Liberty A-League R19 Talking Points: Template clubs can follow to cash in on ‘really tough’ mid-season exits

All the goals from Round 19 in the 2023-24 Liberty A-League season

These are the key talking points from Round 19 in the Liberty A-League, including Cortnee Vine’s sizzling form and a five-horse race for the Premiers Plate.

All the action from Round 19 was dissected on Sunday night’s episode of Dub Zone by host Niav Owens, Cath Cannuli, Teo Pellizzeri and Sydney FC striker Shea Connors. Catch up with all the big talking points from the show below.

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Roar keeper’s departure highlights ‘really tough’ reality for A-Leagues clubs

Through 19 appearances this season, Brisbane Roar’s Jordan Silkowitz has been one of the standouts goalkeepers in the Liberty A-League – but on Saturday afternoon, the American shot-stopper played her last game in Roar colours.

The October/November Player of the Month nominee was on loan to Brisbane from National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) club Kansas City Current after the American club selected her in the 2023 NWSL Draft at pick 18.

Prior to Brisbane’s Round 19 Liberty A-League clash against Central Coast Mariners, Silkowitz was recalled by Current to re-join the club for the beginning of the NWSL campaign on March 17.

Silkowitz is one of two Liberty A-League keepers to have been recalled by NWSL clubs this season, following Hillary Beall who made 14 appearances for Western United before returning to San Diego Wave.

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“It’s a really tough one for clubs,” said A-Leagues great Cath Cannuli on Dub Zone.

“I think we’ve got to start to look at different ways that we sign these players, especially when we’re getting them out of the college system. We’ve got to look at our league (as) a presence for these players to want to come to.

“Look at what Melbourne City has done with Lysianne Prouxl, they’ve made money out of this signing, they’ve got a transfer fee which is fantastic. That’s what we need to do, to start generating money for our game.”

City signed Prouxl prior to the start of the 2023-24 Liberty A-League season, and the Canada international’s departure mid-season to NWSL expansion side Bay FC came with a healthy transfer fee accrued by the A-Leagues club.

“Just because an NWSL club drafts a player, it doesn’t automatically mean they’re good enough to play in our league,” Pellizzeri added.

“Melbourne City signed Julia Grosso straight out of college, she didn’t get drafted to the NWSL. Look at Kayla Morrison, an American out of the NPL system in Australia, also didn’t get drafted.

“If you own the player, if they want to leave in-season, someone’s got to come pay a transfer for them. If it’s the loan system, as Western United found out with Hillary Beall, as the Roar have found out here with Silkowitz, they can be summoned back at a moment’s notice.”

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Did we just witness ‘the best individual performance of the season’?

With a goal and an assist against Perth Glory on Friday night, rising Wellington Phoenix star Alyssa Whinham showed the Liberty A-League the very best of her talent in a game-breaking display.

The 20-year-old has returned to the Phoenix starting line-up of late and has repaid the faith of head coach Paul Temple, culminating in her starring display against Perth in a 3-1 win on the road.

In February, Whinham revealed failure to break into Temple’s starting unit early in the season led her to “breaking point” and made her consider her future in football altogether but has taken her recent opportunities with both hands.

Dub Zone panellist Teo Pellizzeri marvelled at Whinham’s showcase at Macedonia Park on Friday night.

“This is a candidate to be the best individual performance of the season.

“Annalee Grove’s clean sheet against Western Sydney Wanderers would be up there, and anyone who scores a hat-trick has claims to it. But Whinham was phenomenal.”

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“We all know Whinham has plenty of talent and we’ve seen that over the last few seasons in the Liberty A-League,” Cannuli added.

“It was just about her being able to add all the elements to her game and she’s starting to find some really great form. She’s technically very, very good. The way she can run at players, the way she glides past players and sets up a lot of assists for the Wellington Phoenix, it’s just great to see her hit this form at this point of the season.”

‘Five-team race for top spot’ matched by dramatic fight for sixth with three rounds to go

Buckle up – the last three rounds of the regular season is guaranteed to be a wild ride.

League leaders Western United fell to defeat against defending champions Sydney FC on Saturday and as a result, five teams now sit within four points in the fight for the Premier’s Plate.

Beneath the top five, an enthralling battle has begun for the sixth and final spot in the post-season; Newcastle Jets hold the position after Round 19 but are level on points with Western Sydney and Perth Glory, with Wellington and Brisbane close behind.

