11 of the biggest storylines to follow this Liberty A-League season

Here’s 11 storylines to follow this upcoming Liberty A-League season, which gets underway on Saturday evening.

After an incredible 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, it’s time for Australia’s premier women’s football competition to take centre stage again.

The Liberty A-League is back for its biggest season yet, with more teams and more games than ever before. With the expansion to 12 teams and a full home and away season, the stage is set for a monster campaign.

Ahead of the action getting underway this weekend, aleagues.com.au looks at 11 of the biggest storylines to keep an eye on this season.

First ever full home and away season

For the first time in the competition’s history, the Liberty A-League will feature a full home and away season.

The re-introduction of the Central Coast Mariners has seen the competition expand to 12 teams and as a result, each side will now play 22 games – which is in line with global benchmarks.

The finals series will also expand from a top four to a top six, meaning it will mirror the same format as the Isuzu UTE A-League.

This means, more games, more goals and more drama.

It all kicks off with a standalone women’s football celebration round to mark the commencement of the new campaign this weekend, culminating in the Grand Final to take place on the weekend of May 4-5.

Returning Matildas

A host of Australia’s finest footballers are set to grace the A-Leagues once more.

Matildas quartet Tameka Yallop, Emily Gielnik, Lydia Williams and Kyah Simon have all announced their return to the Liberty A-League after spells overseas.

Yallop, Gielnik and Simon are returning to familiar surrounds at Brisbane Roar, Melbourne Victory and Central Coast Mariners. Williams – on the other hand – crosses the divide from arch-rivals Melbourne City to link up with Gielnik at Victory.

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Meanwhile, Cortnee Vine signed on with Sydney FC for another season following her heroics at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, where she looks to spearhead the Sky Blues’ push for back-to-back Liberty A-League doubles.

All five will look to put their best foot forward for national team selection during the 2023-24 season, where they will be under the watchful eye of Tony Gustavsson and his coaching staff who are currently gearing up for the commencement of Olympics qualifiers.

And on the topic of the upcoming Olympics…

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Road to Paris

Australia will look to secure their place at next year’s Paris Olympics over the coming months and a host of A-Leagues stars will be hoping to push their case for selection, should they secure passage to the tournament in July-August next year.

Yallop, Williams, Simon and Gielnik are set to be among those pushing, with the former trio all part of their World Cup squad, while the latter missed with injury.

Vine is another who is almost certainly a lock in Tony Gustavsson’s squad.

Western United’s Chloe Logarzo was one of the players to miss out on selection for the World Cup after an injury interrupted 2022-23 campaign. A strong season – or even a string of consecutive, solid matches – will almost certainly see her in the mix given how close she was to making the final World Cup despite her run of setbacks over the last few years.

Melbourne Victory midfielder Elise Kellond-Knight is another with plenty of credits in the bank and is slowly building her way back from an Achilles injury. It remains to be seen when she will return – or what version of Kellond-Knight returns – after such a debilitating injury,

Jada Whyman is set to be the first name called upon should one of Mackenzie Arnold, Teagan Micah or Williams drop out of the squad before the Olympics, after the Sydney FC shot-stopper was named in the Matildas’ provisional World Cup squad.

A full pre-season will serve Melbourne City attacker Holly McNamara well after an injury interrupted run, as she looks to build off her impressive career to date, while her teammate Daniela Galic continues to evolve before our very eyes as she hunts a maiden call-up.

Others to keep an eye on include Perth Glory gun Hana Lowry, new Melbourne Victory signings Emma Checker, Jamilla Rankin and Rachel Lowe, along with teammate Jessika Nash, Sydney FC trio Princess Ibini, Taylor Ray and Kirsty Fenton and Newcastle Jets’ newest sharpshooter Melina Ayres.

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Rise of the Mariners

Finally, the Central Coast Mariners are back in the Liberty A-League.

Football has been the talk of Gosford over the last few months as a result of the Mariners’ men’s team’s success and having the likes of England and Germany in town for the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

But now their passionate fanbase have even more of a reason to get excited with another side to back for the first time in 14 years.

Emily Husband has been busy moulding the squad since being appointed senior head coach, bringing in the likes of experienced Liberty A-League players such as Sarah Langman, Annabel Martin and Taren King, promising youngsters Peta Trimis, Shae Evans and Maya Lobo along with foreign signings Jazmin Wardlow, Faye Bryson and Wurigumula.

Then, there’s Simon.

The Matildas attacker was announced as the club’s big name arrival this off-season and looks set to lead the line this season alongside the likes of the Wurigumula and Liberty A-League Championship winner Rola Badawiya.

All eyes will be on her fitness levels as she continues her return from an ACL injury, along with the added setback she suffered in World Cup camp with the Matildas.

Now, it just remains to be seen what the Mariners are able to accomplish in year one back in the league; they’ll be inspired by what Western United achieved in their incredible first year in the competition last year.

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The next generation of Matildas

The Liberty A-League has become the home of future Matildas and the next generation are hoping to take the next step in their football evolution this season.

