Westfield W-League Semi-Finals recap: Melbourne City FC and Sydney FC advance to the Grand Final

Westfield W-League Semi-Finals recap: Melbourne City FC and Sydney FC advance to the Grand Final

Sydney FC beat the Newcastle Jets 3-2 in the first match of the weekend, and then Melbourne City FC beat the league Premiers, Brisbane Roar, to punch their tickets to the Grand Finals next Sunday.

aaron_bellamy
Aaron Bellamy

The Grand Final match is set, with Melbourne City FC and Sydney FC slated to compete for the championship. Melbourne City is trying to win their third consecutive championship. Sydney FC will be looking for their third championship in team history, but they have not won the Grand Final since 2013. This game will be a rematch of the 2016 Grand Final, where Melbourne City trounced Sydney 4-1. The Grand Final will be held on Sunday, February 18 at Allianz Stadium in Sydney, the home stadium of Sydney FC.

Sydney FC held off a late Newcastle push

Every finals game is expected to be close, but by halftime it seemed like a near certainty that Sydney FC had run away from the Newcastle Jets. It only took nine minutes for the hottest team in the league to get on the board, with Sydney FC forward Catlin Foord beating two defenders and the goalkeeper with a well-placed shot from just inside the 18-yard box. Sydney would extend their lead to 2-0 when Kylie Ledbrook looped a shot from outside the box over the head of Newcastle goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom.

The terrible start would get worse for Newcastle when defender Hannah Brewer was shown a red card for a desperate challenge on Lisa De Vanna, who was streaking towards goal with the ball. The call was questionable in the eyes of the Jets fans, as there was a Newcastle defender level with the play, but Newcastle would still have to play the entire second half with just ten women on the pitch. 

Newcastle's Hannah Brewer is given a red card for this challenge against Sydney FC's Lisa De Vanna. | Photo: Mark Metcalfe - Getty Images
Newcastle's Hannah Brewer is given a red card for this challenge against Sydney FC's Lisa De Vanna. | Photo: Mark Metcalfe - Getty Images

Newcastle started their unbelievable comeback in the 53rd minute. Arin Gilliland put a perfect header past Sydney goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe off a corner kick from Emily van Egmond. The magic continued in stoppage time of the second half. Arin Gilliland took a shot that was blocked by a Sydney defender, but as the ball rolled toward the end-line Bledsoe made the terrible decision of keeping the ball in play instead of letting it roll out for a corner. She dove for the ball, knocking it to the feet of Gilliland. Gilliland passed the ball to Katie Stengel, who dropped it back to Tara Andrews. Andrews finished easily against an open net, with Bledsoe unable to recover from her dive. The game would go into extra time knotted at two apiece.

The unbelievable comeback was ended by the foot of Lisa De Vanna in the 98th minute. Sydney defender Emily Sonnett streaked up the field and sent a through-ball to De Vanna. De Vanna got behind the tired Newcastle defenders and easily beat Eckerstrom in a one-vs-one situation. The game would end 3-2.

Six of the players in this match will be rejoining their National Women's Soccer League teams in a little over a week to start training camp for their next season of soccer. For Sydney, goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe will challenge for the starting job with the Washington Spirit, and Emily Sonnett will try to lead the Portland Thorns defense to their third consecutive season with the fewest goals against.

From Newcastle, goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom is back up Adrianna Franch for the Thorns while midfielder Tori Huster will try to earn her way into a crowded Washington Spirit midfield starting lineup. Arin Gilliland will go back to the Chicago Red Stars, where she will have an opportunity to play with newly-acquired Australian superstar Sam Kerr. Katie Stengel, who had a phenomenal season for Newcastle, will be joining the newly-formed Utah Royals FC. Stengel finished the 2017 NWSL season with the Boston Breakers, but the Breakers folded and Stengel was selected by Utah in the Dispersal Draft.

City cruises past the Premier winners to the Grand Finals

The Brisbane Roar had a nearly perfect season, but on a brutally hot afternoon they were unable to win the most important game of the season against Melbourne City FC. The game started out very evenly, with the first half running out on a 0-0 scoreline. Both sides had their opportunities, but the last pass was never quite there for either team. There was a contentious moment near the end of the first half when Brisbane midfielder Hayley Raso was aggressively dispossessed of the ball inside the penalty area, but the referee waved off a potential foul. The Roar players were visibly upset with the no-call heading into the locker room. 

The deadlock was broken in the 67th minute when City midfielder Aivi Luik, the same player who took out Raso in the box in the first half, hit a hard shot that was deflected by a Brisbane defender past the goalkeeper and into the net. Brisbane goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold, who had been so fantastic for the team all season, could do nothing about the deflection and looked dejected. Arnold would make a blunder in the 72nd minute when she was unable to hold on to a chipped shot by Jess Fishlock. The looping ball by Fishlock passed right through the fingertips of Arnold, and the 2-0 deficit would be too much to overcome.

Melbourne City FC midfielder Aivi Luik is lifted up by her teammates after scoring the first goal of the semi-final match against the Brisbane Roar. City would go on to win 2-0. | Photo: Albert Perez - Getty Images
Melbourne City FC midfielder Aivi Luik is lifted up by her teammates after scoring the first goal of the semi-final match against the Brisbane Roar. City would go on to win 2-0. | Photo: Albert Perez - Getty Images

Nothing would go quite right for Brisbane after this point. They had a shot hit the underside of the crossbar just three minutes after Fishlock's goal, but the ball would bounce straight down onto the line and away from the goal. The wind was completely out of the Brisbane sails at this point, and the game would end 2-0.

Three of the Brisbane players will be continuing their year of soccer in the NWSL in February. Hayley Raso and midfielder Celeste Boureille play for the Portland Thorns, while defender Carson Pickett will play for the Orlando Pride. For Melbourne, seven players will be playing in the NWSL. Four of them, goalkeeper Lydia Williams, defenders Lauren Barnes and Steph Catley, and midfielder Jess Fishlock play for Seattle Reign FC. Forward Rebekah Stott plays for Sky Blue FC, forward Ashley Hatch was recently traded from the North Carolina Courage to the Washington Spirit, and defender Alanna Kennedy plays for the Orlando Pride.

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