Matildas In The WSL: Harder, Better, Fowler, Stronger

Ahead of tomorrow’s big WSL clash between Chelsea and Manchester City at Kingsmeadow, Impetus’ Jonathan Tay profiles the talented teenager Mary Fowler (24/9/22).

Above: Cairns-born Mary Fowler has been a teenage star for the Matildas for some time. The WSL is about to find out why. Image: Football Australia.

“Mary Fowler, for me, is the next big thing.”

Matildas captain Sam Kerr does not mince words when discussing her teenage teammate, Mary Fowler. A team mate she will come up against as an opponent at Kingsmeadow at 4pm local time tomorrow afternoon.

Since breaking out at the 2021 Olympics as a viable option for the Australian squad, Fowler has been on a meteoric rise. She’s excited players and fans alike; her magnetic ball control and lock-picking passing paired with a calm and composed demeanour.

Kerr, a golden boot winner in 3 different countries, labelled the 19-year-old already the “best finisher in the team…on both feet”.

“She’s been in the team for maybe three or four years now, but in the last year and a half she’s completely changed and found herself,” Kerr observed. “Maybe Europe has helped that, but she’s honestly a key player for us now.”

As impressive as Fowler’s growth has been thus far, this next calendar year could be a platform for the Cairns native to become even more of a household name.

She’ll not only be relied upon to be an important creative outlet for the Matildas at a World Cup on home soil next July but for English giants Manchester City this domestic season as well.

Having joined on a four-year contract, Fowler will ply her trade in the Women’s Super League, one of the most high-profile competitions in the world, up against the likes of Steph Catley and Caitlin Foord’s Arsenal, and Kerr’s Chelsea.

In 2021/2022, for all of Fowler’s notable showings for Australia, she managed just 674 minutes for her former club team Montpelier, operating predominantly as a forward or left winger.

But even with limited offerings, some of that potential was on display: five goals from six starts, whilst also ranking highly in per-90 statistics across the D1 Féminine for expected goals, dribbles, shooting efficiency, and chance-creating passes.

Statistic (per 90 min played)M. FowlerRank
Expected Goals0.420th
Shooting Accuracy56%10th
Through Passes1.69th
Smart Passes1.211th
Above: Fowler’s statistics vs all D1 Féminine players (minimum 450 min played). Source: Wyscout.

Thus far, though a small sample size, City head coach Gareth Taylor has more utilised Fowler through the central midfield area in the two games played during their ultimately unsuccessful Champions League qualification campaign.

The idea is to make greater use of the youngster’s talent on the ball, facilitating in the build up phase of her team’s play, and presenting more occasions to find teammates further up-field in scoring positions.

It should also assist in furthering Fowler’s development, as she gains more consistent reps in a similar role to the one she plays for Australia.

Above: The similarity in Fowler’s heat maps for the Canada-friendly series (left) vs for first two appearances for Manchester City (right). Source: Wyscout.

She’ll have a golden opportunity to grab a starting place right from the off, with Manchester City astoundedly losing their entire first-choice midfield of Georgia Stanway, Keira Walsh, and Caroline Weir from last season.

The Australian didn’t make the XI for the Sky Blues’ opening match of the WSL, but she didn’t have to wait long, coming on after the interval for the unconvincing Filippa Angeldahl.

Granted, there are still areas of Fowler’s game where she can continue to make improvements. Her passing at times loses its sharpness or direction, and she can drift in and out of games for stretches of play.

Matildas head coach Tony Gustavsson noted after the first match of the recent Canada friendly series, “Mary (Fowler) struggled a bit in defending, her intensity in pressing, so we got a bit stretched. Her attacking was phenomenal, she can spin on a dime and shoot from distance…[but] we were not intense enough in the first half.”

More than anyone else though, Fowler herself understands the importance of staying grounded and absorbing as much as she can, particularly at this nascent age. Speaking during her first interview for her new club, she affirmed, “I’m still young, and I’ve still got a lot to learn.

“Being at a club like Man City, I’m not only surrounded by amazing staff and coaches, but I get the chance to be playing alongside and playing against some of the best players in the world. I have everything I need to fulfil my potential as a footballer.”

City head coach Gareth Taylor added, “Mary is, without doubt, one of the most exciting young talents in the game right now. She has a maturity beyond her years but for her, she’s excited to come to England to learn and grow as a player.”

We may not see Fowler at her peak of ability for another one, or even two, World Cup cycles. Particularly with Manchester City also facing somewhat of a squad rebuild, there will be an adjustment period as she acclimatises to the speed of an unfamiliar environment and in the face of unerring opposition.

But if the teenager’s development to this point is anything to go by, by this time next year there may well be a much greater crowd of local and international fans agreeing with Kerr about who the “next big thing” is.

This article is one of three this weekend previewing tomorrow’s big game at Kingsmeadow. The first was Kieran Yap‘s reflections from Chelsea boss Emma Hayes‘ media conference yesterday:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: