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The Week in Women's Football: A-League crowds better AFL; ex-Juventus coach Montemurro returns for Allstars; Canberra Utd boost

This week, we look at the 2023/24 A-League Women Playoff results from seven games across three rounds and some other interesting news from the A-League Women. We also discuss the quite shocking decision by U.S. Soccer and the Mexican Football Federation to withdraw their joint bid for the 2027 Women's World Cup, which will be decided later this month at the FIFA Associations Congress Meeting in Bangkok, Thailand.

2023/24 A-League Women Playoff Review

First Round Elimination Playoffs

It was a bad weekend for the higher seeds as Western United (3) and Melbourne Victory (4) both saw their seasons end in the Elimination Finals of the playoffs with defeats by lower seeds Newcastle Jets (6) and Central Coast Mariners (5), respectively, with both the Jets and the Mariners winning their first ever playoff matches in the process.

On Sunday April 14, after playing a scoreless 120 minutes, Central Coast Mariners moved on to the next round by winning 4-2 on penalties over Melbourne Victory, with former Victory keeper Casey Dumont saving two penalty attempts and scoring once for the Mariners against the team that she left after last season to play AFL Aussie Rules football. She rejoined the W-League Women in January with Central Coast and has a second year on her footie contract later this year with Hawthorn Hawks of Melbourne, which has allowed her to put her nursing career on hold to become a full-time professional athlete across both codes. She saved attempts from Melbourne's U-20 Australian international Alana Murphy (18) and Australian youth international Paige Zois (20) to keep the Mariners' Cinderella season alive, after not playing in the league since 2009. The teams were fairly even during the match, though Matilda veteran Kyah Simon missed a trio of close chances throughout the first 90 minutes.

Western United played a six goal thriller against Newcastle in front of an outstanding crowd for the suburban club of 3,370 fans, with two of the Jets goals coming in the 30 minute overtime period after a 2-2 tie at the end of regulation. The Jets led twice during the regulation 90 minutes but a late goal by Western took it to extra time. Sarina Bolden scored a first-half brace for the Jets but Alana Cerne and Catherine Zimmerman (from the penalty spot) countered for WU on either side of half time. In overtime, the Jets were stellar, with Melina Ayres subbing into score her ninth Finals goal and give Newcastle the lead for the third time in the game.

Sophie Hoban doubled the advantage with her first ever Liberty A-League goal for the final 4-2 scoreline. Ayres' extra-time strike enhanced the 25-year-old's incredible Finals record; through stints at Melbourne City, Victory and now the Jets, Ayres has scored 36 Liberty A-League goals, and nine of those have come in finals. Bolden scored her first goal of the game in the 11th minute; but Western's Alana Cerne scored ten minutes later to tie the score. Australian-born and raised Serbian international Tyla-Jay Vlajnic supplied the assist from a corner swung to the back post for Cerne to volley it past Jets keeper Tiahna Robertson (21), who stepped in for regular starter and American import Isabel Nino (24), formerly of the University of Michigan.

In a contentious late season match against Melbourne Victory on March 23, Nino was later given a two match ban after a straight red card for "assault" and thus missed the playoff opener. Zimmerman, another American import, scored in the 39th minute but it was waived off as she was adjusted to have fouled Jets defender Josie Wilson in the build-up to the goal. Bolden's second goal came after her Philippines national teammate Jaclyn Sawicki of Western United handled the ball in the box. Early in the second half, play was halted for over 20 minutes dure to an electrical blackout in suburban Tarneit.

One good thing to end the season is that Western United head coach Kat Smith's contact was renewed for the 2024-25 season, after she arrived in December when Mark Torcaso left to guide the Philippines on a full-time basis. At that time Western United was in eighth and struggled for a while but then got hot and at won point won six games in a row to finish in third despite season-ending injuries to leading scorer and American import (10 goals in 20 matches) Hannah Keane and influential midfielder Adriana Taranto (5 goals in 19 matches), with Matilda Chloe Logarzo missing game time as well with an injury, though she still had 9 goals in 17 matches.