Each of the 23 Matildas at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup came through the A-League Women’s competition, using it as a springboard for overseas moves and call-ups to the senior national team.

And after the roaring success of the World Cup only months ago, many of the competition’s youngsters would be looking at that as a source of inspiration going forward.

Ahead of the season getting underway on Saturday, Dub Zone experts Cath Cannuli and Grace Gill identified the under-23 player from each Liberty A-League side theyโ€™re most excited to watch this season.

Some of the names the Matildas duo included were Melbourne City’s Daniela Galic, Canberra United goalkeeper Chloe Lincoln, new Newcastle Jets signing Claudia Cicco, Glory’s Hana Lowry and Western United defender Alana Cerne – among many others.

New look Sydney aim to climb the mountain again

Sydney FC finally exorcised their Liberty A-League Grand Final demons last season, when they demolished Western United en route to becoming A-League Women’s champions, and in the process secured the double.

However, Ante Juric’s side has undergone a major squad rebuild, with a number of their star players being poached by European sides.

Charlize Rule, Mackenzie Hawkesby and Madison Haley all signed for WSL side Brighton & Hove Albion, gun midfielder Sarah Hunter was snapped up by Paris FC, while Deborah-Anne De La Harpe moved to Danish side HB Koge.

The Sky Blues, in fact, lost 12 players in total this off-season, with the likes of Rachel Lowe and Rola Badawiya also joining A-Leagues rivals.

As a result, Sydney have been busy bringing in top quality reinforcements, signing the likes of 2021-22 Julie Dolan Medallist Fiona Worts, former Brisbane Roar attacker Shea Connors and talented young quartet Tori Tumeth, Sienna Saveska, Aideen Keane and Zara Kruger.

Importantly, Juric was still able to retain some of his core players to help compliment his new arrivals, including Vine, Whyman, Ibini, Fenton, Natalie Tobin, Charlotte McLean, Shay Hollman, talented sisters Jynana and Indiana Dos Santos and Taylor Ray – who returns from a season ending knee injury.

The arrivals of Worts, Saveska, Keane and Connors turbocharges Sydney’s attacking stocks, as they now join the returning Vine and Ibini this season.

How this new squad gels, along with how they line-up this season will be a curious watch. Juric, will have his work cut out trying to fit all of those attacking options in one single line-up.

Rest of last season’s top four chase Sydney’s crown

The hunters are now the hunted going into the 2023-24 season, as a host of teams look to come after Sydney FC’s crown.

All three Victorian sides – Western United, Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City – made up the rest of the top four last season and there’s every reason to believe the trio go in to this season as the Sky Blues’ greatest challengers once more.

Western were pipped at the post on both the final day of the regular season and the Grand Final by Sydney to the Premiership and Championship, but have plenty of confidence going into year two that they can build off a promising first season in the competition.

The arrivals of Grace Maher and Catherine Zimmerman are major boosts for Mark Torcaso’s side. Chloe Logarzo will be hoping to put her injury struggles behind her in her first full season at the club, while they’ve managed to retain the services of Golden Boot winner Hannah Keane and emerging stars Kahli Johnson and Alana Cerne.

Torcaso will be juggling national team commitments this season after taking over as head coach of Philippines’ women’s national side, which Western would hope doesn’t provide an extra distraction.

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Victory have loaded up after their quest for a Championship three-peat fell short in the semis. Similarly to Sydney, Jeff Hopkins’ side lost key individuals in Zimmerman, Casey Dumont, Melina Ayres and Claudia Bunge but have been busy bringing in a host of quality reinforcements.

Matildas duo Lydia Williams and Emily Gielnik are major coups at either end of the ground, while Rachel Lowe, Emma Checker and Jamilla Rankin are handy acquisitions. NPLW Victoria Golden Boot winner Kurea Okino also looms as a potential breakout star.

City, however, have kept the core of their squad, along with bringing back Rebekah Stott, and signing Canadian international Lysianne Proulx, Laura Hughes and Taylor Otto – to name a few.

This is also Dario Vidosic’s first full pre-season at the helm since taking over from his father Rado, so it will be fascinating to see whether that pays any extra dividends this campaign.

The big improvers

With the league’s finals series expanding to six teams, the door is now open for the rest of the competition to keep their hopes of silverware alive beyond the end of the regular season.

Canberra United just missed out on finals last season and have the firepower in attack to cause any side problems this season. Michelle Heyman will hope to replicate her scoring form from last season and will be joined by the returning Maria Jose Rojas in attack.

Service won’t be an issue, especially if Vesna Milivojevic and Nicki Flannery can continue to make strides, however, the big concern lays in the middle of the park following the departures of Grace Maher and Laura Hughes.

Perth Glory will be an intriguing watch this campaign.

Alex Epakis’ side has fallen just short of finals on two consecutive occasions, but with the expanded finals series and a host of new, exciting arrivals, Perth are looking like a real side to watch.

