The A-League Women needs a full home and away season to realise its potential
Last Wednesday night saw a thrilling match between two rivals in the A-League Women play out, as Sydney FC faced the Melbourne Victory in the first Big Blue of the season.
The game saw Sydney's impressive clean sheet record broken. Victory came back from two goals down with a 92nd-minute equaliser, and there were several cracking goals.
Melbourne Victory celebrate Catherine Zimmerman's late equaliser against league leaders Sydney FC. (Getty Images)
It was excellent entertainment, even from a neutral perspective, and a good crowd for a midweek match with plenty of noise to go with it.
As entertaining as the match was, one key fact about it will be a disappointing read for fans: This occasion will be the only time these teams meet in the regular season this campaign.
Clubs only have the chance to play each other at least once in the 14 round ALW structure, with the opportunity to play five other clubs twice.
Ultimately, in this instance, fans will miss out on Victory and Sydney getting to run this back on Sydney’s turf, which would undoubtedly be another entertaining affair. Furthermore, any fixture between them has an added spice due to their minor premiership and finals ambitions.
The competition is designed to allow players to play in the local NPL’s during the ALW off-season.
However, the league is currently run across 14 rounds. Until this season, teams only got to play in 12 of them, whilst the NPL competitions feature 18-22 regular-season games, excluding finals. This structure ultimately means that players get more opportunities in the NPL than in the national top division.
The disadvantages of a short season have become apparent, as short bursts of form have much more significant impacts on the competition.
Fans have called for the A-League Women season to be extended. (Twitter: @MichelleAMorris)
Perth Glory won four of their last six matches; however, it may prove too little too late in their hunt for a finals position. Their standing is despite having played the Newcastle Jets, Western Sydney Wanderers, Melbourne City, and Melbourne Victory.
However, the disadvantages of a short season go beyond the product's entertainment.
A significant issue facing clubs and players is the increased severity of injuries affecting a player's season.
Perth's Gemma Craine is currently injured with a broken wrist; it seems that her season has ended prematurely because the injury will sideline her for 6-8 weeks.
In a complete home and away season, this situation would see her able to return towards the end of the campaign, but that won't be the case this time.
A 14-week competition doesn't allow for the league to be conducted professionally. As the nation's top competition, the APL shouldn't let this format continue.
As interest also looks to be growing again in the domestic women’s league, now would be the perfect opportunity to build on it.
The recent amalgamation of the men’s and women’s competitions has helped spotlight the competition. Despite the latest trend in crowd numbers across many sporting codes in Australia, the ALW has seen an increase in average attendance from last season.
The league has also been rejuvenated with the introduction of Wellington Phoenix, as their addition has ensured no byes are needed, which has allowed for an increase in matches.
The Wellington Phoenix are the latest team to join the A-League Women. (Getty Images)
Further expansion has also been touted for the near future, with Western United looking set to join the competition next season.
Central Coast Mariners and Macarthur FC are also possible candidates for further expansion.
But this expansion also leads to the prospect of teams only playing each other once in the league’s current length, should the necessary changes not be made.
The debate has risen online about the need to make the ALW professional, too, with players finding it increasingly hard to balance work and football commitments.
This week, Fiona Worts spoke about having to back up her five-goal haul in Brisbane with a shift at McDonald's the next day. Meanwhile, Georgia Boric had to terminate her contract with the Newcastle Jets due to work commitments.
The APL cannot sustain a professional league in the current format. A full-length home and away season need to be established if the country seriously wants to make women’s football professional across the board.
But it appears the APL isn’t turning away from the needs of the premier women’s competition.
APL Chairman Danny Townsend has hinted at a restructuring of the league alongside its expansion.
Townsend has spoken online about the need for restructuring in the ALW (Twitter: @drt15 & @marissalordanic)
It remains to be seen what is in store for the league. But the coming offseason could be pivotal for the competition's future.
The interest in the ALW and women’s football in this country is growing. As a result, so must the competition's support and professionalism each week.
As the 2023 World Cup on home soil approaches, now is the time to act and build on the growing support of the game to ensure it continues to grow in the years following the tournament.
Meanwhile, the ALW is reaching the business end of a thrilling season. With the finals series approaching, the entertainment will only increase.
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