27/02/2024

Chantel Jones has gone from goalkeeping coach to player in a sudden signing. Source: Canberra United.

Canberra United hasn't played a W-League match in over two weeks. Faced with adversity, can Vicki Linton's side triumph over Perth Glory this weekend?

A scorching 36 degree Sunday forecast has been in the back of the minds of all at Canberra United.

Having not played since January 6 after fixturing changes delayed its game against Newcastle, United will take on Perth Glory at Viking Park on Sunday afternoon.

Head coach Vicki Linton was quick to modify the squad’s training demands ahead of the unique playing conditions.

“It’s going to be very hot, but we’ve had some time to get back into the swing of things and rest some people who we needed to rest,” she said.

“It’s just about preparing [the players] tactically, and football conditioning wise, making them as good as we can for that. We talk to them about nutrition, hydration, rest and recovery, and that’s all we can do without extraneous preparation.”

Under W-League regulations, the game is every chance to be delayed until later in the afternoon, or cancelled altogether.

Linton and her squad are preparing with every intention of playing a full game.

“It’s the match commissioner’s call on the day to determine whether it’s right to play, if it needs to be delayed,” she said.

“At least there’ll be drinks breaks, that’s the minimum. It’s based on heat, humidity, the wind, whether it’s overcast, all those conditions they bring into account.”

Amongst already strenuous conditions, United have made a unique new player signing after an injury to up and coming young goalkeeper Sally James.

Current goalkeeping coach and former United keeper, Chantel Jones will add to her 13 appearances in the green and black on Sunday.

The American last played at the professional level in 2015, with the Western New York Flash in the United Women’s Soccer League, but Linton has no concerns over her form or fitness levels.

“It’s really surprising, she’s in such good nick,” she said.

“She hasn’t been training as a player, but she doesn’t mind goalkeeper coaching so I think that really helps.

“Goalkeeper coaches always have to do a lot of work, they’re serving, always jumping in and demonstrating. She does that when she’s coaching with us as well. She hasn’t lost it, so that’s great.

“This year is a challenging year for every W-League team in regards to losing a lot of players out of the system. I’m grateful we have some good players that we can lean on to bring in in these situations.

“[Jones] brings a lot of experience and knowledge, she’s still in good nick so I’m very appreciative we have her and she can jump in and help out the team in any way she can.”

Staying motivated over a long break

United has experienced a number of challenges over their extended break. After a three-day quarantine period, the players haven’t been able to do much else but train since their 1-1 draw against Brisbane Roar.

Keeping their young players focused was one of these challenges. United have named six players younger than 20 in their squad over their three matches so far.

One of those players, 16 year-old defender Jessika Nash, has greatly benefitted from the guidance of the experienced heads of the group.

“I think it’s very important for players like Michelle Heyman and Kendall Fletcher to really guide me through this experience, and they’ve done an excellent job so far making my job here really easy,” she said.

“[Heyman] has guided me through my debut and through the following games. She’s taken me under her wing and I’ve learned a lot so far. It’s been incredible having those girls alongside me.”

Keeping the intensity high at training has also been a priority, Nash believes.

“The competitiveness, you could see in today’s session it’s always there, even though it’s also like a tight-knit bunch and a family,” she said.

“The competitiveness at training is what keeps us going and ready for the game on the weekend.”

Nash has been a starting player in all three of United’s matches so far.

Head coach Vicki Linton is quick to focus on the positives that it brings to young players’ careers to tackle adversity.

“I think from a global perspective of women’s football in Australia, it’s a really good opportunity this year for them to get some starts,” she said.

“The last time I coached in the W-League was eight years ago, and every team had 16 year-olds. Players like Sam Kerr, Caitlin Ford, Emily van Egmond, Steph Catley, Alanna Kennedy, I can go on and on and on.

“We went through a phase where they all then grew up, but the W-League is not a stranger to having young players, and I’m not either. They’re here on merit, as you’ve seen from the quality of players that we’ve brought in.

“I didn’t select them thinking they would fail in here or not be as strong. I selected them based on their qualities.”

Focusing on Perth Glory, Linton is well aware that her side is set to clash with strong opposition, despite what their position on the bottom of the table might suggest.

“They had a really tough time in the pre-season, with the difficulties and restrictions they had,” she said.

“It’s been good for them to get two games under their belt, so we have to be prepared and ready for that. We’re coming off a long break, which in some ways is a little bit harder for us, whereas they played last weekend.

“They’ve got a couple of players who can punish us if we’re not good defensively, so we need to be switched on. It’s a game at home [at Viking Park], so we need to make the most of that.”

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