Smith said: "I am extremely pleased to commit to this club for next season and continue the work that we have done as a collective to drive success in the West. This is a testament to the support of our coaching staff and the application of the players through their attitude and attributes that have led us into our home Elimination Final."


2023-24 Premiership winners Melbourne City faced the lowest-ranked Elimination Final winner over the two-legged Semi-Final, which was Newcastle Jets, with Sydney FC facing the Gosford-based Mariners in an all-New South Wales derby. Mackenzie Hawkesby scored nine minutes into the second half for the only goal of the game in Sydney's 1-0 win in the first leg away, with 16-year-old sensation Indiana dos Santos supplying the assist. Sky Blues forward Princess Ibini had to leave the game with a dislocated shoulder during the game. Both teams finished with 17 shots; Central Coast had seven on target, while Sydney tallied six. The game attracted the second largest A-League Women stand-alone Finals crowd of 6,836, over a third more than the Jet's largest home crowd ever in 16 years in the league.

In the second game, Hawkesby again scored Sydney's only goal on the half-hour mark in a 1-1 deadlock at home, with American forward Rola Badawiya (who joined the Mariners from Sydney FC in the off-season) scoring her eighth goal of the season from 25 games just before halftime, but Sydney advanced to its seventh consecutive Grand Finals 2-1 on aggregate.

In the other tie, in the first leg, City scored within the first five minutes through Daniela Galic (1&) before American import and Bosnia and Herzegovina international Emina Ekic (24) doubled their advantage just after the hour mark and 15-year-old Junior Matildas captain Shelby McMahon scored the third for a 3-0 win, which was her second in the last two games. The Jets opted to stick with 21-year-old Tiahna Robertson despite Izzy Nino's availability following her suspension (see above);

A week later City won again by a 3-0 scoreline with goals by Rhianna Pollicina (27), New Zealand international Hannah Wilkinson (31) and Leticia McKenna (21) to finish 6-0 winners on aggregate and advance to the Grand Final, their fifth in nine seasons.

The Jets are still looking for their first victory against Melbourne City in 17 matches, with only one tie in 2019/20, and now with 16 defeats in the series.

Grand Final

On May 4, Sydney FC faced Premiership winners Melbourne City in the Victoria State capital, with both sides trying to win their fifth Grand Final in league history and second in a row. In front of 7,671 fans at Melbourne's AAMI Park, Sydney FC won its fifth Grand Final with a 1-0 win, with American Shea Connors scoring the only goal in the 69th minute. Sydney's 16-year-old Indiana Dos Santos fed Connors with a brilliant through ball to beat Matildas veteran and assistant coach Melissa Barbieri in goal. Barbieri (44) started for injured Brazilian import Barbara and set a record for the oldest player to ever play in a Women's Grand Final, breaking the record set by fellow former Matilda Lisa DeVanna, who was 36 at the time—Barbieri broke the record by eight years and played in her first ever Grand Finals in a two decade-plus career. Mackenzie Hawkesby, so crucial to the Sky Blues during the post-season, was named the Player of the Match.

Western Sydney Wanderers Sophie Harding won the Julie Dolan medal as the 2023-24 Player of the Season. She scored 12 goals in powering the Wanderers to the edge of the playoffs, just missing on goal difference, and was called up to the Matildas for the first time. Central Coast Mariners head coach was deservedly named as the Coach of the Year in her first season in the A-League with the expansion side.

Other A-League Women News

Attendance Record

A-Leagues set a league attendance record for any women's sport in Australia after the first two Elimination Finals with 280,364, surpassing the AFLW (Aussie Rules Football Code) 2023 cumulative attendance total for their regular season and finals series. With five more playoff games to go the A-League Women league were able to add to that record. Before the Grand Final, the A-League Women cumulative attendance stood at 300,318.

