18/04/2024

Adelaide United celebrating making finals for the first time in their 14 year history after defeating Melbourne Victory 3-0 at home. (Image: Adelaide United/Twitter)

After 14 years of pain, Adelaide United has finally broken through to secure a maiden A-League Women finals appearance in season 2021/22.

Adelaide United finally smashed a 14 year wait to book a maiden A-League Women finals appearance.

It has been a long road paved by disappointment and heartache which the Reds have turned into motivation. Led by a core that has experienced heartache, they have become one of the most exciting teams in the competition.

Despite the fact that the A-League Women competition is still in its infancy stage, fans have been treated to many highlights from their respective teams. In its first 13 seasons, seven different clubs celebrated a championship, with every team at least appearing in finals; every team, except one.

That side was Adelaide United, a club which, coming into 2021/22, had only peaked at fifth on the ladder twice in its existence.

Frustratingly for Reds fans, even the Central Coast Mariners, who only fielded a side for two seasons, finished second in their final season. The Western Sydney Wanderers, who entered four years after the Reds, finished third in 2019/20.

The Reds finally managed to break their duck in emphatic fashion, beating rivals Melbourne Victory to confirm a finals appearance in 2021/22.

To understand how much it means to the players, the club, and the Adelaide community, you only need to look at the Reds’ extensive history of disappointment and heartbreak which has forged the players and the club that finally reached the finals milestone.

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Stuck in the bottom two (2008-2013)

Life in the A-League Women competition did not start well for the Reds, finishing last in the inaugural season, only winning two games.

The lowlight of the season was suffering a six goal drubbing at Hindmarsh Stadium at the hands of Central Coast with Trudy Camilleri, Jenna Kingsley and a young Kyah Simon each recording braces to put the Reds to the sword.

The following two seasons, the Reds were competing against the Newcastle Jets at the bottom of the league, with season 2009 seeing both sides go winless. The Reds avoided the spoon by earning one more draw (three) than the Jets.

2010/11 saw the Jets improving to three wins, while the Reds did not earn a single point that campaign, disappointingly only scoring four goals and conceding 36 in 10 games.

Seasons 2011/12 and 2012/13 continued the trend of disappointment, with the Reds winning one and two games respectively.

Despite the introduction of the Western Sydney Wanderers, and United even beating them 4-3 in their first game at Burton Park in 2012 courtesy of a Racheal Quigley goal and a Sarah McLaughlin hattrick, the Reds won wooden spoons in both seasons.

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Stuck on three (2013-2018)

The period between 2013 and 2018 was one that saw the Reds take a small step forward. The club managed to win three games for the first time in a season, but stagnated on that number until the 2018/19 season.

This period began in 2013/14, with Adelaide escaping the bottom two for the first time in its young A-League Women history. The Reds finished on 13 points, above Newcastle and Western Sydney, but were ultimately still 10 points away from finals.

One of the highlights of this period was 2015/16 which saw the Reds finish fifth. At that stage, it was the best result in club history; only three points off finals despite only winning three games.

Season 2016/17 had the Reds record the biggest win in club history, beating the Wanderers 10-2 at home. Unfortunately for the Reds, it was a familiar story, only winning three games and finishing six points outside top four before returning back to the bottom of the league table in 2017/18.

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Let’s go Latsko and disappointment (2018-2020)

Adelaide United fans remember season 2018/19 as the one that got away.

Second year coach Ivan Karlovic assembled a squad of young, improving, battle-hardened players to go along with Icelandic duo Fanndís Friðriksdóttir and Gunnhildur Yrsa Jónsdóttir and American imports Amber Brooks and Veronica Latsko.

The Reds were a difficult side to play against the first half of the season, only losing once in the first nine rounds and finding themselves second on the ladder.

What made this start of the season even more impressive was the fact that the Reds had defeated competition heavyweights and eventual top four sides Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory.

With fan favourite striker Latsko leading the line and scoring regularly, fans thought it was finally their time.

