A-League Women's 2022-23 season set to break new ground

Entering its 15th edition, the A-League Women (ALW) has had big seasons before. Matildas have returned home, big-name internationals from across the globe have signed, and a new batch of familiar and unfamiliar Aussie players have geared up to strut their stuff. None of this is new. But this season feels different. Never before has the ALW been this long, with this many teams, and preceding a Women's World Cup on home soil.

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Western United enter the fray for the first time, making the competition that bit fuller and opening a host of opportunities to a whole squad's worth of players. For the first time, teams will play more than 14 games in a season with the league extending to 20 rounds in 2022-23 before finally achieving the long-awaited full home-and-away season from 2023-24.

While there will always be a focus on 2023 World Cup, the players who will be using the ALW as a springboard to selection, and the anticipation of what that tournament will do for the domestic game, there are plenty of storylines to follow.

Melbourne Victory will look to become only the second team to achieve the three-peat, after their crosstown rivals, City, achieved the feat in their first three seasons in the competition. Standing in their way will be the likes of Sydney FC -- who will be hoping third time lucky actually holds true as they search for grand final glory -- City, and Adelaide United.

Teams like Perth Glory, Canberra United, and Wellington Phoenix will be hoping to build on the growth they achieved last season while the likes of Brisbane Roar, Western Sydney and Newcastle Jets will be delighted to have a clean slate to work from.

Katrina Gorry, Chloe Logarzo, Alex Chidiac, and Elise Kellond-Knight are just some of the Matildas who will be hoping a big ALW season keeps them front of Tony Gustavsson's mind.

This season stands to be a celebration of football. A celebration of the progress the women's game has made and still needs to make. A celebration of the contributions of women to the game in Australia. And a celebration of where women's football has come from, where it currently is, and where it is going to go.

Adelaide United

Once described as the Ross and Rachel of the A-League Women's, Adelaide United and finals football finally got together in one of the great storylines of 2021-22. Chelsie Dawber and Golden Boot winner Fiona Worts were electric in front of goal, ably supported by Emily Condon and Nanako Sasaki from midfield. The late season inclusions of Dylan Holmes and Kayla Sharples shored up the midfield and defence respectively, and cemented the Reds as a top-four side, though they'll be disappointed their finals journey ended after only one game.

Coach: Adrian Stenta

Stenta wrote his name into the Reds' history books as their most successful coach when he finally helped to push them into the finals series. But he'll want to create even more history and bring Adelaide their first piece of ALW silverware.

What success looks like

With the finals objective finally ticked off the list, going one step further is the minimum requirement for the Reds. The way they have built their squad suggests they'll be playing finals football once again. Weak spots have been reinforced with signings like Jenna McCormick, Maruschka Waldus, MelindaJ Barbieri, and Chinese Asian Cup winner Xiao Yuyi. The return of Dawber from Chicago is another big win and speaks positively to what the Reds are building.

One to watch: Jenna McCormick

McCormick is back to where it all began in Adelaide. She is a player who has acutely felt just how difficult and unwelcoming the move overseas can be, but she has seemingly worked her way back into enjoying her football. She joins the Reds from Denmark, where she made 25 appearances across all competitions for AGF.

Brisbane Roar

Brisbane's 2021-22 season was topsy-turvy to say the least. There was an 8-2 defeat, a 5-1 win, and a pair of 3-3 draws. Goals, in both nets, were the order of the day when the Roar played. For all their chaos, Brisbane allowed Katrina Gorry to complete her comeback after giving birth, and the Matildas legend is set to be the star of the show once again. Larissa Crummer grew into the season following her horror injury run and will be hoping to bang them in for fun once again.

Coach: Garrath McPherson

McPherson has once again relied heavily on the local football scene in Queensland to build his squad. The additions of Hensley Hancuff on loan from Gotham FC in the NWSL and the signing of Gorry's Vittsjo teammate Kajsa Lind make for two exciting additions who will hopefully aid the coach in getting this team to be a bit more defensively sound.

What success looks like

Tightening things up at the back should be the Roar's priority, given they conceded the equal second-most goals in the competition last season. While this was glossed over when the team was scoring, it stood out like a sore thumb when they weren't.

One to watch: Holly McQueen

McQueen signed her first professional contract in 2020-21 and was set to play a big role until an ACL injury in Sept. 2021 cancelled her entire ALW season. An exciting young centre-back, McQueen has been diligent in her rehab and working with the Future Matildas program. For a nation that consistently worries about the future of the heart of defence, a young Australian talent plying her trade there in the national competition is something to get very excited about.

