Good things come to those who wait...that might just be the case with Melbourne Victory.
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.