Ahead of Saturday’s NPLW WA Top Four Cup Final between Perth RedStar and Hyundai NTC, RedStar head coach Carlos Vega Mena spoke exclusively to Impetus’ Ben Gilby about his team’s sensational season, the threat of the NTC, and how he views the season more widely across the NPLW WA (8/9/22).
Above: Perth RedStar head coach Carlos Vega Mena has overseen a sensational campaign from his team. Photo: Fotoenzo (supplied by Perth RedStar).
Perth RedStar are within touching distance of completing the sort of season that coaches, players, and fans dream about.
Three pieces of silverware (pre-season Night Series Cup, State Cup, and NPLW championship) are in the trophy cabinet already, with the remaining one up for grabs on Saturday against the talented teenagers of Hyundai NTC. An unbeaten season across all competitions has seen RedStar remain unbeaten having won all but three matches – drawing against Perth SC (twice) and Balcatta Etna. For head coach Carlos Vega Mena, it’s a culmination of achieving different goals set through the season.
“When we started this season, we were focussing on one goal at time. We set our sights on making it through to the Night Series finals, as we missed out last year, and once we secured the title we moved onto the next goal, only focussing on the next game. I never dreamed that we would go through the season undefeated, but when the players set themselves to the task they made it a reality.
“The girls have taken on my philosophy and playing style with confidence, they worked hard in the pre-season and continue to work hard at training every week which translates onto the pitch on gameday. We are a team with a combination of experienced and younger players which seems to work on the pitch.
“The players work really well together and understand that success is based on teamwork. Every week saw us missing different players from the line-up, this meant we had to rely on the players on the bench. I think the fact that we can pull players off the bench, put them on the pitch, and not see a drop in the playing level is one of the contributing factors to our success. Consistency is another key factor, and the fact that we didn’t postpone any matches this season enabled us to keep the momentum going as best we could.”
Another of the positives for the club was that, unlike many of their opponents in the NPLW WA, they kept the vast majority of their playing squad from 2021 together for this campaign. RedStar, previously known before this season as Northern Redbacks have a special history in Western Australian girls and women’s football having developed so many outstanding players down the years.
Vega Mena deeply appreciates the achievements of the Redbacks and the influence it has: “Northern Redbacks was unique in that it was an all-female club which focussed solely on female football and female player development. The Redbacks family have always had a very strong sense of club culture and spirit, and support for each other. I believe the loyalty of many of the players stems from this spirit and the club’s commitment to furthering female football.
“This club spirit has carried over to the newly formed Perth RedStar, along with the commitment to female football. Teamwork is the key to success, in order to have this you need the right people around you. As a coach, I want my players to be good people, not just good players. I have encouraged this philosophy since I started coaching many years ago and I am currently coaching a truly awesome group of people.”
Down the years, a team’s greatness can be measured by its ability to capitalise on turning chances into goals when opportunities arise. RedStar are one of these sides. They have a relentless ability to soak up any pressure, and then when the inevitable shift in momentum comes, punish opposition profligacy and take control on the scoreboard. If you add this to RedStar’s outstanding rapid-fire passing moves on the attack, you get to quickly see why this side are one of the very best.
These two-pronged approaches did not come together by accident as Vega Mena explained. “Last year the players had to adjust to a new coach and a new playing style. The key for success when you introduce a new coach with a new philosophy is to have players that have the ability to listen, take on board your playing style and bring it to the pitch on game day. It is a combination of what type of players you have, what message you give them, the style of training, and having players capable of performing it on the pitch.”
Whilst Perth RedStar have been hugely successful in 2022, it has not been a season without challenges, as their head coach reflected. “Every team this year has struggled through COVID, player injuries, player availability, and player movement. We were no different.
“I think the postponement of games has been challenging (mainly due to COVID, but occasionally weather too). When teams are repeatedly playing catch-up games, it is disruptive and you are putting player welfare at risk. As a coach, I would like to play with the same team every week, but this season there were changes to the line-up for almost every game.
“There were games where we had four or five of our first team players out, however, we were determined not to postpone any matches and pushed through with the players we had access to. It was important to keep playing in order to keep the momentum. This gave quite a few of our U21 players a chance to come to the bench and/or take the pitch for the first team.”
Perth RedStar’s opponents in Saturday’s Grand Final are Hyundai NTC. The teenage side only confirmed their spot in the top four on the last weekend of the season, finishing fourth. They overcame third-place Fremantle City and second-placed Perth SC to reach the Top Four Cup Final and offer a real threat, both physically and in the quality and skill set that their young side possess. Vega Mena knows that his team will have a real challenge in front of them on Saturday.
“NTC are a very well-coached team. They have been impressive to date and have played some quality football. They are dangerous with their combination of speed and energy, and are always brave on the ball.
“I think NTC can challenge any team on any given day, especially if they put in a full team performance. I believe it has been the most successful season for them in the NPLW era and I look forward to seeing them in action in the final. NTC is packed full of talented and skilful young players. Tanika Lala has been integral for them up-front. Georgia Cassidy and Grace Johnston are always standouts.”
Whilst Perth RedStar finished the season well clear at the top of the NPLW WA table, their head coach recognises that overall, despite the disruption of postponements, it has been largely a very competitive season.
“I believe the competition remained competitive, especially for those seeking a spot within the Top Four. This meant that we couldn’t be sure who would fill the Top Four slots until almost the end of the season. There are a lot of talented young players spread throughout the clubs and there has been plenty of opportunities for them to come through the ranks this season. I think the postponement of games was disruptive, which affected many of the other teams, and meant that they had an inconsistent start to the season.”
Reflecting more specifically on the chances given to talented young players in the competition this year, Vega Mena said: “I think it’s important that we give them these opportunities along with a strong pathway to keep them playing football in WA. The reality is that it’s hard for them to stay here in WA at the moment as there are more opportunities over east. This is something we all need to discuss and plan for.
“The experienced players are role models for the young talent and it’s important to keep both in WA to ensure a competitive league and competition in the future. I think ensuring that there is a strong female infrastructure, which includes suitable female facilities, is a step in the right direction.”
With Perth RedStar’s incredible campaign almost at the end, their head coach knows the challenge next year will be to both maintain and build on these achievements, but for now, his focus is all on Saturday’s game with Hyundai NTC.
“It has indeed been an incredible season. Undefeated in all competitions to date, Night Series Champions, State Cup Champions, and League Champions. It’s more than I ever dared to hope for and I couldn’t be prouder of the players for their team spirit, hard work, and commitment. We also couldn’t have had such a successful season without the support and encouragement from Perth RedStar’s management and members.
“Every year clubs experience player movement, whether players decide to spread their wings, retire from football altogether or return to play and I’m sure we will see more of this in 2023. After the weekend, I will turn my attention to next season but for now. I am focussed on the last game of 2022.”