Canberra United

Canberra United's last season can be summed up best by their most common result: a 3-3 draw. Indeed they managed to find themselves in a high-scoring draw situation on four occasions in 2021-22.

Seven draws for the season and only two wins mean Canberra simply weren't good enough but there is renewed optimism in the nation's capital. A squad that strikes a balance between local players while enticing talent from outside the territory is set to pique fans' interest. Nicki Flannery and Ellie Brush both return from ACL injuries while Grace Jale makes the move across from Wellington. Canberra has also looked to Asia, signing Chinese Asian Cup winner Wu Chengshu.

Coach: Njegosh Popovich

Popovich is a familiar name in Canberra having been the assistant coach between 2015-2017; a successful time for the club when they made the grand final in one season and won it the next. Now with full control of the squad, Popovich will be hoping he can not just assist the team to success but be the architect of it.

What success looks like

Canberra should be vying for finals. This will require everything to come to fruition but Popvich seemingly has the pieces in place to ensure that Canberra's absence from finals last season doesn't become a regular occurrence.

One to watch: Nicki Flannery

There are no well-timed injuries but Nicki Flannery's felt particularly bad. After a great season for Canberra she did an ACL during a Matildas training camp for Australian-based talent. She missed all of last season and they felt her absence. The prospect of a front three containing Flannery, Michelle Heyman and Jale should strike fear into the hearts of defenders across Australia and New Zealand.

Melbourne City

Melbourne City were back in a big way, finishing second on the table and falling just short of the ALW grand final. For a team that's success had been built on securing the cream of the crop, the Matildas exodus hit them harder than most. But to the club's credit it has been able to adapt to the new state of play in the league and looks poised to enjoy another positive season.

The team has retained its core players but has lost some serious defensive strength. However, Football Fern Katie Bowen and Matildas Bryleeh Henry and Karly Roestbakken have joined the fold.

Coach: Rado Vidosic

Rado Vidosic enters his fourth season in charge of City. Under his tenure the team has been able to transition from Matildas heavy to a place where future Matildas can ply their trade. His role as an assistant coach to Leah Blayney at the Women's Under-20 World Cup in Costa Rica earlier in the year means he is already familiar with some of his new signings.

What success looks like

Another semifinal berth is a must for Melbourne City. Their season will rest on how well they are able to replace and plug the holes left by Rebekah Stott, who was immense last season; Tyla-Jay Vlajnic, who provided defence and attack out wide; and Winonah Heatley, who grew into the season and became a vital cog down back.

One to watch: Daniela Galic

One of the breakout stars of the Young Matildas' World Cup campaign, this will be Daniela Galic's first season in the ALW. The highly rated, super-talented midfielder may not be given the keys to City's attacking forces just yet but her potential to be a gamechanger off the bench is enormous. She will no doubt be one to watch for the future.

Melbourne Victory

Five years ago, when Melbourne Victory won a second consecutive wooden spoon, surely not even the most optimistic fans could have expected the turnaround that would follow. They enter the season as defending champions, fresh off another dramatic grand final win, and with a chance to earn a three-peat, something only the mighty Matildas-filled Melbourne City have ever done.

While the team have lost big names in Matildas duo Kyra Cooney-Cross and Courtney Nevin, they've been able to re-sign Alex Chidiac and lure Elise Kellond-Knight. Kayla Morrison's return from an ACL injury will strengthen the defensive stocks making that fabled third-straight championship even more plausible.

Coach: Jeff Hopkins

The most successful coach in ALW history, and the only one to have coached more than 100 games in the league, Hopkins knows this competition like the back of his hand. His ability to foster youth has played a huge role in Victory's trophy cabinet growing, and his goals for this season are clear: The Double.

What success looks like

While Victory have won back-to-back grand finals, they have done so from third and fourth on the ladder. Yes, this is impressive in its own way, but the team would surely like to flex its muscle as an outfit that can dominate throughout the season, not just know how to get it done in the very last games of the season. To that end, the premiership-championship double is the last piece of this puzzle to confirm a club dynasty.

One to watch: Beattie Goad

The Stanford graduate is returning to Melbourne Victory, where she made her ALW debut, via college, Germany, and Spain. A versatile wide player with the ability to play more central, and with oodles of creativity, Goad will play a vital role in ensuring Victory's well-stocked attack hums.

