With their A-League Women debut fast approaching, things are taking shape at Western United. For this week’s Midweek Dub feature, the club’s inaugural head coach Mark Torcaso talks to Impetus’ Kieran Yap about their first pre-season (9/11/22).
Above: Members of Western United’s inaugural team. Image supplied by: Western United.
When Western United’s participation in this season’s A-League Women was first announced, there was excitement. But that was as much about the implications for an extended season, and the opportunities for Victorian players. With the squad fully assembled, that enthusiasm has now extended to their on- field potential.
“It’s been exciting,” is how head coach Mark Torcaso describes the preparations. “It’s been obviously very different for a lot of people including myself. “Being exposed to full time training environments is challenging, but it’s definitely very exciting.
“The last couple of days we’ve worked out how it all looks in regard to settling ourselves in and understanding the demands of full-time professional environment.”
Torcaso has taken the reigns following several successful seasons in charge of Calder United in Victoria’s NPLW. The 2022 season resulted in three trophies, and they enjoyed almost total dominance over the competition. It was an incredible achievement given that Calder were without some big-name stars of the past and relied heavily on their own academies.
By 2021, Calder had formed an official link with Western United. It helped lay the foundations for this inaugural topflight season. Western United have announced some of the biggest signings in the league, but the core of their team is based on Calder United’s champion side.
It is a different model to most new clubs, who have either relied on a number of big names like Melbourne City did or on their academies like Western United has and Central Coast likely will.
As coach of both sides, it is a process that Torcaso has found helpful. An official link between NPLW and A-League clubs is one he thinks could work for other teams.
“We won’t know that until the end of the year, but I think from what I see it’s a genuine pathway. It’s there for the players of the northwest to have genuine opportunities and basically create one vision and one club philosophy.”
Torcaso is confident in the season’s preparation. He says that the former NPL stars have had to adjust to the amount of training, but this was planned for.
“We tried to replicate that as best we could at Calder over the last couple of seasons in trying to give them more training than what they normally would so when this transition happened it would be fairly simple.
“Adjusting to that has been some of the little hurdles or challenges. Just the intensity of the sessions and the quality of the resources that we have.
“There are also positives in that, getting to feel what that professional environment is actually about is very important for the players.”
Headlining the players signed from Calder United was Alana Cerne. The classy midfielder was crucial to the side’s success. She dominated the Nike FC Cup Final and controlled the midfield in most rounds. The playmaker was the first player Western United announced.
“Cerne’s been with Calder since she was 15 or 16,” says Torcaso of one of the clubs standout homegrown talents.
“She’s somebody that lives in the northwest, somebody that’s missed out on opportunities in the past that probably should have gotten opportunities. She’s going to be a fantastic player.”
Since Cerne, some impressive additions have been made to the squad, Hillary Beall was signed on loan from Racing Louisville in the NWSL. The young goalkeeper made some impressive saves in a pre-season friendly against Melbourne Victory. She was decisive in a 1-0 win.
Stacy Papadopoulos looks a likely star of the competition. The fleet-footed winger is a damaging player that also seems destined for highlights reels.
Two big-name signings were made that served as statements by the club that they are planning on making an impact. Matilda’s star Chloe Logarzo, and World Cup Winner from the USA, Jess McDonald.
“I worked with Jess at Victory in 2012 when she was there,” says Torcaso. “That relationship was something that was built then. It’s surprising to the football world, but for us it was a connection that I had with her that created that opportunity for her to come out here.
“As a whole it’s just about setting the tone, making sure we are as ready as possible and having players like Chloe and Jess and other players with a little bit of overseas experience, allows us to be competitive and not just a team that makes up numbers.
“We want to be a team that can be ready. It can help some of the players that have come into this team from the NPL clubs like Calder or FV Emerging. It allows them to develop by having really good quality people around them.”
Logarzo will add significant experience to the team. She has won two W-League Championships with Sydney FC, and is a player that will guarantee interest in the club. After suffering a knee injury in 2021 while with The Matildas, her game time has been minimal. How she performs at Western United could shape Australia’s World Cup chances.
Torcaso is clearly happy to have players with enviable resume’s on his squad, but says that the will not be expected to carry the team. They will have the same expectations as the other players.
“She’s like any other player,” he says of Logarzo. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Chloe of Jess McDonald or (Calder captain) Aleks Sinclair, in the end you’re a player that trains well and plays well and keeps your spot.
“The name (recognition) is an important thing, but its more about making sure you get the right balance and perform or challenge every single week.”
It is a standard that the individual players are accustomed to. As a club, it should prepare Western United to adapt quickly to the A-League Women.
In the pre-season game against Melbourne Victory last weekend, both sides were missing players, but Western United were able to play their own game style and had the better of the attacking chances toward the end of each half.
Young Matilda Khali Johnson was dangerous in the first half, while Hannah Keane scored a 90th minute winner to end the second.
Up against the reigning champions, Western United did not look out of place to the delight of their vocal and organized support.
Western United’s first season will be significant for a number of reasons, it is the result of long term planning, and the club has a clear purpose and mission to provide opportunities for women’s player in Western and regional Victoria. Off the field, the pieces are in place for an exciting future.
On the field, they look ready for an impressive debut season.