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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

"These players are worth it" - Adrian Stenta and Adelaide United's vision for 2023/24

As Adelaide United plot a return to the A-League Women's Finals Series for the second time in club history, Adrian Stenta, recently becoming the first Reds Women's Head Coach to be hired on a full-time basis, spoke to Front Page Football about his side's ambitions heading into the new campaign.

Adrian Stenta guided Adelaide United to their solitary A-League Women's Finals Series appearance in season 2021/22. (X/Twitter: @AdelaideUnited)


Since taking the role as Head Coach of Adelaide United's Women's side, Adrian Stenta has transformed the fortunes of a historically underachieving club. In the 2020/21 season, the Reds put together an impressive campaign, narrowly missing out on their inaugural Finals Series appearance by the slimmest of margins: a single goal.


In 2021/22, Adelaide United achieved a club-best season, securing a third-place finish with 27 points and an impressive 33 regular season goals in 14 games. The Reds were propelled by this successful season to their first-ever Finals appearance, with Stenta receiving the league's Coach of the Year award. Additionally, forward Fiona Worts was honoured with the Julie Dolan Medal whilst recognised as the competition's leading goalscorer.


The excitement was palpable heading into 2022/23. But a promising start for the Reds quickly faded when the potency that made Stenta's side so dangerous 12 months earlier was missing. The absence of Emily Condon due to injury further compounded those concerns.


Worts and Chelsie Dawber, who had combined for 23 goals in the previous campaign, managed to score only seven, leaving the Reds languishing in eighth place on the ladder with a joint-worst 16 goals in the competition.


Stenta candidly shared with Front Page Football that managing the heightened expectations was a new experience for most of the group. Nonetheless, he acknowledged that the reality check from last season would be a valuable learning experience as the team moves forward.


"The group will respond well; it is like life; you learn from the experiences you go through, and they make you better and stronger. They are definitely hungry, and those that have been here for the journey were stung by what happened last year, and they are keen to rectify that," Stenta shared.


"Last year, we came into the season with a lot of expectations, which for the club and the team, they probably hadn’t experienced that before, so it was a really good opportunity for us to learn through what happened last year and to see if we can come out of the other side better and stronger for it, and put ourselves in a really good position to achieve positive results this year."


While Adelaide has recruited midfielders like Rosetta Taylor and Sarah Morgan to assist the recovering Condon with the creative burden, Stenta was tasked with rebuilding the Reds' attacking firepower. The duo mentioned earlier of Worts and Dawber had to be replaced, with the former exiting the club for Sydney FC whilst the latter continues to ply her trade at Swedish side Norrköping.


Stenta is overjoyed about the recruitment conducted. Alana Jancevski, Mariah Lee, and Hannah Blake join the club alongside some of South Australia's most talented attackers in the Reds' frontline this upcoming season to cover for the absence of Worts and Dawber.

"We’ve deliberately gone out and targeted the style of attacking players that we want, and we are really excited about our firepower this year and our ability to generate and score goals. With that mix of young players breaking through, like Emilia Murray and Katie Bowler, and then some quality recruits like Alana (Jancevski) and Hannah (Blake), we feel that we will be fine in that department because we feel that those players have the ability to perform and contribute to us being a free-flowing, attacking team."

Stenta reiterated the club's commitment to providing pathways for the next generation of South Australian footballers. While the future of the state's women's football development looks promising through its NTC side, coached by his assistant Michele Lastella, only falling short of a WNPL SA Championship on penalties, Stenta believes some of his young players are ready to make a tangible impact on the A-League Women, having received a taste of it in recent years.


"One of the things that we really stand for is providing professional pathways for our young male and female footballers in this state; we make no apologies for that. Players such as Ella (Tonkin), Zoe (Tolland), Millsy (Murray), and Katie (Bowler) they’re at a stage of their career and development with United that they are not breaking out anymore. They are trying to solidify a starting 11 spot and really have an impact on this league. But to also make the most of any opportunities that present themselves from a national team perspective," the Head Coach said.


With the Central Coast Mariners' return, the A-League Women expands to 12 teams. This expansion has prompted the APL to introduce a six-team Finals Series, mirroring the format of the men's competition.


Historically, securing a spot in the ALW Finals Series has been a challenge for most teams, as three of the four places are typically claimed by powerhouses Sydney FC, Melbourne Victory, and Melbourne City. Stenta believes this change will be a "positive", allowing more teams to remain competitive throughout the season.


The 2023/24 edition is set to kick off a week before the men's league commences. While Stenta appreciates the 'clean air' this initiative provides, he calls on fans to turn out in numbers, much like they did two years earlier when just over 5,000 people witnessed Adelaide United's victory over the Wanderers at Coopers Stadium.


Stenta made it clear that he expects his team to rebound from a disappointing campaign in front of goal and provide entertainment for their fans, many of whom will be introduced to the league after being enthralled by the Women's World Cup.


"The main message is that these players are worth it, and they deserve your support," Stenta shared when asked to send a message to undecided fans in the lead-up to Round 1.


"We are the only team in the city that plays at this level. I believe that people should come out and support these girls like they did at the World Cup and like they did a couple of years ago in our standalone game against the Western Sydney Wanderers. It would be fantastic to get numbers like that again for our games at Coopers and Marden as well.

"The main message is that we are going to go out and try and play a really attacking brand of football and try and create a lot of chances to score goals, so hopefully, it is an entertaining option for fans to bring their kids to and come and support the club as well."

 

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Stenta would like to see support grow across the league so there is a positive knock-on effect on the standards of women's football on and off the pitch. He pointed to the Women's Super League in England as an example of how quickly standards can grow once a league gains widespread fan support, something that the A-League Women is hoping to build after a successful home Women's World Cup.


"We’ve had a professional league in this country for a lot longer than some of the other sporting codes, so I believe the quality of the competition, the players, and the play is quite high. Yes, there has been a lot of growth which I have seen during my time. But we are still a long way from where we need to be as far as pay and length of contracts; a lot of our girls still have to work jobs and be professional footballers as well," Stenta said.


"We can’t get there without that support; they come hand in hand, and like I said, these players are worth it. Hopefully, we get a big crowd for our first game, a standalone game at Coopers, and then those supporters stay and go on the journey with us for the rest of the season."

Stenta's Adelaide United begin their quest for redemption at Coopers Stadium this Sunday against Canberra United, with kick-off at 2:30 pm local time. The Reds will start the new season without captain Isabel Hodgson, who is recovering from injury.


Click here to read more of FPF's coverage of the A-Leagues!

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