Newcastle Jets

The Jets started well enough but didn't have a great season and ultimately limped to the finish line with COVID-19 ravaging the squad. While there were some bright parts -- including Emily van Egmond's cameo, the emergence of Kirsty Fenton, and the work of international duo Marie Markussen and Elizabeth Eddy -- it was a disappointing campaign overall.

For season 2022-23, Ash Wilson has looked to the United States to bring in overseas experience while calling on established ALW talent such as Georgie Worth, Teigen Allen, and Adriana Konjarski (nee Jones).

Coach: Ash Wilson

Wilson is heading into her third season in the top job in the Hunter. In their past two campaigns the Jets have finished eighth. Undoubtedly, Wilson will be hoping for a move up the table.

What success looks like

International signings can make or break a season. In the past it can be argued that the Jets have been poorer for not signing international players. However, this season they've bucked the trend and gone Stateside in particular for fresh faces. How the likes of Emily Garnier, Murphy Agnew, and Sarah Griffith settle and work with the rest of the team will determine where the Jets' finish this season.

One to watch: Adriana Konjarski

Better known in the league by her maiden name, Jones, she has plenty of ALW experience. For a team that looked a little one dimensional at times up top, the introduction of another striker who knows how to score in the ALW will be crucial to any potential success and take pressure off Tara Andrews.

Perth Glory

For the first time in two seasons, it looks like Perth Glory will not have to contend with border closures or any other weird curveballs. The club is reaping the benefits of signing a core of young players to longer-term deals -- affording both the players and the team a level of stability. The team in purple just missed the finals last season and will be keen to push themselves into that top-four conversation.

Coach: Alex Epakis

Epakis more than proved that he was a coach to watch when finally able to imprint upon his team. The Glory were one of the surprise packets of last year and became known for their high-octane, entertaining football. Epakis will be hoping to build on that solid foundation this season.

What success looks like

if the squad can replicate the attacking football they produced last season, particularly as the campaign drew to its conclusion, finals football is a must for the Glory. In every area of the park, Perth have experience and youth in equal measure and appear to be one of the most balanced squads on paper.

One to watch: Claudia Mihocic

A player who went to Perth with plenty of praise but wasn't given a substantial opportunity to show what she can do thanks to borders and the like, Mihocic is set to benefit from the lack of COVID curveballs more than most. A young leader and a commanding defender, she may slot in beside Kim Carroll in the heart of the Glory defence.

Sydney FC

It was the worst kind of deja vu for Sydney FC last year. Indisputably the best team in the league, they finished top of the table, full of confidence and playing good football, only to be denied a championship trophy by Melbourne Victory in a chaotic grand final. Again. Ante Juric and his team have been able to stick together for the most part, and there is no question that that elusive grand final win will be driving the majority of the squad. The retention of Cortnee Vine is massive, while Remy Siemsen will reportedly join the club until the end of the year.

Charlotte McLean, Jada Whyman, Mackenzie Hawkesby, Charlie Rule, Rachel Lowe, and Princess Ibini will all be key in getting Sydney back to the top once again, while the injection of several Young Matildas will give the Sky Blues plenty of fresh, exciting talent to bring onto the park.

Coach: Ante Juric

Juric was visibly and understandably upset after the grand final. There was a sense that he couldn't believe that all his and his team's hard work would once again have only one trophy to show for it. There was talk that the coach could be on his way out but his love for the team made him stick around. It could be unfinished business that has seen Juric stick around as he works to get the championship trophy.

What success looks like

A grand final win. You'd be hard pressed to find a more dominant team over the span of two seasons that has somehow managed to walk away without two championship trophies in addition to their two premierships. Football is a funny game but Juric and his Sky Blues might be laughing with incredulity.

One to watch: Abbey Lemon

Another player who dazzled at the Women's Under-20 World Cup in Costa Rica, Lemon joins the Sky Blues from Spain. She's technical and fearless, which seemingly makes her the perfect addition to a Sydney strike force that contains players with those same core characteristics.

Wellington Phoenix

The great storyline from last season was that of the plucky young Wellington Phoenix. The team was thrown together and immediately had to overcome obstacles, setting up base in Wollongong rather than Wellington. Despite the trials and tribulations that come with a young inexperienced squad being far from home, thrown into the deep end of the highest level of women's football across the two countries, the Nix were able to grow into the season.

