With the FIFA World Cup now done and dusted, attention turns to the 2023 Women's World Cup. For the Matildas, this World Cup cycle has been a rollercoaster: a new coach, a COVID-induced hibernation, a best Olympics result, a quarterfinal AFC Asian Cup exit, some good results, some bad results, the ugly process of creating depth, and now a four-game winning streak.
Seven months out from the world gracing the shores of Australia and New Zealand, now serves as a great time for the first Matildas big board.
Just like our colleagues in the United States, the purpose of the big board is to assess the whole of the squad as it stands at this point in time. Over the coming months, periodic check ins will chart the players' form and the effect of injuries while providing a snapshot into that much discussed depth.
As with any undertaking like this, there are some rules.
The squad has been split into four positions: goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders, and forwards. Within these sections lie another three categories.
First up, the locks. These are the players whose inclusion you wouldn't bat an eyelid at; it's assumed they will be picked. And if FIFA hypothetically brought the tournament forward to next week, these are the players who would make the hypothetical plane and could play in a hypothetical opening game.
Secondly, are those players who are in the conversation. These are the players who don't have the certainty of the locks but, for a number of reasons, are well within their rights to be part of the discussion. They aren't certainties right now because of injuries (hello, Ellie Carpenter) but could be elevated to locks later. Similarly, a lack of form at the moment, or being the second choice for a key position, representing that depth, means they are not yet a lock but not out of the picture. Some will make the final 23 and some won't.
Finally, we have the bolters. A-League Women coaches and fans alike have already begun their respective campaigns to push their favourite players into the national conversation around the Matildas squad. These are the players on the fringe, those who haven't been called up in a while, or haven't been called up at all, but still represent a somewhat realistic option going forward.
Movement between these categories is to be expected over the next 200-odd days, but this is the first look at where the Matildas are at as chosen by ESPN's The Far Post podcast.
Teagan Micah, Lydia Williams, Mackenzie Arnold, Clare Polkinghorne, Steph Catley, Charli Grant, Alanna Kennedy, Courtney Nevin, Aivi Luik, Katrina Gorry, Kyra Cooney-Cross, Chloe Logarzo, Alex Chidiac, Emily van Egmond, Clare Wheeler, Sam Kerr, Caitlin Foord, Hayley Raso, Mary Fowler, Cortnee Vine, Emily Gielnik, Beattie Goad, Daniela Galic.
Locks: Lydia Williams, Teagan Micah, Mackenzie Arnold
This has been the year when Teagan Micah and Lydia Williams have asserted their dominance as the No. 1 and No. 2 goalkeepers. While there is still a bit of movement between the two, they have solidified their claims to the top spots. Mackenzie Arnold rounds out the three goalkeepers but has dropped down the pecking order thanks to the strength of the other two.
In the conversation: Jada Whyman
Jada Whyman has proven over the year that she is the first point of call when a Matildas goalkeeper goes down. She's spent plenty of time in camps in 2022 and is seemingly poised as the next in line to enter 'keeper chat.
Bolters: Sally James, Casey Dumont
Two of the standout Australian goalkeepers in the A-League Women, strong seasons from Sally James and Casey Dumont could see them enter the conversation. James has an advantage in this regard thanks to her Under-20 Women's World Cup exploits earlier this year. She has also been called into a senior Matildas camp more recently than Dumont.
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Locks: Alanna Kennedy, Clare Polkinghorne, Charli Grant, Steph Catley, Courtney Nevin, Aivi Luik
Steph Catley is a player whose name is arguably the first on the team sheet. Her importance to the Matildas seems to grow with every passing game, and her versatility and leadership make her indispensable. Clare Polkinghorne and Charli Grant have been playing together in Sweden and, while they represent different ends of the national team career spectrum, both would comfortably make the starting lineup in this squad.
Alanna Kennedy's return from injury sees her selected in the team but whether she is ready to start or not paves the way for arguably one of the more controversial locks. Courtney Nevin has proved that she is at the level and the move to Sweden has helped aid that growth. Another big tick in her column is her ability to play in more than one position in the defensive lineup.
Aivi Luik has been Tony Gustavsson's go-to woman for most of 2022. While that sometimes literally means she's in the starting XI, her off-field leadership is seen as just as valuable and, at this moment, she would be selected.
In the conversation: Ellie Carpenter, Matilda McNamara, Emma Checker
Ellie Carpenter is only in this category on account of her ACL injury; without the knee injury she would be an undisputed lock. Matilda McNamara and Emma Checker represent two of the latest centre-backs to have been called into camp, with injury hampering Checker's window while McNamara made her international debut. The duo will hope that they can continue to force themselves into the conversation and potentially secure a more permanent spot.
Bolters: Alana Cerne, Kayla Morrison, Karly Roestbakken, Angie Beard, Polly Doran
The push for Kayla Morrison to enter the Matildas set up has a small joke element to it. But with discussions of citizenship and allegiance switching, she also represents a very genuine centre-back bolter. If she becomes eligible, and takes up the call, she is surely a look in at some point. She's been a calm force in the heart of Victory's defence and is at the perfect age to make an immediate impact for Australia.
