A-Leagues Life: Sydney FC invited to Asian comp paving the way for new Champions League

Welcome to A-Leagues Life, where KEEPUP brings you all the latest news and goings on at your club. This is how the week is shaping up across the A-Leagues and beyond.

Sydney to compete for Asian women’s football top club honour

Sydney FC will take part in the AFC Women’s Club Championship in November, with the draw to be completed tonight at 5 PM (AEST).

The Sky Blues are one of eight participants in the tournament, which will take place in two centralised venues in Uzbekistan and Thailand between November 6 and November 12. It’s also the biggest version of the tournament yet, which will give way to the AFC Women’s Champions League from next season.

As a result of the Matildas’ semi final finish at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Ante Juric’s side have earned the second seed and will join Urawa Red Diamonds Ladies in Pot 1.

Sydney – who qualified due to winning the 2022-23 Liberty A-League Championship – are the second A-Leagues side to compete in this tournament, after Melbourne Victory took part in the inaugural 2019 iteration – where they finished bottom with two losses and one draw.

A one-round league format will mean the four sides play against each other once in their respective two groups.

The winners of each group advance to a Grand Final to determine the best women’s side in Asia.

The draw will be live streamed here.


Pot 1 (teams ranked 1-2): Urawa Red Diamonds Ladies, Sydney FC
Pot 2 (3-4): Hyundai Steel Red Angels Women’s FC, Hualien Women’s Football Team 
Pot 3 (5-6): Bangkok FC, FC Nasaf 
Pot 4 (7-8): Sree Gokulam Kerala Football Club, Bam Khatoon

Reds lock in young trio

Adelaide United have signed young trio Bailey O’Neil, Panagiotis Kikianis and Giuseppe Bovalina to scholarship contracts ahead of the upcoming Isuzu UTE A-League season.

The defensive trio – who play as a left-back, centre-back and right-back respectively – have caught the eye of head coach Carl Veart this season, particularly off the back of their form with the Reds’ Grand Final-bound NPLM South Australia side.

O’Neil and Kikianis’ performances saw them show up on national team radars as well, with the former featuring heavily at the Under-17 AFC Asian Cup earlier this year with the Joeys, while the latter was called into Australia’s U18 side for the four nations tournament in Portugal.

Bovalina started in both of Adelaide’s Australia Cup contests against Northcote City and Western Sydney Wanderers, and O’Neil also made the squad for the Cup tie against the Victorian outfit.

TRANSFER HUB: Isuzu UTE A-League 2023-24 ins/outs

“Pana, Bailey and Giuseppe have showed a tremendous amount of progress and leadership through the NPL competition which is what we ask of our young players coming through,” Veart said.

“They have impressed our Youth Head Coach, Airton (Andrioli), and have shown their quality in training with the full squad and in the Australia Cup so far this pre-season, warranting their scholarship contracts.

“We look forward to what will hopefully be long and successful careers at Adelaide United.”

The trio are Adelaide’s first three additions to their senior squad this off-season and will be in action against Modbury Jets in the decider on Friday night.

Their teammate Luka Jovanovic shared his thoughts prior to the contest as they head into their first NPL Grand Final.

“I don’t really know what to feel or what to expect heading into my first Grand Final, but I will just play my game and get around the team and hopefully we can get the win,” he said.

“I feel like when we’re on our day we can be an unstoppable team and we’re a very hard team to play against with everyone available.”

“It definitely helps that we’ll be playing at home, and our main focus is to go all the way.”

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In-form striker returns to the Nix

Kelli Brown has re-signed with Wellington Phoenix after an impressive season in NPLW NSW with Macarthur Rams.

The young forward was part of the club’s inaugural squad in the 2021-22 season, but wasn’t offered a contract the following year.

Brown joined Macarthur and scored 23 goals in 26 games, finishing a close second in the Golden Boot race and as a result, earned a return to Wellington.

INS AND OUTS: 2023-24 Liberty A-League Transfer Centre

“Kelli’s scored goals wherever she’s been,” Wellington coach Paul Temple said, who described her as “too good not to sign”.

“She scored goals for New Zealand at the Under-17 World Cup, in the national league last year and has been one of the top scorers in the NPL this year. It makes it hard to ignore her.

“We were also looking for somebody that is quite versatile. She’s played as a wide forward predominantly this season but she has also played as a striker for Macarthur so she gives us some options up front.

“Kelli’s going to suit the way we want to play and she’s in really good goalscoring form so she’s going to come into pre-season on the back of a really strong NPL season, where she’s outscoring other really high quality A-League players.”

Brown’s first spell at the club was limited to six appearances, due to an ankle injury and concussion.

The striker is relishing another crack at the chance to prove herself in the A-Leagues once more and is grateful to be given a second opportunity at the club.

“It was kind of scary at the start, but it’s been really cool and everyone over here has been really welcoming,” she said.

“It was hard not being part of the Phoenix last season, but I’ve been able to go away, work and do what I needed to do to get back.

“To be able to be back with the girls on home soil is exciting.”

Mixed bag of results for A-Leagues sides in pre-season tune-ups

Perth Glory, Sydney FC and Newcastle Jets continued their preparations for the upcoming Isuzu UTE A-League season in a series of mid-week friendlies.

Glory came away with a 3-1 victory over NPLM Western Australia side Olympic Kingsway on Tuesday evening. Giordano Colli fired home a brace and Adam Taggart added another on the nights.

New coach Alen Stajcic handed opportunities to a host of trailists on the night as well, with former Glory players Riley Warland and Walter Scott playing a half each at left-back.

