Liberty A-League: 6 things to look out for as the season returns

Sydney FC players celebrate with the trophy after winning the women's Liberty A-League Grand Final
Sydney FC players celebrate with the trophy after winning the women's Liberty A-League Grand Final football match against Western United FC (Photo by DAVID GRAY/AFP via Getty Images)

Barely two months after the curtain came down on a record-breaking FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, the Liberty A-League returns this weekend. Now, the league hopes to capitalise on the feel-good factor generated by the global showpiece.

With that in mind, here are a few things to keep an eye on this season.

Legacy

As with the increase in Women’s Super League attendance last season off the back of England’s success in the Euros, the positive vibes generated by the Matildas as they reached the semi-finals of the World Cup has translated to the domestic competition and membership records have been smashed across the board. Sydney FC, Brisbane Roar, Canberra United and Melbourne Victory have all posted historic sales.

The Sky Blues recently announced they’d passed the 2,000 mark, an 800 percent increase ahead of what is shaping up to be a record-breaking crowd for the derby with Western Sydney Wanderers at Allianz on Saturday.

General Public tickets for Victory’s home opener against Brisbane have sold out, with the Queensland side reaching 2,500 sign-ups when tallying up both paid members and free children’s membership courtesy of the A-League Pass for under-16s.

There have been capital gains (sorry) in Canberra, too, where over 500 fans have signed up.

Increased finals

The return of Central Coast Mariners to the domestic top flight brings the number of teams up to 12. This means for the first time in the competition’s history, there is a traditional home-and-away schedule — I wonder if we can get a Neighbours reference in, too? — with each side playing 22 regular-season games.

This also means an increased Finals Series, which now has six teams rather than four. Last season, Canberra missed out on the post-season on goal difference, while Perth fell short by a point. With two more spots up for grabs this season, there’ll be plenty to play for right to the last kick of the Regular campaign.

Sky Blue rebuild

Premiers and Grand Final double winners Sydney FC come into the new season having undergone big changes to the playing staff in the off-season. 

Mackenzie Hawesby, Charlize Rule and Madison Haley all swapped Bondi for Brighton. Sarah Hunter signed for Paris FC, who destroyed Arsenal’s Champions League dreams. And one-time Matilda, Rachel Lowe, has moved on to Melbourne Victory.

Boss Ante Juric has been boosted, however, by the signing of former Julie Dolan Medalist Fiona Worts from Adelaide and the retention of captain Nat Tobin, midfielder Taylor Ray and one of the stars of the Matildas World Cup in Cortnee Vine.

Turmoil in the west?

On the other side of Sydney, the Wanderers quite literally put the Kat among the pigeons. Ten days out from the season, they announced the departure of manager Kat Smith after just one season in charge.

In her place comes Robbie Hooker, who had a stellar playing career domestically and made 22 appearances for the Socceroos. The downside? He’s not managed since leaving Canberra United in 2009. At a recent Wanderers Fans’ Forum, he admitted he hadn’t followed the Liberty A-League “that closely.”

With very little time to work with the squad ahead of the opening day derby, the Wanderers have taken an almighty gamble. Will it pay off?

The Mariners are back

Central Coast Mariners are back in the top flight for the first time since disbanding at the end of the 2009 season.

New coach Emily Husband has received the task of building a side from scratch, with the three standout names in their recruitment being those of Australia international Kyah Simon, former Everton, Bristol City and Reading defender Faye Bryson, and American defender Jazmin Wardlow, who joins from Fiorentina.

With the exception of that trio, Husband has largely relied on her knowledge and experience of the NPL NSW League to shape her side with a smattering of A-League players in the mix too. Up first, they welcome neighbours (got it) Newcastle Jets to Gosford.

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Can Western strike again?

Last season’s surprise package was undoubtedly Western United. The Victorian side finished just a point off the top spot before losing to Sydney FC in the Grand Final, having given the Sky Blues an almighty scare by beating them in the semi-finals to seal their ticket to the big dance.

Midfielder Chloe Logarzo and last season’s Golden Boot winner Hannah Keane have both committed to the club for 2023/24. The addition of Grace Maher from Canberra could also prove to be a shrewd piece of business as Mark Torcaso looks to go one better this time around.

The new Liberty A-League season gets underway this Saturday with the F3 Derby between the Mariners and the Jets.

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