26/02/2024

Canberra United has made a number of new signings for 2022/23. (Photo: Canberra United; Design: Will Cuckson)

A new coach and new identity brings excitement back to Canberra United after a dismal season undid all the good of 2020/21.

Last season:

Seventh (two wins, seven draws, five losses)

2021/22 looked to be a promising season for Canberra United, with the opportunity to build on a finals campaign the year before.

But after a slow signing period, the departure of a number of young talents and the loss of talented imports, former coach Vicki Linton found herself at odds with her line-up.

United had little consistency particularly in defence, with players shuffling around between centre back, full back and wing back roles a number of times.

They would concede 29 goals – the third worst in the competition – after starting on the back foot with just two points from their first six fixtures.

United would finally find their finishing ability, as Linton struggled to find the right set-up to feed star striker Michelle Heyman, with back-to-back 3-3 draws before finally registering their first win.

Linton would step down come the season’s end, with incoming coach Njegosh Popovich heading up Canberra for the upcoming season.

Njegosh Popovich will coach Canberra United in 2022/23. (Photo: Canberra United FC)

Biggest in:

With the departure of last season’s import Chelsee Washington, Vesna Milivojevic adds another exciting spark in the midfield, surrounded by fellow young talents.

The 20-year-old makes her return to Australia, this time as a Serbian international, after being capped nine times including in FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifiers.

A former NPL NSW Player of the Year, she’s plied her trade across Europe for the past two years with BV Borussia Bocholt and ZFK Spartak Subotica, playing Champions League football with the latter.

She’s got the ability to play multiple roles across central midfield, and could be deployed in an attacking or holding role, or as a pivot.

Vesna Milivojevic poses in Canberra United gear. (Photo: Canberra United FC)

Grace Jale also joins after a brilliant debut A-League Women season with the Wellington Phoenix.

The 23-year-old Football Fern scored six goals in her 12 matches across 2021/22, and provides a versatile option across the middle and front thirds.

More A-League Women Season Previews

2022/23 A-League Women Season Preview: Perth Glory

2022/23 A-League Women Season Preview: Newcastle Jets

2022/23 A-League Women Season Preview: Brisbane Roar

Biggest out:

Lauren Keir has been a staple at centre back for Canberra over the past few seasons, but departs this time around to join the Western Sydney Wanderers.

She was incredibly steady in Vicki Linton’s back third last season, having to be utilised as a full back at times due to player unavailabilities.

The United defence struggled mightily to start last season, as Keir and Ally Haran couldn’t bear the weight of opposition chances.

While she will be replaced by veteran Ellie Brush and Canadian international Kennedy Faulknor, her presence will be missed by the Canberra faithful.

Lauren Keir playing for Canberra in 2020. (Photo: Canberra United FC)

Matilda Karly Roestbakken only spent a short stint in green last season, returning home on loan from Norwegian club LSK Kvinner. But she’s switched into City blue for this season, and will leave another hole in defence.

What to expect:

It’s hard to know what to expect from Canberra tactically under Popovich, as he hasn’t held a head coaching role for a number of seasons, spending the past five years as an assistant at the Junior Matildas.

Looking at the squad he has assembled, with both new talent and familiar faces, we can expect Canberra to be a similarly strong chance-creating team, like last season.

The back four will look very different to last season, as we expect new signings Brush, Faulknor and Grace Taranto to line up in the starting XI.

Emma Ilijoski will have a chance to have a much more consistent season, and should offer more drive from left-back than she was able to last time around.

Milivojevic, Grace Maher and Laura Hughes should shore up the central positions, with Jale capable of playing in the wing role that was so successful for her at the Phoenix, or more central in midfield.

Michelle Heyman didn’t get the best supply last season, which always make the job of a striker harder by tenfold. Expect her to benefit from flying solo up top again.

The development of Hayley Taylor-Young could change how the United line-up looks totally. She started a number of games off the bench last season, but should be a starter this time around.

With brilliant speed and attack on the ball, she’s proven she can play in basically any wide role – she could move further back the field if needed.

Starting XI:

The Inner Sanctum’s predicted starting XI for Canberra United. (Design: Will Cuckson)

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