Grace Jale and Sally James have both crossed the Nullarbor, Millie Farrow joins after a lengthy career overseas, while Philippines’ World Cup stars Quinley Quezada and Jessika Cowart reinforce an already talented side.

Adelaide United are looking to bounce back from a disappointing campaign last year, missing the finals a year after their first appearance in the post-season.

Despite boasting a talented squad on every line last campaign, their biggest issue was scoring with Fiona Worts unable to replicate her Julie Dolan Medal-winning form and Chelsie Dawber departing the club mid-season.

They have since brought in ultra-talented youngster Alana Jancevski, along with Hannah Blake and American forward Mariah Lee to bolster their new attack, while attacker Emila Murray re-signed. Star midfielder Dylan Holmes and defender Maruschka Waldus are also sticking around.

Brisbane Roar have been buoyed by the signings of Tameka Yallop and Leah Scarpelli, but lost a lot of firepower in attack with the departures of Indiah-Paige Riley, Larissa Crummer and Shea Connors.

Corbin, Hannah Holgerson, Ashlee Brodigan and the returning Mariel Hecher have big shoes to fill up front. The departure of Hensley Hancuff at the other end means the race is on between Keeley Richards, Isabella Shuttleworth and Jordan Silkowitz to be the number one goalkeeper.

Newcastle Jets have been busy this off-season as well, bringing in sharpshooter Melina Ayres, exciting young gun Claudia Cicco and Swiss international Lorena Baumann – among many others.

Gary Van Egmond’s side look like one of the sides who could be a big improver this season, especially if Ayres can replicate her Melbourne Victory scoring feats in the Hunter.

Meanwhile, Wellington Phoenix will be hoping for a major bounce in year three. Paul Temple becomes the side’s third coach in their short existence, but has been busy bringing in quality reinforcements including Annalie Longo, American Hope Breslin, Venezuelan Mariana Speckmaier and goalkeeper Rylee Foster.

Home field advantage is also a massive plus for the ‘Nix who will need to make the most of it if they are to secure a finals berth.

Milly Clegg

Western Sydney Wanderers have had major upheaval in the last week with a sudden change in coach, but their squad still has a host of quality individuals.

Amy Harrison, Bethany Gordon and Sophie Harding are all back for this season, while Milly Clegg arrives from Wellington, but how they deal with the loss of Clare Hunt along with the last minute coaching change will be an intriguing watch.

Then there’s the Central Coast Mariners, who will have reason to believe they can sneak into the finals. A lot will come down to the performances of their veterans and how quickly they can all gel in year one, but not making the finals in the first season of the project wouldn’t be seen as a failure.

One of the great comeback stories in Wellington

Almost two years after a life-threatening car crash, Rylee Foster is set to make her comeback to football at Wellington Phoenix.

The 25-year-old goalkeeper joined Wellington last month to compete with Brianna Edwards for the club’s number one jersey this season.

Foster was formerly on the books of WSL side Liverpool, before a horrific car crash in October 2021. The Canadian broke seven bones in her neck and was told that she would never play again.

After the accident, she had to work a neck halo for six months to reduce the risk of paralysis.

However, after making a full recovery, she is determined to show the “best version” of herself at her new club – who are looking to make significant strides up the table in their third season in the competition under new coach Paul Temple.

“I think I have a lot of experience with bravery,” Foster told the BBC.

“I’ve probably faced more adversity than the average human in their lifetime.

“It’s wired in my brain to just kick on and make something out of nothing and that might be symbolic.

“People talk about getting the Rylee 2.0, but I’m just going to be the best version of myself.”

Wanderers’ coaching gamble

Shockwaves were sent through the Liberty A-League landscape when the Western Sydney Wanderers opted to change coaches only just over a week before the season got underway.

The Wanderers parted ways with Kat Smith after only a season in charge, replacing her with Robbie Hooker – who previously coached Canberra United in the first two seasons of the competition.

After a difficult start to the season, Smith’s Wanderers managed to string together a few results, defeating Western United and taking points off Melbourne Victory, while the likes of Clare Hunt and Bethany Gordon took enormous strides under her tutelage.

Kat Smith

However, the Wanderers opted for a change on the eve of the season, bringing in Hooker just before their season opener against Sydney FC on Saturday night.

All eyes will be on how the team responds to the sudden change, especially since Hooker has barely had a chance to implement his own philosophies or build the squad in his image.

Heyman chases the magic 100

One of the Australia’s greatest ever strikers Michelle Heyman is chasing history this season as she looks to become the first player in Liberty A-League history to score 100 goals.

Heyman became the competition’s all-time leading scorer last season, when she took her tally to 94 goals off the back of another brilliant campaign with Canberra United – firing home 12 goals in 18 games.

Now, she only needs six goals to reach the tonne, which on previous seasons, you’d back her to reach in a 22 game season.

If that isn’t enough, Heyman only has to play just one more game to have the sole most appearances in competition history – as she currently sits equal first alongside recently retired defender Kim Carroll with 158 games played.