For the latest in our series of Midweek Dub interviews with A-League Women players and coaches, Melbourne City’s Leticia McKenna spoke exclusively to Impetus’ Jonathan Tay about how City are aiming to return to the Grand Final this season and her own growth as a player and individual (23/11/22).
Above: Leticia McKenna in possession for Melbourne City against cross-town rivals Melbourne Victory last season. Photo: Melbourne City.
From both a team and individual perspective, Melbourne City’s Leticia McKenna is raring to go in this season’s A-League Womens competition.
Though City finished second at the end of the regular fixtures in 2021/22, they were eliminated at the Preliminary Final stage, during an injury-hit first season in Sky Blue for McKenna. This season though, she’s feeling back to 100 percent.
“We’re even more hungry than last season,” McKenna emphasised. “We’re fired up, ready to get started. We want to win, that’s our goal – there’s really nothing less that we’ll settle for.”
In this one-on-one chat, McKenna delved into a number of topics, including the Sky Blues’ promising run last time out, the eager anticipation for 22/23, her own game, her coach Rado Vidosic (speaking prior to today’s announcement about his interim role with City’s men’s team), and her goals she’s looking at for this next year and beyond.
In 2021/22, Melbourne City were impressive in finishing as runners-up by just two points to Sydney FC at the end of the regular season, displaying a distinct possession-based style of football.
“A lot of girls really stood up and became key players for us, and that’s something we’ll continue working on this year,” McKenna said. “We want to hold the ball, we want teams to press us and we want to control the tempo. We’re a very attacking team once we go forward, so for us it’s about retaining the ball and picking the right moments to score goals.”
Whilst they nominally lined up in a 3-4-3 formation for the majority of the season, McKenna was quick to point out their focus on style of play over shape, prioritising ball circulation and a high pressing strategy.
“Last season we used a few different formations and I think that’s something we’re able to adapt to. It’s really fun and enjoyable for us to play in and makes it harder for our opponents – that’s something we like to have in our locker, having multiple playing styles. It’s about keeping the ball, moving it as quickly as possible, and making the opposition run.”
Despite the second-place finish, it was a relatively disappointing finish to the season however, losing consecutive games in the finals series, to usual suspects Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory.
“For us I think it’s those one-percenters,” McKenna reflected. “That’s what we’re working on in training. Those things that let us down in key moments, we’re really refining from the start, and I think once we nail these it’ll be evident in how we play.”
“As a collective maybe just a little bit of a lapse in certain times during the game, and I think if we defend and attack as a unit altogether it will be quite hard to break through this season.”
“We have a lot of drive and hunger, especially coming so close last year and falling short just at the end.”
With a somewhat settled squad heading into the new season, McKenna’s hope is that building on City’s familiarity with principles of play will take them that one step further.
“For us, when we have the ball, it’s about that composure – we get around each other so that we’re supporting options,” the attacking midfielder summed.
“It’s just about backing yourself and having confidence on the ball. We have phenomenal players who can change a game at any point, so it’s about being an option and keeping possession.”
As mentioned in our 22/23 A-League preview though, whilst City were the most ball-dominant side last season, they were only a middling fifth in goal-creating and shot-creating actions, and fourth in expected goals.
McKenna noted, “[This season] it’s about getting forward and scoring as many goals as possible – we want to be an attacking team. I think it’s in the final third where the magic happens: what can we create, how many chances can we make.”
Key to that improvement is the bolstering of Melbourne City’s squad with the addition of carefully-chosen new signings, particularly in forward areas.
“They’ve rocked up and absolutely fitted straight into our team. The way they present themselves and their standards are extremely high,” said an impressed McKenna.
“It’s really great to have them all a part of this season. They’re all very exciting players, and they’ll be key for us moving forward.”
A big drawcard for a number of these moves was seemingly City’s head coach, Rado Vidosic, who has today been announced as the club’s men’s team interim head coach. The likes of Australian international Karly Roestbakken, New Zealander Katie Bowen, and Young Matilda Bryleeh Henry all made note of the experienced boss as a key reason for them joining.
McKenna, speaking before the announcement today, emphasised the impact Vidosic had on the squad. “Rado, just the way he presents himself, he’s so accommodating and I feel he knows how to get the best out of us.”
Whilst at present it is unknown how long the Croatian-born coach will be concentrating on City’s A-League Men’s side, it is clear that the influence he had and the esteem he is held in by his players is immense.
“Whether that’s training or off the field, he’s very caring, and a wealth of knowledge when it comes to football. The way he conducts himself on the field as well, he sees the future for us, he believes a lot in who he brings aboard, and he’s just a phenomenal person.
“I’ve learned a lot from him, [even] in my first few weeks I was there last season, learning a new playing style as well, with our “10s” and how we go forwards,” the youngster said.
