Expansion is the name of the game in women’s sports right now.
Central Coast Mariners re-entry into the A-League Women’s will make it three new teams in three seasons after six years of stagnation.
One thing is for certain, soccer is in a very different position than other women’s codes, particularly the rapidly expanded AFLW competition. I’m not here to sling any mud, I think there’s a lot of benefits to how the AFL went about it and the code will reap the rewards in the long run. However I am here to say soccer is in a very different position.
Prior to Wellington’s inclusion last season, Melbourne City was the last team to enter in the 2015-16 season. City arrived with much success and jumped on the opportunity to acquire Matildas and international stars to produce many trophy-laden seasons.
Their inclusion pushed the bar of the competition during an exciting time where games were becoming more accessible with more than the minimum single game televised/streamed.
Before that, Western Sydney Wanderers were added onto the original list of teams in 2012-13 to reinstate the original number of eight teams after Central Coast Mariners withdrew in 2010-11.
Not only is there this foundation of nearly 15 years of a national competition, women’s soccer has a longer history of support and official competitions than other football codes such as AFLW and NRLW. To compare the foundation the competitions have to start with is to liken chalk and cheese, it simply doesn’t stack up.
The numbers stack up
Even before the hype of a home World Cup, Football Australia has spruiked the code to have one of the highest participation rates for girls and women of any sport. With this in mind, and the smaller squad sizes of soccer compared with other Australian football codes, the numbers support the expansion.
Add in the World Cup hype and an extra team that’s producing pathways for girls is well needed and will be well served.
Throw in the ability to get internationals that are more than the occasional Irish import, there’s enough talent to support the additional teams.
Three teams across three seasons could look a little daunting on paper, especially for a competition that has had eight-to-nine teams for much of its life. However, break it down and it’s not daunting at all.
Wellington Phoenix was always going to be a case of logistics of having a New Zealand side, never a case of whether that would impact the production line in Australia because the Kiwi’s have their own, that is thriving particularly with defensive centre backs such as Kate Taylor and Mackenzie Barry. Last season the club had limited time to pull a list together with many of their international stars already committed to other ALW clubs. With a bit more time and patience, Phoenix will be more than cellar dwellers.
Western United is probably the most dicey of the three. As reflected in the men’s game, there has to be questions whether there’s the support in Melbourne for a third team. However on the field, that third team are the current champions, so it’s a balancing act. On the women’s front, United from the outset made clear their plans to be in partnership with Calder United and their NPLW pool. It’s smart for a newly for formed club, and perhaps it’s looked to the examples in the AFLW and VFLW where the professional clubs have swooped into the amateur space. While the club is yet to kick a ball, their list is looking strong on paper, especially wooing Chloe Logarzo back to the ALW.
Finally, Central Coast Mariners have been building for sometime to return to the ALW. Having a senior women’s team is really the crown in an already established pathway through its academy system. The announcement of the club’s first signing, academy product Annalise Rasmussen, is throwing down the mantle to say they’ve been waiting for this moment and have players already at their disposal. In an already flooded NSW/ACT market that includes two Sydney teams, Newcastle and Canberra, this is the type of pathway that is going to make a club in Gosford sustainable and stand out among its peers. While many ALW clubs continue to use the NPLW system as a shopping window, and for good reason, if the Mariners can get it done using their academy system, something that’s being used well by a small handful of men’s clubs, they will soon be setting the pace in producing young, exciting players full of experience.
These new clubs are creating pathways and production lines and ultimately it’s only going to flow onto the success of the Matildas.
The addition of three clubs in three years isn’t too much too soon; it’s catching on with just enough time to ensure our domestic competition is as world class as many of our exports.
Heck. The W-League is where it all started for Sam Kerr. These changes will ensure we develop the next 20 Sam Kerrs.