Western United beat Sydney FC and jump to the summit

Western United 2-0 Sydney FC

By Ben Carey (11/1/23)

Above: Hannah Keane unleashes a deadly strike from her left foot. Photo: Western United.

The Western United wrecking ball struck again against Sydney FC on a hot Wednesday afternoon in Victoria. This extends their winning streak to seven wins now.

Western United started out the more aggressive of the two sides, with a number of early forays into the Sydney defensive half. It was only five minutes in that Sydney was given their first real wakeup call when Jessica McDonald sliced a beautiful ball into the box that was just cleared wide by Charlize Rule.

Just after the 10-minute mark, Deborah-Anne de la Harpe made a sloppy defensive error and coughed up the ball in a dangerous position in the midfield. McDonald pounced on the opportunity and ran forward with the ball, crossing it into the box, but it was a bit too quick for Hannah Keane to catch up to and it passed harmlessly by the goal.

By now Sydney should have been well aware of the threat posed by McDonald, but they were still unable to contain her. In the 18th minute, she broke past the Sydney defensive line and crossed it into the box, which was parried away by the keeper and fell at the feet of Adriana Taranto, who patiently passed it to Keane who slotted it into the bottom right corner of the goals.

Sydney had some half-chances down the other end during the first half, often coming from the partnership of Madison Haley and Mackenzie Hawkesby, but none of them did much to trouble the Western defence or goalkeeper.

In the 35th minute, McDonald showed her speed, foot skills, and work rate yet again in a crucial sideline duel with Natalie Tobin, eventually passing off to Emma Robers who whipped a ball into the box that fell awkwardly for the Sydney backline, and they were unable to clear it. Tyla-Jay Vlajnić picked it up and passed it on to Keane who tapped it home for a second of the match. With that goal, Keane became the joint top scorer in the league alongside Melina Ayres and fellow Americans Rylee Baisden and Haley.

With Keane’s second goal, Sydney FC found themselves in a situation they hadn’t been in since March 2021, down two goals before halftime. In the last 10 minutes of the half, Sydney turned up the heat a little. Haley had a handful of chances near goals, but the form that had made her such a threat for the rest of the season completely abandoned her.

Near the end of the first half, Hawkesby took an amazing free kick from well outside the 18-yard box. She put a lot of power and loop on it, positioning it well in the top third of the goals. But the Western keeper, Hillary Beall was equal to it, pulling out a fantastic leaping save to snuff out the attempt. Cortnee Vine and Hunter also teamed up for an attempt, right before the stroke of halftime, but it was saved by Beall.

The second half started off in a rather uneventful fashion. The ball was held up in a midfield battle. It was fairly high intensity but a bit scrappy from both sides, neither managing to maintain much possession or build anything from it.  

The game came back to life in the 74th minute when Vlajnić hit an amazing high-looping corner kick that landed right on the Sydney goal line. Amidst a mad scramble of defenders and attackers, McDonald managed to connect with it, but Shay Hollman kept her cool and made a goal-line clearance to keep Sydney in the contest.

The rest of the match played out fairly routinely, with Western United defending hard and wasting time where they could. The Sydney FC fightback that everyone has come to expect never came to fruition. There was a stellar attempt on goal very late in the piece by Princess Ibini who found herself in some space and took a terrific shot at goals, unfortunately slipping at the last second, no doubt affecting her power and accuracy. Nonetheless, it had to be parried away by the keeper and it fell to Haley who could only find the side netting.

The match wasn’t quite the blockbuster we were hoping for. It ended up being a surprisingly comfortable win for Western United. We were expecting fireworks, but we got sparklers instead. That said, the match did reveal a number of key factors about both teams.

Above: Western United’s Tyla-Jay Vlajnić gets a shot in under the watchful eye of Sydney FC’s Mackenzie Hawkesby. Photo: Sydney FC.

First, the lack of Jada Whyman is extremely evident. While Katie Offer did a great job for the majority of the match, when it came to the key moments she was often too passive in goals, unlike Whyman who is always proactive and dynamic.

Second, Sydney’s defensive structure is not as strong as we first thought. It was undone several times during the match from the dynamic movement and passing from Western United. Sydney is a team that is so dangerous when they are on the offensive and they are able to keep their opponents on the back foot, but when the roles are reversed like they were today, Sydney seemed lost at sea. Whoever said “the best defence is a good offence” obviously never came up against Western United.

Finally, Western United is a team with a lot of depth and cohesion. McDonald, Keane, and Vlajnić all had stellar performances, along with Adriana Taranto, the entire Western United backline, and Beall, who made five saves against one of the most offensive teams in the league.

Speaking after the game, Sydney FC head coach Ante Juric said: “It was a disappointing performance all round. We clearly didn’t play at our best, and we had some players playing below their usual high standards.

“Western made it tough for us and I’d say deserved the win in the end. We will get back to training, learn from the loss, work harder and have a focus on our next game.”

Despite the tough loss for Sydney, they were still celebrating Ibini’s 100th match for Sydney FC. She is only the second player to have achieved that feat for Sydney, and at the age of only 22. That’s a massive achievement and one to be celebrated far and wide.

Western United will face Western Sydney Wanderers on Saturday and Sydney FC will have 10 days off to regroup before coming up against Perth Glory on January 21st.

Teams: WESTERN UNITED (4-3-3): Beall, Papadopoulos, Cummings, Cerne, Medwin, M. Taranto, Robers, A. Taranto, McDonald, Keane, Vlajnić. Substitutes: Dall’Oste, Dakic, Steer, Sinclair, Johsnon.

Scorers: Keane 18’, 35’.

Teams: SYDNEY FC (4-3-3): Offer, De La Harpe, Tobin, Mclean, Rule, Hawkesby, Hollman, Hunter, Ibini, Haley, Vine. Substitutes: Franco, Green, Stanic-Floody, Lowe, Badawiya.

Referee: Kate Jacewicz.

Attendance: 740.

Artwork by: Charlotte Stacey, founder of On Her Side.

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