Canberra United Fundraising Efforts Update—they will return for 2024-25

On April 18, Canberra United announced that they will be back for the 2024-25 season (their 17th) after they received a one-time payment of $200,000 from the ACT government, in addition to their annual ACT subsidiary of $250,000. However the long-term prospects are still contingent on new ownership, as ACT has incurred operating expenses of AU$2.5 million over the past two years due to expanded league schedule due to league expansion along with higher player salary and ancillary costs (see more in our column last month: The Week in Women's Football: A-League Allstars face Arsenal; Wellington to help Tianjin football; Independent Canberra left hanging by local government - Tribal Football).

The club issued a statement from Capital Football CEO Samantha Farrow that said: "We thank the football community for supporting Canberra United through the 'Save Canberra United' fundraising campaign, and that, coupled with this generous contribution from the government, certainly helps the club in our immediate requirements, but we still have some shortfall to cover costs for the new season."

Farrow also said that the Territory's footballing association will run the club for only one more season: "We're on borrowed time here and we can't keep appealing to government for funding year after year, so my job for the next 12 months is to try and get this team to break even and hand it over in a really strong position for the next people."

The additional money should drive more sponsors and businesses, since they can be assured that the team is set for next season. In addition, former Matildas goalkeeper Sue Read has raised more than $74,000 through a fundraising effort who said that the government funding was a "really important first step" but the community campaign will continue, in part to ensure star striker Michelle Heyman would stay. Read said: "I know she has been batting away offers from all over the world, so for us to secure her like Sam [Farrow] was saying, this is base level. We need to make sure we've got enough money, so the main message is, keep jumping on the crowdfunding, keep donating."

The A-Leagues are expected to award a new license for a men's team from the nation's capital in time for the next A-League Men season, which would also take on responsibility for the A-League Women side, but those negotiations are in progress.

Two NWSL Loanees to the A-League Women last season are released from the Orlando Pride

The Orlando Pride has waived defender Tori Hansen and goalkeeper Kaylie Collins early in 2024, who spent the 2023-24 season on loan with Melbourne Victory FC and Western Sydney Wanderers FC respectively. Hansen had two goals from the back for Melbourne Victory in 19 regular season matches this season. Collins played in 11 games in goals with Western Sydney and had three shutouts for the team that missed a playoff spot on goal difference this season. Collins recently signed on with the Seattle Reign on a short-term replacement player contract.

The Pride originally selected Hansen with the No. 25 overall pick in the 2023 NWSL Draft from the University of North Carolina. Hansen only appeared in two matches, both of which came in the 2023 UKG Challenge Cup. The goalkeeper Collins was also originally selected by the Pride with the No. 24 overall pick in the 2021 NWSL Draft. She appeared in three games for the Pride, all of which were starts and made three total saves. In the 2023 season, Collins had two starts, once in a UKG Challenge Cup match and once during regular season play.

PFA Team of the Season

The Professional Footballers Association announced their 2023-24 Women's Team of the Season, including seven players from the Grand Final sides Melbourne City (3) and Sydney FC (4). At the end of each season, PFA members from the A-Leagues are asked to vote on their Best XI. The composition of the team is based on the number of votes tallied for each player in each position, with the substitutes bench comprising those players who finished below those in the starting XI positions. The player with the most votes is determined the Team of the Season's captain. The selections for 2023-24 were:

  • Goalkeeper Morgan Aquino of Perth Glory, who led the league with 126 saves, 35 ahead of second place Izzy Nino (Newcastle Jets), with a save percentage of 81.1%.
  • Defender Kayla Morrison of Melbourne Victory from the U.S.
  • Defender Jamilla Rankin of Melbourne Victory.
  • Defender Charlotte McLean of Sydney FC.
  • Defender Rebekah Stott of Melbourne City, who is a long-time New Zealand international.
  • Midfielder Vesna Milivojevic of Canberra United, who is a native of Australia but plays internationally for Serbia and after the season moved to Norrkoping of Sweden.
  • Midfielder Rhianna Pollicina of Melbourne City.
  • Midfielder Alex Chidiac of Melbourne Victory.
  • Forward and team captain Michelle Heyman from Canberra United, who won her third Golden Boot award this season.
  • Forward Sarina Bolden of Newcastle Jets, who was raised in the U.S. but plays internationally for Philippines.
  • Forward Cortnee Vine of Sydney FC, who played so well for the Matildas in last summer's Women's World Cup at home.


