Emma Ilijoski will miss the weekend's match against Sydney FC. (Photo: A-League Women/Twitter)

Young fullback Emma Ilijoski will once again be unavailable for Canberra United due to COVID protocols, leaving coach Vicki Linton with a big defensive headache.

For the second time in three games, teenage fullback Emma Ilijoski will be unavailable for selection for Canberra United against Sydney FC.

Coach Vicki Linton confirmed in her Thursday press conference that the promising youngster would be missing again due to the league’s COVID health and safety protocols.

The news comes after Ilijoski already missed the 0-0 draw against Perth Glory, leaving the already thin defence even more wanting for quality.

“It was a pretty hard week for Em, it’s been really stressful going through that period,” Linton said.

“She’s been a key player for Canberra over the last year and through the start of this year in that left back role. It was really important for us to get her back in.

“She didn’t get a lot of training during the week, so that was really challenging for her. She’s still a young player, she’s still learning.

“I can say for her she will not be eligible this week. She’s a close contact, so she will not be available for the squad this week. That’s a challenge for us because she’s such an important player within our backline.”

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With Karly Roestbakken departing for Matildas duty as part of the extended AFC Women’s Asia Cup squad, it leaves the United back third looking severely under-powered.

Roestbakken has played as both a fullback and wingback since returning in Canberra colours on the eve of the A-League Women season, in a side that’s now struggling massively for players to fill the wide defensive roles.

When utilising a back four in the first two games of the season, Ilijoski was used at left back twice, while Lauren Keir and Roestbakken were used at right back once each.

After shifting to a back three, with three central defenders and two wing backs, Chloe Middleton has been utilised as the right wing back three times. Hayley Taylor-Young has taken up the left post once, and Roestbakken twice.

With both Ilijoski and Roestbakken unavailable, Linton’s back three will likely feature Keir, Grace Maher, and Ally Haran.

Maher was puzzlingly named at centre back for the season opener against Melbourne City, despite playing her best football when she’s got more license to create closer to goal.

This will likely leave Middleton as the right wing back, and Taylor-Young on the left. This is all assuming these players are all available, as Linton alluded to more potential outs come Saturday.

The makeshift Canberra defensive set up will thankfully not have to worry about either Cortnee Vine or Remy Siemsen, both also with the Matildas squad. The pair have combined for nine goals between them.

But with the likes of Mackenzie Hawkesby still available (second in the Golden Boot) and players to come in, Linton isn’t counting Sydney out just yet.

“That’s going to be the challenge for us this week, getting training time with a new combination of players in a backline,” the coach said.

“Against the potency of Sydney, even without Vine and Siemsen, but then you throw in [Maria] Rojas and Paige Satchell. They’re obviously going to be very good and they’re very strong through the midfield.”

Contract released

Linton also confirmed that reserve keeper Beth Mason-Jones has had her contract voided, with the club and player coming to a mutual release.

Mason-Jones was a new signing to the club this season, after taking a 15 month break from football. She had previously played for Melbourne Victory, already having A-League Women experience under her belt.

She was a late withdrawal from the United squad before the 3-3 draw with Brisbane Roar, and hadn’t returned since.

“Beth and the club have come to a mutual agreement to terminate her contract, so she’s actually left the squad,” Linton said on Thursday.

Mason-Jones departs without having made an appearance for Canberra. The club and Capital Football are yet to make formal comment as to why the contract was terminated.

In her place however comes teenage keeper Chloe Lincoln, who’s signing was officially announced on Thursday.

Chloe Lincoln makes a save at training. (Photo: Canberra United)

Lincoln has been included in the squad since Mason-Jones’ withdrawal. She’s the most recent graduate of the Canberra United academy, joining the club as a scholarship player.

“Chloe is a talented young player and has come into this environment and straight away has looked right at home at this level,” Linton told the Canberra United website.

“She has a great mentality and mindset and has made the most of every day, learning from every experience.

“It’s great that she now has the opportunity to experience the match day environment and I know that she will contribute positively to the team and continue to learn from the experience.”

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