For the first time in Liberty A-League history, a full home-and-away, 22-round season – and a six-team finals series – has made for enthralling viewing from Round 1 to now, and the final three rounds to play offer plenty of opportunities for movement on the table.

“We have a genuine five-team race for top spot, and then a genuine five-team race for sixth place,” Pellizzeri said.

“It’s been a great move to go to the top six this season, and we couldn’t have asked for a better finish with regards to contesting the big prize at the otp of the tree, and the chance to compete in the finals. 

“(With) 35 points, Western are on top. Thirty-one points, Mariners in fifth. Sydney (second) have a game in hand. So any one of those five can still finish top of the league.

“But sixth down to 10th, Newcastle, Wanderers and Perth all on 24, Wellington 22, Brisbane 20 – can’t write them off. 

“Canberra with two games in hand, albeit on 15, they need now results to go their way in addition to needing to win out themselves – something that they did do last season when they made a late charge.”

“It’s the most excitement we’ve had across so many years,” Cannuli added. “The extended league shows this is what happens with this competition. For me as a fan, not only as someone whose been involved in the game for a very long time, it’s so exciting because you want to watch every game.”

Watch out: Victory are on the charge

Having collected 13 of a possible 15 points through their last five appearances, Melbourne Victory are the in-form team of the league heading towards the pointy-end of the regular season.

Head coach Jeff Hopkins is no stranger to silverware in the Liberty A-League and after an indifferent start to the season, his side is well and truly in the mix for the Premier’s Plate. Victory are fourth after 19 games, but just three points shy of Western at the top; they face second-placed Sydney and Melbourne City (third) in their last three games.

Victory beat Adelaide United 4-1 in a comprehensive Round 19 display on Sunday, with a hat-trick to Matildas striker Emily Gielnik continuing her red-hot individual form and that of the team as a whole.

“Jeff Hopkins has changed his midfield combination a little bit,” said Pellizzeri. “Beattie Goad is back from medical leave, Paige Zois is back in the starters, Emily Gielnik has come into her own.

“Victory, they are targeting not just top two, but top spot. They’re making their move.

“100% Jeff Hopkins will be looking at that top spot and hoping the girls can continue on this form,” added Cannuli.

“A lot of this form (has) got a lot to do with Emily Gielnik’s form and how great she’s been. She’s been a great presence on the pitch for the Victory.

“We saw (Alex) Chidiac do this for them last season but this season Em has really stepped up on the field as a role model for the girls… when you see a player score goals the way she’s doing it and with that presence, it’s making a massive difference for Victory.”

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Matildas star’s explosive form coming at the right time

Cortnee Vine has picked the perfect moment to storm into her best form of the season – and for Sydney FC, it bodes incredibly well for their hunt for silverware.

Vine bagged a brace in Sydney’s 3-1 win over Western United in Saturday’s Grand Final rematch but it wasn’t just her goals that caught the eye of the Dub Zone panel; her attacking teammate Shea Connors witnessed first-hand what Vine is contributing all over the park for the Sky Blues as she leads by example in the reigning Champions’ rich run of form.

“Cortnee was incredible,” Connors said. “I told her before she scored the goals even, that it was one of her best performances all season. Her work rate was second to none. She was tracking back, even in the midfield and helping out the fullbacks. She was all over the park the entire game and then honestly, the goals were just a bonus.”

“Cortnee Vine was too good, even without the ball,” said Cannuli. “Her work ethic, her work rate was exceptional. Her goals, world class. It’s just great to see Cortnee Vine back to playing her best style of football.”

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Vine’s two goals on Saturday came after Abbey Lemon’s opener and despite Catherine Zimmerman’s goal off the bench, Western United were unable to come back to get a point against the Sky Blues.

Pellizzeri crunched the numbers and they don’t read well for Western when coming up against Sydney FC, who beat them in last season’s Grand Final and could easily stand in their path once again at some stage in this season’s finals series.

Sydney have now won four of six games against Western since their introduction into the league last season.

“Even when they’ve won two of their six games against (Sydney), the underlying numbers are terrible for them in the six head-to-head games they’ve played against Sydney FC,” Pellizzeri said.

“Goals per game down 39% compared to against all other opponents in the rest of the league, xG (expected goals) created down 44%, and in terms of what they concede at the other end, both chances and goals, 53% worse. That is a huge deviation compared to how they go against the rest of the competition.”