  • Goalkeeper Jada Whyman of Sydney FC
  • Defender Taylor Otto of Melbourne City, an American import and former U.S. U-20 international .
  • Midfielder McKenzie Hawkesby of Sydney FC
  • Midfielder Grace Maher of Western United
  • Midfielder Macey Fraser of Wellington Phoenix, who is a New Zealand international and joined the Utah Royals of the NWSL in April for a record A-League Women transfer fee reportedly in six figures; she signed a three year contract with the Royals
  • Forward Emily Gielnik of Melbourne Victory.

The Head Coach for the team is Dario Vidosic of Melbourne City, who took over from his father Rado and in his first full season in charge won the Premiership and guided his team to the Grand Final.

Note: American-raised Venezuelan international Mariana Speckmaier, who we interviewed earlier this year (see: The Week in Women's Football: Mariana Speckmaier exclusive - Wellington & Venezuela potential; rejecting CSKA - Tribal Football) was named the Player of the Year by the Liberty A-League Fans selection process.

Joe Montemurro named the first ever head coach of A-League All Stars Women match against his former side Arsenal of the WSL

Joe Montemurro, a former A-League title winner with Melbourne City, who was recently released by Juventus Women in Italy after three seasons with the club, has been named as head coach of the A-League All Stars Women in Melbourne when they play Arsenal of the WSL—another club that he has coached—on May 24 (see more in: The Week in Women's Football: A-League Allstars face Arsenal; Wellington to help Tianjin football; Independent Canberra left hanging by local government - Tribal Football).

Montemurro (54) was born in Melbourne and launched his career in the Liberty A-League Women, leading Melbourne Victory to a second-placed finish in 2014, then moved to direct Melbourne City, where he won a Premiership and the Grand Final while taking the side to an undefeated season in 2015-16, though in 2016-17 he was brought in as a lead assistant to the men's side after some coaching changes and surrendered the women's coaching reins to Welsh international Jess Fishlock, still to this day with Wales and the Seattle Reign in the NWSL.

The Gunners brought him into the WSL in 2017 and in four season he won a Women's Super League (WSL) title and the WSL Cup, and was nominated for The Best FIFA Football Coach as well as UEFA Women's Coach of the Year. At Arsenal he signed CommBank Matildas stars Steph Catley and Caitlin Foord, while fellow Matilda Kyra Cooney-Cross joined the Gunners this season from Hammerby of Sweden.

Montemurro then joined Italian giants Juventus and in his first season at the club, claimed a treble, winning the Serie A Femminile, the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa Italiana, the first ever in Serie A history, while also becoming the first boss in club history to reach the quarter-finals of the UEFA Women's Champions League. Juventus won another Coppa Italia medal in 2022-23 and another Supercoppa Italiana trophy in 2023-24, before Juventus, wanting to make "an immediate change" came to an agreement with him to leave the team in March. The Old Lady has been surpassed during the past two seasons in the league by Roma, which has clinched the league title the last two campaigns and had some strong performances in the UEFA Women's Champions League, making the quarterfinals last season and the group stage this year—both times after having advanced out of the WCL Qualification Stage—having to play three games in 2022-23 and just one this season in order to make the Group Stage..

Assisting Montemurro will be three other local coaches:

  • Central Coast Mariners head coach Emily Husband started an expansion side for 2023-24 and qualified for the playoffs in her first season by finishing fifth and then won a playoff game (see above).
  • Former Western Sydney Wanderers manager Kat Smith took over at Western United mid-season and the team finished third (see above).
  • Former goalkeeper Melissa Maizels is a veteran of three Liberty A-League clubs as a player—Canberra United, Melbourne Victory and Perth Glory—and won the league Championship with Melbourne Victory. Maizels has owned and operated her own football academy for several years and will be the goalkeeper coach for the A-League Women All-Stars. She played for Australia international at the 2017 Maccabi Games in Israel.