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Unfortunately, once again, it was not to be for the Reds, who only won one more game for the rest of the season; that game being in the last round, when finals were out of the equation.

What made this even more frustrating is that United lost against the three struggling sides that ended up finishing below them on the ladder in the Newcastle Jets, Canberra United and the Western Sydney Wanderers.

Things got even more grim for the Reds, who returned to old habits; habits not seen since the early days of A-League Women competition.

The club only won two matches in the 2019/20 season, only escaping the wooden spoon on goal difference. The only real highlight of that season was the development of future Matilda Mary Fowler.

A change was needed at the Reds to ensure the women’s program was a sustainable one and not a one hit wonder every few seasons.

Stenta takes over Karlovic

At the conclusion of the 2019/20 season, Reds’ hierarchy decided that the head coach of the club had too much on his plate.

After a couple of seasons in charge of the Reds’ women’s team, Ivan Karlovic basically ran both on and off field sides of the Adelaide United Women side, from training sessions, to game days, to signings to away game logistics.

To make the role of the head coach more effective, the Reds created the Head of Women’s Football position and moved Karlovic to that role, focusing on constructing a squad and off field logistics.

The coaching job was given to his assistant Adrian Stenta, who just had to focus on the football in the 2020/21 season.

The move worked a treat, with the Reds assembling a formidable squad, led from the front from South Australian players who endured some of the difficult days at the club.

This included Dylan Holmes, Isabel Hodgson, Chelsie Dawber, Emily Condon and Matilda McNamara along with international signings Maria Rojas, Maruschka Waldus and Fiona Worts.

Stenta enjoyed a strong season as Reds coach, and Ivan Karlovic won the Remo Paris Club Person of the Year at the club’s end of season awards.

The Reds had their best season to date with seven wins but unfortunately fell short of finals in the most heartbreaking way. Adelaide finished on equal points with fourth place Canberra, but one goal off equalling the goal difference tally. Once again, it was not to be for the Reds.

Adelaide United players celebrating scoring against Perth in 2020/21. (Image: Adelaide United/Instagram)

Redemption

Coming into season 2021/2022, Adelaide was united in a solitary aim, that being an inaugural finals appearance. Fans would have been forgiven for thinking the Reds had slipped back into old habits after conceding five goals in the opening game of the season against Melbourne Victory.

Starting off a 14 game season in that fashion must be demoralising, but Stenta’s side showed that any comparison to the United of old is well and truly unjustified.

The Reds once again took a step forward, recording their most successful season yet. Currently, with a game to go, Adelaide has won nine games of its 13 games. This is a huge achievement for a club that after its first six seasons of A-League Women football had only won eight games.

A major factor in United’s success has been Fiona Worts moving to a central position and establishing herself as one of the competitions best players, leading the Golden Boot race with 13 goals with a round to go.

The Reds have not just been a well organised team, but a fun one to watch too, promising goals. Worts and markswoman Chelsie Dawber both created history for United against the Wellington Phoenix, becoming the first Reds women players to reach double figures in scoring.

Adelaide United making finals has been a genuine coming of age story. Stars like Condon (debuted in 2013), Homes (2014), McNamara (2015), Isabel Hodgson (2015), Emily Hodgson (2016) and Dawber (2017) have had to work hard for their chances and development.

Playing in a side that is struggling for consistency week in, week out was the reality for them as young players. Hard work, skill and perseverance have eventually led them to become stars of the competition, and South Australian pioneers who have led their state’s top side to new heights in women’s football.

As Australia prepares to host the 2023 Women’s World Cup and interest at an all time high, Adelaide United would be wise to keep investing in its women’s side.

The next generation of South Australian footballers will be eager follow the footsteps of their heroes who have finally delivered finals football after 14 seasons in the A-League Women.

Adelaide United players celebrating Fionas Worts’ second goal against Melbourne Victory. (Image: Adelaide United/Twitter)

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