Western Sydney Wanderers’ W-League side proved at Friday night’s double header that the investments made in its future are paying dividends.
In the face of the best performance produced by a side in red and black in W-League history, Sydney FC disintegrated as the hosts stormed to an unstoppable 5-0 win.
Rising to second on the table, the Wanderers’ barnstorming start to 2019-20 has established the club as a serious W-League title challenger.
Given Sydney’s capitulation, perhaps only Melbourne City’s galaxy of stars – who mundanely defeated Perth Glory 1-0 on Thursday night – may prove capable of standing against the red and black tide.
That the Wanderers have gone from the bottom of the table in 2018-19 to title challengers in 2019-20 carries with it a certain level of romance.
And for a club long considered to be a sleeping giant of the W-League, it’s a welcome challenge to the established powers of the competition.
But when examining the success of this campaign, there are lessons that carry significant ramifications not just for football – but all sports.
Stinging from a disappointing 2018-19, the Wanderers got serious this campaign.
They invested heavily in the squad and their international talent was bolstered when the core of the NWSL-winning North Carolina Courage – Lynn Williams, Denise O’Sullivan and Kristen Hamilton – were enticed to sign.
Talented locals such as Kyra Cooney-Cross, Alex Huynh, Ella Mastrantonio and Amy Harrison were lured from other W-League sides while key contributors Courtney Nevin and Erica Halloway were retained.
Importantly, the Wanderers women also moved into the club’s newly opened Blacktown-based Centre of Football, giving them the chance to train, recover and prepare in world-class facilities all too rare in the women’s game.
This willingness to invest on and off the field has paid immediate dividends.
It has turned a side of W-League wooden-spooners into one of the best and most entertaining in football, a team capable of winning titles and putting out a product more than worthy of the price of admission.
It’s a template that others should emulate.
Phoenix doing what a phoenix does
A month into the A-League season, it looked like normal, depressing service had resumed for winless Wellington Phoenix.
Though it had been one of the feel-good stories of the league the season before, the departure of coach Mark Rudan, captain Andrew Durante, 2018-19 goalkeeper of the year Filip Kurto and rising star Max Burgess to expansion side Western United cast a bitter shadow over its offseason.
Firepower was lost when Jonny Warren Medallist Roy Krishna and David Williams departed for India, and Sarpreet Singh made the move of a lifetime to German giants Bayern Munich.
Round 5, though, saw the Kiwis finally record their first point of the season – holding out for a 1-1 draw away to Melbourne Victory.
“It’s a start for us,” new coach Ufuk Talay said.
“I think we’ve been playing good football and not getting the results.”
His optimism, as it turns out, was well placed.
Promptly rattling off three straight wins, Phoenix has yet to lose a single game since that fixture and now find themselves sitting in the top six at the end of 11 rounds.
On Saturday, Talay’s side was desperately unlucky to not hand championship favourites Sydney FC its second defeat of the season.
Steven Taylor’s own goal or a point-blank miss from an otherwise excellent Ulises Davila cost the Kiwis.
Talay appears to have quickly instilled within his new side a plan of attack and gotten his players to buy-in, which is more than can be said for some other A-League coaches.
Finals football could be back on the menu.
Round up results … the final scores
Friday: Western Sydney Wanderers 1-1 Western United
Saturday: Wellington Phoenix 2-2 Sydney FC; Melbourne City 1-2 Melbourne Victory; Perth Glory 6-2 Newcastle Jets
Sunday: Central Coast Mariners 2-1 Adelaide United
Thursday: Melbourne City 1-0 Perth Glory
Friday: Western Sydney Wanderers 5-0 Sydney FC
Saturday: Melbourne Victory 0-0 Brisbane Roar
Sunday: Adelaide United 1-2 Canberra United