The All-Stars have announced a special playing kit for the games, which include a men's A-Legue All-Star match, with Italian supplier Kappa the manufacturer of the uniforms (see the picture below). The full A-League All Stars Women and Men playing squads will be announced soon. The A-League All Stars Women team is set to assemble in Melbourne on Saturday 18 May with the A-League All Stars Men team assembling on Tuesday 21 May.

U.S.-Mexico Joint Women's World Cup Bid for 2027 is withdrawn in lieu of a bid for the 2031 tournament

U.S. Soccer and the Mexican Football Federation have pulled out of the 2027 Women's World Cup bidding process and instead will focus on a joint bid for the 2031 Tournament. U.S. Soccer Federation President Cindy Parlow Cone, a former WWC winner in 1999 with the U.S., explained: "Hosting a World Cup tournament is a huge undertaking and having additional time to prepare allows us to maximize its impact across the globe. I'm proud of our commitment to provide equitable experiences for the players, fans and all our stakeholders. Shifting our bid will enable us to host a record-breaking Women's World Cup in 2031 that will help to grow and raise the level of the women's game both here at home as well as across the globe."

Mexican Football Federation president Ivar Sisniega said that the experience gained from co-hosting the men's World Cup in 2026 will help his Football Association, along with more lead time: "We will be able to provide the best infrastructure as well as an enthusiastic fan base that will make all the participating teams feel at home and to put together a World Cup that will contribute to the continued growth of women's football."

One media member in Europe who specializes in Women's Football, and has covered multiple Women's World Cup Finals, said that he also was blindsided by the decision and concluded that the U.S. and Mexican Associations must feel that they have the "2031 tournament [award] in the bag." This surprising decision leaves only two bidders for 2027: Brazil and a joint bid from UEFA members Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, after South Africa also withdrew earlier in the cycle. The former would allow visibility and growth potential for the sport across CONMEBOL, where women's football still struggles for acceptance. Brazil is an amazing country to visit and would be a fine host. The downside is that most travel would be by air as it was during the men's World Cup of 2014.

For UEFA, Germany hosted a very competent and delightful WWC in 2011—incidentally five years after hosting a wonderful men's World Cup in 2006 (as this reporter covered both events), which one could do entirely by train or car. The addition of the Netherlands and Belgium doesn't change that travel situation, though the stadiums will not be as large as in England for the UEFA championships in 2022. The Final selection will be made later this month at the FIFA Congress in Bangkok, Thailand.

We were concerned that there was just a massive load of football events focused on North America over the next five years, starting with this summer's Copa America (men's)—the second time it will be held outside of CONMEBOL, which was a fantastic success in 2016 on the field and financially—the new and expanded FIFA Club Championship in 2025 in the U.S,, the men's World Cup in Canada, Mexico and the U.S. in 2026, the possibility of the 2027 Women's World Cup and the 2028 men's and women's Olympic Games Finals in Los Angeles, California. This decision takes one of the five events off of the plate—primarily U.S. Soccer's plate but also Mexico, which would have to host two FIFA Championships back-to-back.

This decision should also release some pressure (though not a lot) on incoming USWNT head coach Emma Hayes from Chelsea later this month, as she would have massive expectations to win a home WWC, repeating the 1999 success, though the team finished third in 2023 also at home (Canada was fourth with Germany defeating Sweden in overtime in the final, which this reporter covered live). All-in-all, the U.S.-Mexico bid decision is a plus for likely UEFA, though CONMEBOL could win the tournament as FIFA votes for tournament placement are hard to read, since the entire Congress will vote, rather than 24 Executive Committee members as was done in the past.

Note: Next week this column will review the bid books for the Brazil and Northern Europe bids, as well as the U.S. bid book, which could change over the next four years, particularly for the venues put forward and the financials.

Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham is on the global game of women's football. Get your copy today.Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey

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