Sydney FC entered the 2021/22 season with a point to prove after losing a grand final by the slightest of margins to a Kyra Cooney-Cross Olimpico. Despite an impressive season, and another Premiership to show for it, the Sky Blues once again fell at the final hurdle to familiar opposition.
A team with the quality of Sydney FC naturally had an extensive list of positive moments throughout the season. The Sky Blues are famed for their relentless scoring power, but season 2021/22 was highlighted by their defensive prowess.
Jada Whyman and her backline became the first ever A League Women side to go nine full games without conceding a goal, a stupendous achievement. Ante Juric’s side was by far the most miserly team in the competition, only conceding six goals in 14 games, the next best being Melbourne City’s 11.
To put the achievement in perspective, Sydney FC first conceded in a game against the Jets on the 4th December 2021, in the 67th minute, when Lauren Allan grabbed a consolation goal for her side. The Sydney backline was not breached again until the 16th February 2022, when Lia Privitelli scored one of Victory’s two goals in a 2-2 draw against the Sky Blues.
After dropping a couple of points towards the end of the season, the Premiership race got interesting, with Melbourne City threatening to snatch the plate from Sydney’s grasp if they dropped any points on the final matchday. Sydney FC showed character and responded, keeping a red-hot Adelaide United scoreless at Coopers Stadium, with a Paige Satchell effort clinching the plate.
Sydney’s character was once again evident when it overcome a rampant Melbourne City in the first final. Despite falling two goals down, with only 20 minutes to save their season, the Premiers rallied and eventually vanquished City in emphatic fashion, the score line reading 4-2 Sydney’s way after extra time.
Maria Jose Rojas equalising deep into injury time to force extra time against a depleted City side will be a moment that lives long in the memories of Sydney FC fans.
Sydney’s season was one to remember, unfortunately for Ante Juric and his charges, the ending was one that was too familiar for comfort.
Just like Season 2020/21, the Sky Blues won the Premiership. Just like Season 2020/21, the Sky Blues reached and hosted the Grand Final. Just like Season 2020/2021, the Sky Blues ran into a rampant, darker, shade of blue.
Only a month before the big dance, Melbourne Victory were crushed 3-0 in Adelaide, putting their finals aspirations in jeopardy. From that point onwards, Jeff Hopkins promised a different Victory side and he delivered on his promise.
Just like the previous season, Victory began the Grand Final as underdogs. They once again saw off the Sydney FC storm, with ‘keeper Casey Dumont being judged the best player on the ground, while grabbing two of their own goals.
Cortnee Vine managed to pull one back for the Premiers, but Victory thwarted any further Sydney FC advance for the rest of the encounter. The Sky Blues were condemned to being spectators at what was supposed to be their own coronation for the second year running.
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Sydney FC has always been a team full of stars who execute their role to perfection; selecting an MVP is never a simple task. Jada Whyman can has a case for spearheading a record breaking resistance, similarly Cortnee Vine and Remy Siemsen announced themselves as Matildas and genuine stars of the competition.
What makes Sydney FC tick though is an all-action midfielder that can often be forgotten in the glitz and glamour of a side like the Sky Blues. If Mackenzie Hawkesby ever has bad games, they are obviously not in the A-League Women competition.
Ante Juric’s utlilisation of her says it all, he ensures that Hawkesby plays every second of every game that she is available. Can you blame him?
Hawkesby was immense for Sydney this season, scoring five goals and assisting a further ten. Along with that, she is a willing defensive contributor, averaging three tackles a game.
The best moment of her season was scoring a hat trick against the Phoenix in her hometown of Wollongong. At just 21 years of age, Hawkesby is on a trajectory to be a superstar of the game.
It is not easy for young players to break through in a side as stacked as Sydney FC. When players like Charlize Rule manage to do so though, it makes the accomplishment even more impressive.
In Season 2020/21, Rule played nine games, but only started one of them, averaging a lowly 19 minutes a game. Definitely not a bad start in life as a Sky Blue, but the big leap came the season later.
In Season 2021/22, Rule established herself as a starter, this time playing 15 out of 16 games, starting 12 of them, while averaging 75 minutes a game. When you look into her achievements this season, her rise to first team football becomes even more impressive.
Rule was a member of Sydney’s record breaking clean sheet run, but that is not where her contributions end. The young fullback was just as effective when going forward, scoring three goals and assisting a further two, impressive for a youngster who is still learning her craft.
The final word
For the average club, what Sydney FC produced in Season 2021/22 would be beyond their wildest imaginations. A Premiership, records, international call-ups and a grand final. Sydney FC are not the average A League Women Club and despite all the positives, they will be bitterly disappointed about how the season ended.
Despite their steamrolling start to the season, it felt like the Sky Blues peaked slightly early. After breaking the clean sheet record, it felt like the job was done, Sydney once again started feeling mortal. The goal next year will surely be to manage their capabilities and exertion so there is enough in the tank for the pointy end of the season.
With a coach like Ante Juric and the squad he has constructed, returning to the Grand Final is not just a hope, and after two consecutive defeats on the final day of the season, the expectation will be a Championship.
With a home Women’s World Cup approaching, Sydney’s fringe Matildas will be eager to set the stage alight and earn the right to represent the Gold and Green through impressive performances in Sky Blue come Season 2022/23.
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