elements of her play, stepping out of her more recent defensive roles and into the midfield. It will be exciting to see how Maher develops her playing style over the season with her increased freedom.
Laura ALLEWAY, Emily GIELNIK, Grace MAHER, Kyra COONEY-CROSS, MelindaJ BARBIERI, Melina AYRES, Angela BEARD, Natasha DOWIE, Annabel MARTIN, Casey DUMONT, Beth MASON-JONES, Lia PRITIVELLI, Ella MASTRANTONIO, Alexandra GUMMER, Christine NAIRN, Dani WEATHERHOLT, Teigen ALLEN (to be announced) and Sam JOHNSON.