Adelaide United: The underdogs ready to upset the big three
The A-League Women finals series is finally upon us for the 2021/22 season. A hotly contested season now sees four teams remain. Sydney FC hosts Melbourne City on Friday night, whilst Melbourne Victory travels to arch-rivals Adelaide United on Sunday.
With Sydney, City, and Victory regularly reaching the finals throughout their history, Adelaide United are the surprise package amongst them this season.
In their 14 year history, they have never reached the finals. They have a handful of 5th place finishes to their name but always fell short of that elusive top-four spot, most notably last season, where they missed out on 4th place on goals scored.
But following the disappointing end to 2020/21, they decisively broke their duck this season. They quickly overcame a rocky start, and the club finished the regular season with nine wins out of their fourteen games.
Adelaide United have been a surprise package this A-League Women season. (Adelaide United)
Despite being a side not expected to ruffle any feathers, they soon turned into one of the most exciting teams to watch in the competition. A direct, attacking style of play saw them finish with 33 goals scored, second only to Premiership winners Sydney.
But it's only going to get more complicated from here on in. Making the finals has already been a significant achievement for the club; however, they now face three clubs that are usually regular features at this stage. Going even further will require a massive effort.
At this stage of the season, experience counts a lot. Despite the solid form of several players in the Adelaide squad, only Annalee Grove and Shadeene Evans have been involved in finals matches before, in the 2018-19 season for Brisbane Roar and Sydney FC, respectively.
Meanwhile, Victory, City, and Sydney have had multiple finals appearances over the last few years. They have also kept relatively similar squads. This continuity means their players will be more accustomed to the increased pressure these games bring.
Grove is one of two players in the Adelaide squad to have previously played finals football. (Getty Images)
Even the number of international caps across the four squads can be a testament to the difference in experience between Adelaide and their finals counterparts.
Melbourne Victory has 53 international caps across their squad. Furthermore, Sydney has 86, and Melbourne City’s playing squad has racked up more than 250 international appearances.
Meanwhile, Adelaide has only one international cap amongst their squad, won by Emily Condon in 2018.
As the stakes increase in each match, it will be interesting to see how their squad reacts. They have already shown that the difference in reputation between them and some other teams in the competition means nothing.
The squad has come leaps and bounds since their heavy opening day loss to Victory, with their 3-0 win in the reverse fixture showing how much they have grown throughout the season.
Despite that win being their only one against any of the top four sides, the way they turned their season on its head will ensure clubs don’t take them lightly.
A change in form has undoubtedly coincided with Kayla Sharples coming into the side. She was signed just before the start of the season, and her first appearance didn’t come until the fourth round against Perth Glory.
Having won only once in the first three rounds, Sharples started every game, helping the club win eight of their last 11 games.
Fiona Worts and Chelsie Dawber have also been key to their season, with the formidable attacking duo contributing 23 goals.
Worts and Dawber celebrate in Adelaide's 8-2 win over Brisbane Roar earlier this season. (Getty Images)
In terms of what’s ahead for them, a home semi-final to mark their first finals appearance against rivals Melbourne Victory is a fixture that will excite fans.
Considering this fixture only recently saw Adelaide run riot as 3-0 winners, they will be quietly confident of a positive result.
Their chances will only be boosted by the possibility of Emily Condon returning to the field, along with Victory’s struggles of late.
An away trip to the loser of the Melbourne City and Sydney FC match awaits Adelaide should they get through. These two sides face off after a tight Premiership race. The previous two meetings resulted in one win apiece, meaning this match will be an exciting watch.
The schedule for the first round of the ALW finals was released on Tuesday. (Twitter: @aleaguewomen)
The Adelaide United story this season has been nothing short of remarkable. It's already been a historic season for the club. Their fans certainly have reason to be quietly confident heading into the finals.
No matter how their season finishes, the club will be proud of their achievements.
Stories like Adelaide's are part of what makes football so unique, and even fans outside of the club will be looking forward to seeing how far they can go this year.
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