A-League Women 2023-24 season preview: Key players, questions

Welcome to the biggest, longest, and (hopefully) best season of A-League Women yet. After an incomparable, magical month where the Matildas made history and captured hearts at the home Women's World Cup, it's time for the domestic women's league to shine.

After years of campaigning and complaining by fans, the season has been extended to a full home and away fixture, bringing the A-League Women in line with women's leagues around the globe. Not only are there more games, but more teams with the return of the Central Coast Mariners after a 14-year hiatus from the competition bringing the total to 12.

The longer season means fans old and new will have more opportunities than ever before to scope out the young guns destined for the national team in the near future, the returning Matildas who will once again dazzle at home, and a plethora of foreign stars who add a little something extra wherever they may pop up.

There is an undeniable glow around women's football in Australia at the moment and the Dub is set to be as chaotic and as entertaining as ever. Marissa Lordanic, Stephanie Brantz and Joey Lynch preview all the action.

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Adelaide United

The Reds will look to return to the finals after breaking their duck in the 2021-22 season. But after an uninspiring campaign, has head coach Adrian Stenta and his team done enough to rejig and rejuvenate the squad to make it to finals again?

Manager: Adrian Stenta
Finish last season: 8th
Key player: Emily Condon

Strength: In the heart of defence and midfield, Adelaide have two very experienced, very cool customers. The influence of Maruschka Waldus on this Reds' defence is very powerful and her steady head has been a saving grace for this team over multiple seasons. Similarly, Dylan Holmes is so pivotal in the cenrtre of the park for Adelaide. Her absence was notable during her stint overseas but her return ensured Adelaide always had a strong figure in midfield.

Question mark: Where are the goals coming from? A reduced output from Fiona Worts last season was a contributing factor to Adelaide having the equal-worst goals for column in the league last season. Worts' departure means they won't be able to rely on her nor do they have the services of Chelsie Dawber who was able to find the back of the net with some level of consistency in 2022-23. This means they will need to see the likes of Emilia Murray step up or new signings Alana Jancevski and Mariah Lee hit the ground running. -- Lordanic

Brisbane Roar

Ninth place was a disappointing end for the Roar last season -- it's the lowest the two-time champions have finished since the inception of the league, so with a host of new signings Brisbane will be looking to re-establish themselves as a top four side.

Manager: Garrath McPherson
Finish last season: 9th
Key player: Tameka Yallop

Strength: The homecoming of Yallop is a huge boost for the Brisbane side. The midfielder's composure and experience will be crucial as the side also welcomes back Brazilian forward Mariel Hecher following an ACL injury which ended her fine form early last season. With Jenna McCormick returning to shore up the backline, the Roar has the makings of a strong spine to bolster their hopes of a return to the top.

Read: Matildas star Yallop returns to Brisbane Roar

Question mark: American import Hensley Hancuff had a strong stint between the sticks for the Roar in the 2022-23 season earning her the Player's Player of the Year award and her departure leaves big gloves to fill. McPherson has added two goalkeepers to his squad, signing Jordan Silkowitz (Kansas City Current) and Keeley Richards (Canberra United) to join Isabella Shuttleworth in the goalkeeping unit. Who will step up to make that No. 1 spot their own? -- Brantz

Canberra United

Although they missed the playoffs last season for a second consecutive year, Canberra United will be looking to build on the progress made in that campaign and back a mix of youth and experience to put them in a position to challenge for a third league title.

Manager: Njegosh Popovich
Finish last season: 5th
Key player: Michelle Heyman

Strength: After a five-year absence from the capital, a return to Canberra for Chile international Maria Jose Rojas creates the potential for a formidable strike partnership with the leagues' all-time leading scorer, Heyman. Expect plenty of goals from the team in green, with Heyman intent on taking her personal tally well over the century mark in her 12th season with the club.

Question mark: The departure of local talent Grace Maher (Western United) and Laura Hughes (Melbourne City), leaves Canberra with a significant challenge in the middle of the park. Popovich will have to manage a young and relatively inexperienced squad to ensure that attacking weapons Heyman and Rojas get the service they need to be at their lethal best. -- Brantz

Central Coast Mariners

The return of this side to the top-flight for the first time since 2009 marks a fresh start for women's football on the Central Coast and, with a supportive community behind them, the Mariners women will be keen to continue the club's reputation for "punching above their weight."

