After a long season hampered by injuries and international call-ups that hindered the squad, it was just not meant to be this season for Melbourne City.
Missed chances, a late game collapse, a questionable schedule, and suspensions were all factors turning this into a season of ‘What could have been?’ for City.
There were a lot of positives to take out of this campaign for the club, who missed out on the finals last season for the first time in its existence after entering the league in 2015.
The biggest high of the season from an on-field perspective came way back in the first month of the season. A 5-1 derby win on Boxing Day, with New Zealand international Hannah Wilkinson putting away all five goals for City.
While it would not be the only four goal win for the season (there were also 4-0 wins against Wellington and Perth), it was the most emphatic, with the lone goal for the Victory coming in the 84th minute through Maja Markovski well after the game had been put to bed.
The biggest high of the season from an off-field perspective had to be the return of Rebekah Stott after her battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma to the A-League Women’s competition.
Stott was integral to the success of the City line-up throughout the season, playing primarily in the middle of the park this season as opposed to the defensive role that was expected, but also playing wherever coach Rado Vidosic needed to deploy here throughout the season.
The disruption of the City side through either international call-ups at two separate points during the regular season (one for Australia’s Asian Cup campaign and one for New Zealand’s participation in the SheBelieves Cup) created some forced changes within the City line-up and led to some less than ideal results which had a major impact.
A 3-0 loss to Sydney FC during the Asian Cup, and a 1-0 loss to Brisbane Roar during the SheBelieves Cup (which also was the first game after Holly McNamara was ruled out for the remainder of the season) were two pivotal results which saw City lose the Premiers Plate battle to Sydney FC by only 2 points.
The other big low was the finals campaign for City. A 2-0 lead over Sydney FC and 20 minutes away from a home grand final turned into a 4-2 loss at the end of 120 minutes with two red cards.
This defeat meant a second chance game against the Victory, ending in a 3-1 loss, with the losses of McNamara (injury), Tyla-Jay Vlajnic (suspension) and Melissa Barbieri (suspension) too much to overcome for City.
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The MVP for Melbourne City could fall to a few different players depending on what you value most. Last-line defence, or creativity and control in the midfield.
When it came down to it, it was impossible to split the vote between Melissa Barbieri and Rebekah Stott.
While the 14 goals throughout the campaign from Hannah Wilkinson is a massive achievement and should be noted, City would not have been the same squad without Barbieri and Stott.
The use of Barbieri was unexpected and unplanned leading into the season, as Sally James was signed to be the starting keeper. After James went down with an injury, Barbieri had to step up and be the anchor at the back for City.
The veteran leadership and experience of the 42-year-old was absolutely crucial, and had another goalkeeper come in after the injury to James, it is likely that City would not have had as successful a season.
Stott’s return should not be understated either. It was very apparent at multiple different times just how crucial she was to the way that City played their matches through not only the versatility she provided, playing in multiple different areas with ease, but the way she performed in all these different areas.
She provided great passing in the middle of the park on transition plays. She provided fantastic defence when she needed to drop back. She looked dangerous in attack and helped to create offence, even if she wasn’t directly involved in the goals.
When Stott received her call-up to the All Whites, City had to adjust and didn’t quite look the same without her there. The same also happened during the week 1 finals match against Sydney FC. When Stott was substituted in the second half, City looked like it was missing something and did not look the same after the substitution was made.
The crucialness of Stott to the City midfield is a massive reason why City was able to go as far as it did throughout the season.
If you took either Barbieri or Stott out of the line-up, City does not go as far as it did with just one of them in, which is why the MVP is split.
Despite only getting a total of eight games in between a Matildas call-up and injury, the breakout star of this City line-up is Holly McNamara.
Scoring five goals, and having three assists across her eight games, McNamara was crucial to the front line of Melbourne City along with Hannah Wilkinson.
It was very clear just how much she was missed during the Asian Cup, and when she suffered a season-ending ACL injury during a 2-1 win over Sydney FC.
Displaying some impressive performances outside of these absences, McNamara will have a key place within this City line-up over the coming years, and hopefully more call-ups to the national team along with that.
After the lows of last season, this season would be considered a success in a vacuum.
However, when you look at the way City played throughout the season, the way Rado Vidosic hand-picked his new recruits and got them to become a cohesive unit, this season will go down as a disappointment.
If Vidosic and City can hold the majority of this squad together and keep them all fit and going, they will threaten again next season, and likely claim at least one piece of silverware.
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