“The way he looks after us and what he shares is something I’m very grateful for because I feel like he’s taken me to another level with my football; I’m developing in ways I wouldn’t have in the past.”
At her signing announcement before the start of the 21/22 A-League season, McKenna declared, “I want to be challenged and continue to be pushed outside my comfort zone”. She certainly got what she asked for; not only beginning life in a new city and at a highly competitive club, but having to deal with injuries and pain all season long.
“Definitely being pushed outside my comfort zone in this environment all the time – with such a high level squad, [there is] a lot of competition for positions,” McKenna reviewed. “Being away from home without family, living with your teammates is the best; there’s always something new, but it definitely does get challenging sometimes.”
“I was carrying niggles last season, a stress fracture that lingered through the season. Again, in the last six months I’ve had a few more stress reactions which seemed to be back. But coming into this season, I’ve had really good support staff and a medical team – they’ve been looking after me.”
She’s looking forward to playing refreshed and unencumbered, continuing to display the talent, vision and ball control that was evident in parts, during her first campaign with City.
“For me it’s just been about getting back from injury, the last six months especially have been draining mentally and physically. I’m just excited to be able to get back on the training field and work my way up through match minutes, just getting back on the ball, getting more touches in training, and working on parts of my game I want to improve for the season.
With the departure of Football Fern Rebekah Stott to England, one area where Melbourne City are looking slightly thin is in the centre of the park. McKenna has split her time across both midfield and forward positions, and despite her injuries, saw her role and minutes increase throughout last season. This time round, she’s looking to step up even further for her side, wherever she is required.
“This season I’ll definitely still be up in the attacking half whether that is in midfield or slightly higher. It will be a bit of interchange with different playing styles – it’s good to be versatile in our playing system. For me my best asset is in midfield, playing balls, and vision. I think we have a very attacking squad, so it’s very exciting for us.
“It’s about being attacking, going forward, getting on the ball as much as possible, and creating chances and opportunities, I think that’s something really fundamental for our team.”
“It always is a confidence boost when you’re in and around the starting eleven consistently, and I know for me injuries were a big part of last season. So it’s been really good to find rhythm again and get back on the field [in preseason]. As a team moving forward we’re such a talented squad, so it’ll be really exciting to see what happens.”
In the short term, the 20-year-old isn’t looking too far ahead; simply getting back to playing football with a full bill of health is the first priority.
“My goal this season is just to get on the park as much as possible,” McKenna tempered. “Work my way up through match minutes and really just enjoy being back out there. It’s been a long six months to 12 months of missing action, being in and out.”
Those stress reactions meant she devastatingly missed out on the U20 World Cup in Costa Rica, though she was in and around training camps in the months leading up to it. Seeing the experience over there has made her think about her own international future, as well as potentially playing abroad down the track.
“Unfortunately injuries held me back from [the U20 World Cup]. But it was good to be a part of the camps when I was able to play. They did so well when they went over, and it was still quite special to be part of that story and journey.
“Looking forward, my goal is to eventually play overseas one day. Something that I’m starting to look into and do a bit more research on before grabbing at something – it again depends on my body and hopefully staying injury free. Matildas is always something you strive for, but there are steps before that, and that is playing consistently, playing well, and ensuring I’m in the best possible position.”
McKenna, like a lot of fans of the game, is hyped for the Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. She’s also looking forward to pitching herself against a number of homecoming Matildas in the A-League this season, and feels having the biggest tournament in our backyard will only further grow the women’s game. The Perth native recalled some of her own experiences coming up in Western Australia, with a certain green-and-gold captain part of that journey.
“It’s really exciting that they’ll be on home soil, and to see that there are Matildas coming back to play A-League Women’s this year. I think it will be great for them, and great for the crowd and atmosphere. When they’re here there’s more excitement and drive. You always want to be at your best, but I think it’s great what they bring to the league and it’s standard.”
THE GAME IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA
“For me coming through the ranks in WA (Western Australia), was very exciting. At that point, I was lucky enough to play with Sam Kerr, and she brought in some amazing internationals that really grew Perth Glory I felt.
“WA is growing, it’s getting better, there’s a lot more youth coming through the ranks and getting into Junior and Young Matildas camps, which is amazing to see. There’s a lot more time going into developing young women over there and I think eventually WA will start producing more [players].
“Sam has always been a role model for me from a young age; playing with her, watching her, the way she is off the park, she is just amazing. There are aspects I would love to have from her, and there’s things I try to copy and aspire to be like.
“For me, [playing in the A-League] was definitely hard at the start but I quickly learned you have to grow up quite fast in these environments and that’s something I really enjoyed; getting to meet new people, the football and the memories have all been amazing and it’s something you can never take for granted. I finally feel like I’m quite comfortable at City, but still being pushed, developing me both on and off the field.”