The Western Sydney Wanderers didn’t play this week, but that hasn’t stopped me from wondering about them.
Last season the club made a statement. With access to new facilities and Dean Heffernan at the helm, they sent a statement by bringing an international contingent of “winners”. The big names of Kristen Hamilton, Abby Smith, Sam Stabb, Lynn Williams and Denise O’Sullivan. Players in key areas in the heart of the pitch, all with the knowledge and expectation of success.
Cracking a top four finish for the first time in the Wanderers history, even if it was by the skin of their teeth, is proof it worked.
This season is inevitably very different.
However, the marker the Wanderers set down last season is still being felt with a ripple effect into the future.
Flick your mind to the match against the Jets. It was tight. In my mind the match had a draw written all over it. End to end, with margins to split them.
Prior to last season, this is one of the many matches the Wanderers would have lost. It didn’t matter when they left the field the better side. That killer instinct of simply knowing how to win just wasn’t there.
A season has made the difference, despite the squad looking more familiar to 2018/19 than 2019/20 with Leena Khamis, Georgia Yeoman-Dale and a slate of Stingrays players leading the charge.
Bringing in players from Northern Carolina last season was smart on all levels. The hunger of being the “underdog” fits the Wanderers style. But more importantly, they’ve left a stench of success, like that of old fish, etched into the place.
Further proof of how important that winning experience is can be found at Canberra.
With Heather Garriock at the helm, the team underwent a transformation quickly. Youth were the centre piece and a lot of experience left.
Canberra has always brought the entertainment, but suddenly without the players familiar with winning W-League matches in Green, the consistency of a club traditionally always in finals contention dropped off, with a now three season finals drought.
Turn to this season under Vicki Linton and the return of a good handful of favourites. Games are still very entertaining, but the knowledge of grinding out a result has returned. The late goals have arrived from a veteran in Michelle Heyman, and two returning hometown kids in Nikki Flannery and Grace Maher, both who have tasted winning with CU from a table topping 2016-17.
While there’s external factors in play, the turn in last minute fortune isn’t a coincidence.
On the other foot, Adelaide’s fortunes remain tainted by not having that “breakthrough” season. They’ve come close, with midtable a cruel finisher or a slate of 1-nil matches lost. To back up a new season with the knowledge of knowing how to win continues to elude them.
The biggest “winning feeling” test could come in the form of Melbourne City. Their short W-League tenure has been laden with trophies. However some wholesale changes and youth now at the core of the squad, whether they know how to grind out a result or not based on tradition will be tested throughout the season.