Karly Roestbakken has runs on the board and a clean bill of health should allow her to build some form that may see her rise up the conversation ranks. Polly Doran is one of the best Australians playing abroad who has yet to taste even a call up, and she could prove to be a real bolt from the blue should she eventually get selected.
Angie Beard has been called in and out of the Matildas squad over the past year, and has been invited to the last few Philippines camps as well. She is undoubtedly talented, which is why she is in this conversation. But her international future may not lie with Australia, as is her choice, hence why she is a bolter.
Among the best defenders in the ALW, Alana Cerne is the most bolter-y bolter.
Locks: Katrina Gorry, Kyra Cooney-Cross, Mary Fowler, Chloe Logarzo, Alex Chidiac, Emily van Egmond, Clare Wheeler
Katrina Gorry's form in 2022 has been so immense that she is another who arguably has a claim to being the first name on the team sheet. In the back half of this year Kyra Cooney-Cross has emerged as the player to help Gorry run the midfield. Whether Mary Fowler belongs in the midfielders or forwards category is probably semantics. Her talent is undeniable, and a squad without her would feel wrong.
Chloe Logarzo has made a hot start to the ALW season, and she has shown that she can still score, run, and do everything you'd want from a Matildas midfielder. Alex Chidiac has ended the year tasked with being the game changer in the national team. Her running and harrying is complemented in equal measure by her creativity and smarts.
Emily van Egmond and Clare Wheeler have become bench/squad options. Creative players who can come in clutch, and resolute defensive midfielders who can clean up a mess, are valuable additions to the squad.
In the conversation: Elise Kellond-Knight, Tameka Yallop, Amy Sayer
All of these players are unquestionably good. Elise Kellond-Knight's continued recovery from two years out with a hellish knee injury mean she is on the right track. Tameka Yallop is in the process of recovering from ankle surgery but has long been a national team mainstay. Amy Sayer ended the year in Matildas squads, proving you aren't out of mind even if you are out of sight over in the US college system.
Full fitness and better form means all of these players could be staking a very real claim to make the squad in the next big board -- and in turn make the selection process that much more difficult.
Bolters: Daniela Galic, Mackenzie Hawkesby, Grace Maher, Dylan Holmes, Amy Harrison
Melbourne City coach Dario Vidosic has been bullish about Daniela Galic and her performances at the Under-20 Women's World Cup suggest she could be a bit of a wildcard off the bench.
Mackenzie Hawkesby, Grace Maher, Dylan Holmes, and Amy Harrison are some of the best Australian midfielders in the ALW. They might be able to work their way higher up the pecking order if they can maintain their good form, but they face a stern task; the midfield appears to be the section of the Matildas squad with the most depth.
Locks: Sam Kerr, Caitlin Foord, Cortnee Vine, Hayley Raso, Emily Gielnik
After four games and four wins involving some configuration of Sam Kerr, Caitlin Foord, Cortnee Vine, and Hayley Raso to end 2022, this feels like the area of the pitch that carries the least amount of tension. For these players, their respective seasons in England and Australia are all about maintaining the rage and continuing to score and assist. Vine is yet to make a goal contribution this season, making her the one to watch from this group.
Emily Gielnik has returned from injury and gets the nod because she offers something different to the four names above. She's tall, good on set pieces, and can play in multiple positions up top. All she's really lacking at the moment is confidence.
In the conversation: Beattie Goad, Larissa Crummer, Remy Siemsen, Princess Ibini, Holly McNamara
Beattie Goad was impressive during Tony Gustavsson's first window in charge, when there wasn't much else to be impressed about. She hasn't had much of a look in since, but her move to Melbourne Victory and push up the pitch make her an interesting proposition. She makes the final squad thanks to her versatility.
Larissa Crummer and Remy Siemsen both have some level of runs on the board when it comes to the national team. However, each has a question mark hanging over them, resulting in their "in the conversation" status. Crummer appears to be used everywhere but striker when she is in camps, and as a result it feels like she isn't given the opportunity to shine. Her cameos at striker are too short to be meaningful, creating a double-edged sword.
For Siemsen, a player with slightly less international experience, her move back to Sydney for the ALW season was smart but she sits behind Madison Haley in the Sky Blues' striker pecking order.
Sydney teammate Princess Ibini is one of the form ALW attackers. She presents depth out wide and has shown she can take her chances when given the opportunity.
Holly McNamara is one to keep an eye on as she works her way back from an ACL. She seriously impressed at the Asian Cup and the timeline may work out well for her to make a return to the national team in time for the World Cup.
Bolters: Kyah Simon, Melina Ayres, Bryleeh Henry
The timing of Kyah Simon's knee injury places her in the bolter category rather than the in the conversation. AFLW player Kate Lutkins was back playing after an ACL injury in nine months so Simon's return isn't outside the realm of possibility.
Closer to home, the two form Australian strikers in the A-League Women's competition are Melina Ayres -- who leads the golden boot standings -- and Bryleeh Henry -- who is marking her move to Melbourne City with plenty of goals. Both offer something different to the current locks and they will continue to work their way into the conversation if they can sustain this form.
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