Last season couldn’t have started any worse for Sydney FC.
Conceding a goal just 17 seconds into their season set the tone for what would be a frustrating opening three weeks.
After three consecutive losses to start the season, things were looking dire when Sydney trailed defending Champions Melbourne City 2-1 in the second half of the Round 4 clash. It was then that captain Teresa Polias stepped up to score her first ever W-League goal to level the game. Remy Siemsen's 91st minute strike propelled Sydney to victory and the following run of eight straight wins saw the club finish second.
Their semi-final encounter against Newcastle was unforgettable with the game forced into extra time after a chaotic stoppage-time goal from Tara Andrews. Lisa De Vanna would end up saving the day, scoring her sixth goal of the season after a storming midfield run by USWNT central defender Emily Sonnett, sending the Sky Blues into the final.
The grand final would be a disappointing repeat of 2016-17, as Sydney fell at the final hurdle to Melbourne City. However, the club can be very proud of the way they recovered from a difficult start to the season, earning their fifth Grand Final appearance.
Sydney FC has maintained their record as the only team to appear in every finals series since the inception of the W-League ten years ago. Season 11 is now shaping up to be one of the most competitive yet, and Sydney are looking to improve on last season’s efforts. Their search for silverware began in the off-season, with head coach Ante Juric re-signing several players who were vital to the club’s 2017-18 campaign. This included the captain, Polias, and the attacking Matildas trio of De Vanna, Caitlin Foord, and Chloe Logarzo
Feisty midfielder Amy Harrison is back after missing the end the last season with an ACL injury, as is Natalie Tobin after a year-long sabbatical. NSW NPL stars Rachael Soutar and Elizabeth Ralston have also re-signed after helping their respective NPL clubs to trophies in 2018.
Sydney will complement its returning players with several new recruits. Experienced Matildas defender Alanna Kennedy is back at the club after spending last season at City.
“I’m thrilled to be back at Sydney FC,” she told The Women’s Game. “This club is like family to me, it’s an environment in which I have had success in the past, and I can’t wait to get started.”
After a disappointing season with the Orlando Pride in the NWSL, Kennedy now has her sights set on the World Cup in France next year. Her preparation not only physical, but also mental and emotional, and believes returning to her hometown is the perfect environment for that preparation.
“Being away from the club made me realise what I was missing off the field and I’m expecting my performances to show it was worth the return,” she said.
Young Matildas star Amy Sayer has also made the move to Sydney off the back of a productive stint with the North Shore Mariners in the NSW NPL and a breakout season with Canberra United in 2017-18.
Sydney have also made some impressive international signings with American goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe returning for her first full season, having made a significant contribution to the club’s success despite arriving halfway through the 2017-18 campaign. Her return comes after a tough outing in the NWSL, though Sydney can take comfort as Bledsoe broke the league record for most saves in a single season.
Joining her are Sofia Huerta and Danielle Colaprico, who are back in the W-League after representing Adelaide United two seasons ago. All three international recruits have plenty of experience against quality opposition, having just completed their seasons in the NWSL.
The experience and chemistry of the Matildas squad members will be crucial, as Sydney have lost several players who were key to last season’s storming finals run. Kylie Ledbrook, Leena Khamis, Georgia Yeoman-Dale, Remy Siemsen, and Caitlin Cooper have all joined cross-town rivals the Wanderers, while long-time goalkeeper Sham Khamis went to Canberra. Sydney have also lost the talent and leadership of Sonnett, who did not re-sign with the club.
These squad losses are a chance for Sydney’s younger recruits including Angelique Hristodoulou, Princess Ibini, Taylor Ray, Ally Green, and Julia Vignes to make their mark. Ibini is particularly on the rise, having started for the Matildas senior team in their friendly against England in October.
Juric believes this mix of youth and experience will stand Sydney FC in good stead for another blistering campaign this season.
“We’ve got some fantastic individuals in this team and together they make a formidable squad,” he said. “With the right mix of senior national team players guiding our Young Matildas, I believe we’ll more than just challenge this season.”
“Once we get everyone together, I am quietly confident that we will challenge strongly for the championship and put in all we can to achieve this.”
Sydney have retained 13 players from last season’s squad, meaning a high degree of familiarity and chemistry both on and off the pitch. This includes the dynamic front three of De Vanna, Foord, and Logarzo who were responsible for 12 of Sydney’s 29 goals in 2017-18.
The chemistry built up over the last few seasons at Sydney also extends beyond the W-League. Polias, Ralston, and Harrison have played together at Macarthur Rams for a number of years, while teenagers Hristodoulou, Ray, and Vignes were all regular starters for their NPL club, Football NSW Institute in 2018.
The experience of these veteran Sydney players will be balanced with an injection of freshness and unpredictability from new recruits, Huerta and Colaprico. While it naturally takes time for new players to settle into established teams, the Americans come in already familiar with each other and with the league, being team-mates at Chicago Red Stars for several seasons, and appearing together at Adelaide United.
The retained players also bring with them the experience of yet another finals run after finishing second in 2017-18. There is no doubt last season’s tense finals campaign has made its mark on the players, particularly the sting of another grand final loss. Defeat is always accompanied by the learning of important lessons, and Sydney FC will be certain not to repeat the same mistakes this time around.
On the other hand, the Sky Blues have lost a lot of experience with Ledbrook, Khamis, Cooper, Yeoman-Dale, and Siemsen making the switch to Wanderers. The passion and work-rate of players like Khamis, Yeoman-Dale, and Cooper, the precision of Siemsen in front of goal, and the creativity of Ledbrook from the midfield could prove difficult to replace.
This leaves several key roles to fill in the Sky Blues’ starting XI, which could test the cohesion that was central to the team’s success last season. While Sydney’s new international recruits will not shy away from their new responsibilities, there are several inexperienced squad players under the age of 21 who will be expected to step up. Will they rise to the challenge?
The weight of expectation on this team is undeniable. They last won a grand final in 2012-13, despite making the finals every year since then, including two grand finals. They have fallen at the final hurdle every time. Overcoming those mental obstacles to claim silverware could be the Sky Blues’ biggest challenge this season.
Lisa De Vanna (Forward)
It comes as no surprise that Matildas all-time leading goalscorer will spearhead Sydney’s attack this season. De Vanna’s pace continues to rattle opposition teams, taking the form of charging runs through the middle of the park, pulling defences apart from the wing, applying pressure to hesitant goalkeepers, and breaking through the line to chase incisive passes. Her impressive work-rate and goal scoring prowess means she will pose a threat, no matter where she is in the front third.
Danielle Colaprico (Midfield)
The new American recruit is already familiar with the W-League but returns with far more experience under her belt. Having been named in the NWSL second XI three seasons straight, Colaprico spent her most recent stint with the Red Stars, racking up 25 appearances, including 22 starts, and helping her team to the play-offs. Colaprico’s position in the centre of the midfield and ability to control the tempo of the game, as well as her defensive presence, will make her a key addition to Sydney’s squad.
Alanna Kennedy (Defence)
Kennedy’s abilities need no introduction. She has a wealth of experience as a centre-half at both W-League and international levels, able to relieve midfield pressure by creating space, as well as sending long, ranging passes around the park to begin counter-attacks. She is also versatile, able to play in the centre of defence or as defensive midfielder. While her height makes her an aerial threat from corners and set pieces, she also shows talent on the delivery side of the ball, having become the Matildas’ first-choice free-kick taker in recent years.
ONE TO WATCH
Amy Sayer (Midfield)
Sayer’s rise to stardom has been swift. After her breakout season with Canberra, she made her first appearances for the Matildas squad in recent friendlies, showing glimpses of brilliance. Having spent her off-season in the NPLW, the attack-minded midfielder is ready to return to the W-League with the intention to claim a spot in the starting XI. Her confidence on the ball, quick decision-making, and creative flair make her one of Australia’s most promising young talents and could prove a game-changer.
Teresa POLIAS, Elizabeth RALSTON, Rachel SOUTAR, Princess IBINI, Ally GREEN, Taylor RAY, Julia VIGNES, Angelique HRISTODOULOU, Lisa DE VANNA, Alanna KENNEDY, Caitlin FOORD, Chloe LOGARZO, Amy HARRISON, Amy SAYER, Aubrey BLEDSOE, Sofia HUERTA, Danielle COLAPRICO, Natalie TOBIN and Savannah MCSASKILL (to be announced)