Manager: Emily Husband
Finish last season: N/A
Key player: Kyah Simon

Strength: A new squad under a head coach making her A-League Women's debut means the Mariners are an unknown quantity which they can use to their advantage. With the recent signing of talented China international Wurigumula, along with the highly anticipated return of Simon, and recruitment of talented players from across the league as well as the Mariners academy, this side will be looking to spring a surprise on their more seasoned rivals.

- Read: Kyah Simon returns to the Central Coast Mariners

Question mark: Putting together an entirely new squad of players with a short preseason brings its own challenges. Wurigumula is a late inclusion, fresh off a Bronze medal with China at the Asian Games, and Simon is still returning to match fitness after setbacks that hampered her return to the pitch from an ACL injury. While Husband will be familiar with a number of players through her successful role at Sydney University, she has limited time to create cohesion within this side. With the clock ticking, can this team gel together quickly enough to make an impact? -- Brantz

Melbourne City

With a sprinkling of veteran talent in a squad filled with young prospects packed with potential, Melby City and their ball-dominant style will attempt to again conquer the Dub.

Manager: Dario Vidošić
Finish last season: 3rd
Key player: Rebekah Stott

Strength: City looks to strangle opponents to death constantly keeping the ball: handily leading the league in effectively every possession-based stat last campaign. Now, with Stott and Lysianne Proulx bolstering the defence and the quartet of Hannah Wilkinson, Bryleeh Henry, Daniela Galic and Holly McNamara possessing perhaps the highest ceiling of any attack in the league, they should improve at both ends as well.

Question mark: Will that improvement inside the boxes actually arrive? The pitfalls of City's insistence on dominating the ball is that oftentimes it can descend into possession for possession's sake and expose them to copping sloppy goals on the counter. With a full offseason under Vidošić -- he took over on late notice after father Rado shifted to the men's team last season -- City has the talent for both regular season and finals success but can be their own worst enemy. -- Lynch

Melbourne Victory

Missing out on the Grand Final by a single goal and an unfortunate bobble, a gaggle of capped Matildas are looking to steer Victory back to the last game of the season and another trophy.

Manager: Jeff Hopkins
Finish last season: 4th
Key player: Beattie Goad

Strength: Melbourne Victory are still very much in their championship window. While they have lost key players, they have a strong spine and plenty of players who know how to get it done at this level. Whether it be the leadership of Kayla Morrison down back, the rise of Alana Murphy in the centre of the park, and the exciting introduction of players like Rachel Lowe from Sydney and Kurea Okino who is coming off an unbelievable NPLW Victoria season, there is plenty to work with as Victory aim for another trophy.

Question mark: While the squad is full of experience, there has been some serious turnover as well with nine new players in and nine players out including championship stalwarts like Claudia Bunge, Casey Dumont, Catherine Zimmerman, and Melina Ayres. There is no doubt Victory's inclusions are of a high calibre, but will they be able to pull it all together quickly enough? -- Lordanic

Newcastle Jets

The Jets avoided the wooden spoon last year by a single point, but can they rise above a battle for last place on the ladder and push towards finals?

Manager: Gary van Egmond
Finish last season: 10th
Key player: Libby Copus-Brown

Strength: The signing of Ayres was huge for the Jets. One of the best Australia attackers in the entire league, only some ill-timed injuries have prevented her from being the out-and-out best striker in the competition with a bevy of golden boots to her name. The potential for Ayres to strike up a deadly combination with their other major signing, Copus-Brown, could kickstart a positive season for the Jets.

Question mark: For the past decade, the Jets have felt like perennial underachievers in the A-League Women, barring an electrifying run into the finals in 2017-18 season. Nothing much seemingly changes for the Jets and consequently their results don't improve and neither does their ladder position. Some interesting signings could signal some change but it's a feeling that which hasn't come to fruition previously. -- Lordanic

Perth Glory

Since Alex Epakis took the reins of Perth, the team in purple has been building towards finals. After COVID interruptions and a young squad learning to find their feet, this is the year where Epakis' Glory need to deliver on that finals target.

Manager: Alex Epakis
Finish last season: 6th
Key player: Hana Lowry

Strength: Perth Glory's ability to attract talented youngsters is among the best in the league. The signings of Sally James and Grace Jale bolster the two opposite ends of the field, while Isobel Dalton's decision to join the Glory after a stint in England with Lewes speaks volumes. Throw in some Philippines stars who played at the World Cup and the core group who have stuck around for multiple seasons now, and you have a strong squad.