They acquitted themselves beautifully, playing fun football, and very obviously improving as the season went on. They almost avoided the wooden spoon, stuck to the bottom of the table only on goal difference, but managed two wins and earned plenty of fans in the process. The plucky young underdogs story won't fly this season but that makes this Wellington team fun in a whole new way.

Coach: Natalie Lawrence

Taking over from Gemma Lewis who led the Nix in their inaugural season, Lawrence has been elevated from the assistant coach position. You'd imagine having worked closely with Lewis and with the football Wellington were dishing up all things considered there won't be too many changes.

What success looks like

There will likely be another period of gelling for the Nix ahead of their homecoming match. With more time to plan, the Kiwis have been able to welcome home several Football Ferns who had been playing elsewhere. How quickly these established names can jell with their younger counterparts will determine where the Nix land, but midtable seems the likely option. Building on their two wins from last season will be a good marker of success.

One to watch: Alyssa Whinham

The young attacker announced herself to the competition last season, and she looks set to make the ALW her home after signing a two-year deal with the Phoenix. Her creativity and ability to score goals will be vital for Wellington after they lost Grace Jale to Canberra.

Western Sydney Wanderers

Western Sydney simply couldn't score goals last season. The Wanderers found the back of the net only seven times, six fewer than the next lowest offering. Throw in a defence that was on the leakier end of the spectrum and there was not much to salvage from season 2021-22 for WSW. Clare Hunt's return to full fitness will be helpful while the emergence of young players such as Alexia Apostolakis and Ella Abdul Massih last season will make them ones to watch this campaign.

New head coach Kat Smith has been tasked with re-energising the Wanderers, and her first task was filling the gaps left by the departures of players such as Sarah Langman and Bryleeh Henry. Amy Harrison's return is a huge deal for the Wanderers but at the time of writing they still have the smallest squad with only 16 players signed.

Coach: Kat Smith

Kay Smith is another NPLW Victoria coach getting a chance in the ALW. She has experience with the national team across all age groups as well as Melbourne Victory and will no doubt be taking this head coaching opportunity with both hands.

What success looks like

The bar is so low for the Wanderers that more than one win and a goals-for column that contains two digits will prove to be a marked improvement from last season. Continuing to get the most out of their youngsters, as well as Harrison, Hunt and Malia Steinmetz, and supporting them through other players, will go a long way in making sure those improvements occur.

One to watch: Alexia Apostolakis

The 16-year-old rarely looked overawed in her debut ALW season. The line between hyping young players who have shown promise and dooming them to burning out is a fine one, but if Apostolakis can continue her development there is no question that she'll have a long career to come.

Western United

The 11th team to enter the ALW, and the third from Melbourne, Western United are an intriguing addition to the competition. Their long-standing partnership with Calder United, one of the most successful clubs in Victoria's NPLW competition, has ensured they have a ready made development pathway for their women. Unsurprisingly, the bulk of their squad is made up of players who were plying their trade for Calder in the most recent state league season.

There have been several big inclusions in and around this Calder core, most notably Matildas player Chloe Logarzo and USWNT World Cup winner Jess McDonald on a guest contract. The key questions for this team will be how everything comes together and just how close the NPLW competition, where many of these players have come from, is to the ALW level?

Coach: Mark Torcaso

A longtime servant of Calder, Torcaso getting the nod to lead this Western United team in the inaugural season felt inevitable. Torcaso is used to dominating competitions and cups with Calder in the NPLW, and he will no doubt want to keep that winning mentality with Western.

What success looks like

In terms of the past few teams to enter the ALW, the spectrum runs from the plucky Phoenix, who managed a few wins but finished bottom of the table, to the undefeated and all-conquering Melbourne City. For Western, somewhere between the two scenarios feels likely. Their squad doesn't look like it will have teething issues or quite as steep a learning curve as the Nix but the achievements of City look all the more unlikely to be repeated and, consequently, all the more impressive. A midtable finish and potential inclusion in the finals conversation would constitute a successful first season.

One to watch: Aleksandra Sinclair

Described by ESPN's own Joey Lynch as your favourite player's favourite player in the NPLW Victoria, Sinclair's first ALW contract has been a long time coming. The striker is the heart and soul of Calder United and it feels right that she should be included in this historic first Western squad. While there are plenty of warm fuzzy feelings around her signing, she is also a fierce competitor who knows how to score goals. She won't want her first season in the ALW to be a cute little story, she'll want to contribute to team success.