Former Macarthur FC midfielder Antonis Martis, ex-Western Sydney youth player Dean Pelekanos and goalkeeper Adrian Sinagra – who spent time with Melbourne City’s NPL side this year – also saw minutes in the second half, while new signing Aleksandar Susnjar made his unofficial club debut.

“We’re just mixing and matching through the whole squad really from players who been scholars, to first team regulars in the past to trialists,” Stajcic told Glory’s website.

“Obviously developing that team chemistry across the board and ensuring everyone’s up to speed with the game plan, regardless of where they sit in the team and where they sit in the pecking order and it’s up to them to ultimately fight for a spot as we’re heading to the A-League.”

Meanwhile, Sydney defeated Newcastle Jets 1-0 on Wednesday afternoon in a behind-closed-doors friendly at Maitland Sports Ground.

Jaiden Kucharski scored the solitary goal, continuing his impressive pre-season which has seen him score a last gasp equaliser in their dramatic Australia Cup Round of 32 victory over Central Coast Mariners before signing a contract extension with the club last week.

Sky Blues head coach Steve Corica handed starts to the likes of Kucharski, Kealey Adamson, Jake Girdwood-Reich and Corey Hollman as he continues to give the youngsters an opportunity early doors.

Max Burgess also started after missing the first two Cup contests through suspension.

Bulls Academy shock premiers APIA in NPL Semi Final

Bulls Academy have booked their place in the NPLW New South Wales Grand Final after shocking newly crowned premiers APIA Leichhardt on Wednesday night.

Two goals from Charlotte Lancaster – either side of Isabella Coco-Di Sipio’s equaliser – proved to be the difference, with the winner coming from the penalty spot only minutes before full-time.

APIA were without Melbourne City duo Holly McNamara and Rhianna Pollicina on the night, who are both set to return to Liberty A-League duties in the near future.

The upset win caps off an incredible first season in NSW’s top flight, after earning promotion at the end of 2022. Jaime Gomez’ side only secured the final spot inside the top four on Sunday as a result of a 2-1 victory over NWS Spirit.

“Since day one, the girls have bought into what we wanted to do and when you have a close group working towards a similar goal, anything is possible,” Gomez told the Bulls website before the game.

“I felt we were in finals contention despite going ahead with bigger clubs with bigger names. Yes, we left it to the last round, but I think we quietly knew we could play finals.”

Gomez’ side boast a host of quality young players including Peta Trimis – who recently signed for Central Coast Mariners – and Avaani Prakash, while Amy Chessari is also on the books of Western Sydney Wanderers.

The aforementioned duo have also been called up by the Young Matildas.

Gomez thinks more of the squad can do the same, with the hope that it will be with Macarthur’s own Liberty A-League side.

“I honestly do think these girls will kick on in the A-League. Hopefully that’s with us when we get an A-League licence,” he said.

They await the winner of this weekend’s semi final between NWS and Macarthur Rams in next week’s decider.

Wanderers duo take home POTM honours

Western Sydney Wanderers young duo Anthony Pantazopoulos and Marcus Younis have been recognised with Player of the Month honours in NPL NSW after an impressive run of form.

The duo were announced the defender and midfielder POTM, joining Manly United goalkeeper Levi Kaye and Rockdale Ilinden striker Alec Urosevski to receive the honour.

Pantazopoulos was signed on a scholarship contract earlier this year after impressing for NPLM Victoria champions Oakleigh Cannons, with his performances boosting his case for senior opportunities this upcoming season.

Younis also penned a scholarship deal this off-season and has been one of the Wanderers’ most consistent performers in NPL NSW in 2023.

The young midfielder scored a brilliant late winner against Mt Druitt Town Rangers in late August to secure the Wanderers’ place in the top flight next season.

He also come off the bench twice in the Wanderers’ Australia Cup victories over Floreat Athena and Adelaide United, capping off an impressive few weeks for the youngster.

Meanwhile, Perth Glory’s Susan Phonsongkham was awarded NPLW NSW’s Striker of the Month following an impressive end to the season with Bankstown City – scoring three goals in four games.

Western recruit named keeper of the year, teammate pens deal with the club

New Western United signing Natalie Picak was awarded NPLW Victoria Goalkeeper of the Year after a solid season with Calder United at Football Victoria’s Gold Medal night.

Picak helped Calder to a finals berth and Nike FC Cup honours in her first season as the team’s number one, keeping seven straight clean sheets between July and August in all competitions.

She was also selected for a first ever Young Matildas camp last month, off the back of an impressive campaign.

The 18-year-old signed a scholarship deal with Western only 24 hours before receiving the gong.

She is one of two keepers currently signed by Mark Torcaso’s side for this season, with Alyssa Dall’Oste also re-signing for the 2023-24 campaign.

Meanwhile, Picak’s Calder teammate Lucy Richards signed her first professional contract for the club on Tuesday.

The utility impressed in her first season with the reigning NPLW Victoria champions, scoring one of the two goals in their 2-0 Nike FC Cup Final victory over FC Bulleen Lions.

Richards was previously a train-on player with Melbourne City and shone in Football Victoria’s NTC and Emerging Matildas programs respectively prior to signing with Calder at the start of this year.

“I’m super excited to sign my first professional contract with Western United and just extremely grateful to the club for the opportunity,” Richards said.

“From training and playing with some of the girls at Calder, it’s clear this group has heaps of drive coming into the season, so I’m keen to get started with the squad and try to help build on the success from last year.”