Question mark: Can they make it to finals? They have been extremely close the last few years and, had the finals been extended to six teams as it has been for this season, they would have been playing in the do-or-die games. A consistent defence, a glut of midfielders, and a young core group who now have a few seasons of experience under their belt should be good enough for the top six. Anything less would be a failure. -- Lordanic

Sydney FC

After snapping a run of three-straight Grand Final defeats with a thumping win in last year's decider, the Sky Blues now look to stay atop the mountain despite losing key contributors.

Manager: Ante Jurić
Finish last season: 1st
Key player: Taylor Ray

Strength: Building off a foundation of sustained care and investment, Sydney FC are the A-League Women's most successful program -- never missing finals in the league's entire existence -- and that culture of excellence means they consistently attract and retain talent. Cortnee Vine, Jada Whyman, Princess Ibini and Nat Tobin all return while Shea Connors and Fiona Worts bolster the squad in what is Jurić's sixth season.

Read: Vine backs pathway from A-League to World Cup

Question mark: Five starters from the 2023 Grand Final left this offseason -- four moving overseas, three to Brighton & Hove Albion -- including the entire starting midfield of Sarah Hunter, Mackenzie Hawkesby and Lowe. How the Harboursiders replace them is key, with question marks inevitably hanging over Ray as the talented 22-year-old attempts to return from a third major ACL injury. -- Lynch

Wellington Phoenix

The Nix have finished bottom of the table in their first two seasons and have moved onto their third coach in as many years. Is there any improvement coming for Wellington?

Manager: Paul Temple
Finish last season: 11th
Key player: Annalie Longo

Strength: The signing of New Zealand international Longo is a massive deal for both player and club. Longo has already shown how successful she can be at A-League Women's level, helping Melbourne Victory win in 2020-21. As a Kiwi, the opportunity to play professional football at home is a massive deal and a challenge she is relishing. In Longo, Wellington have signed a midfielder who will not only help them take control of more games but will be an invaluable asset to the younger players around her.

- Read: Canadian car crash survivor pens A-League deal with Nix

Question mark: Has anything changed for the Phoenix? Obviously, they have a new coach and new players, so the literal answer is yes. But are they in a position to change where they finish on the ladder? Have they been able to take the glimpses they show every season of beautiful football and turn it into something more sustainable and more frequent? Will yet another new coach mean Wellington need to wait a little longer for winning football as they work to learn new systems and combinations? We will wait and find out. -- Lordanic

Western Sydney Wanderers

As the A-League Women continues to grow and local rivals Sydney FC continue to set the standard, the underachieving Wanderers will once again attempt to wake the sleeping giant out west.

Manager: Robbie Hooker
Finish last season: 7th
Key player: Bethany Gordon

Strength: All the ingredients are there for the Wanderers to be a power in the A-League Women; sitting in what is traditionally the most fertile region for producing new talent and possessing the ability to invest in the squad and its facilities. The team got better as the 2022-23 season went on and players like Gordon, Sarina Bolden and Sophie Harding impressed.

Question mark: Just what are the Wanderers actually trying to accomplish? All the ingredients are there for this team to be successful, but they've only ever played finals once in their history and proven almost incapable of hanging onto talent -- Lowe, Vine, Whyman and Henry are amongst those still in the league that left the club. Not only is Clare Hunt now with Paris Saint-Germain, leaving a void in the backline, but Kat Smith was replaced as coach by Hooker just 10 days out from the season with no explanation offered. -- Lynch

Western United

After an unbelievable debut season which saw Western United fall agonisingly short of a fairytale championship win, the team will look to not just replicate last season's feats but go one better.

Manager: Mark Torcaso
Finish last season: 2nd
Key player: Catherine Zimmerman

Strength: Western has been able to keep their core squad together with most of the departures fringe players, barring Sydney Cummings who played every game for Western. The inclusions of Maher and Zimmerman bolster this squad to make it another formidable prospect.

- Read: Torcaso to succeed Stajcic as Philippines boss

Question mark: Western took the league by storm last season surprising everyone but themselves. A similar squad on paper bodes well but doesn't guarantee success. Have they added variation to their style of play in order to become more well-rounded and harder to defend? The signing of Zimmerman suggests yes. Aside from the squad the subplot that will need to be watched is how coach Torcaso juggles the demands of the longest A-League Women's season ever with his new gig as head coach of the Philippines women's national team and their Olympic qualifiers. -- Lordanic