Sofia Sakalis: Growing as a player with good times ahead

Perth Glory’s Sofia Sakalis spoke to Ben Gilby about last season’s challenges based in a New South Wales hub, her growth as a player, and life in Western Australia as the season moves towards its conclusion (21/3/23).

Above: Sofia Sakalis in possession for Perth Glory against Western United at Macedonia Park this season. Photo: Tom McCarthy.

Sofia Sakalis is one of an exciting group of youngsters with the ability to light up Australian women’s football for a long time to come. The 20-year-old Perth Glory midfielder has overcome an ACL injury and is becoming an increasingly influential part of the Glory attack.

Sakalis, an East Melbournian, made her debut in what was then the W-League as a 15-year-old for Melbourne City and has produced some hugely impressive performances for the age group Matildas teams down the years.

A tally of 12 goals in eight appearances for the Junior Matildas, and a further two caps for the Young Matildas marked her out as a player of real potential.

Whilst her time at Melbourne City started under the tutelage of Joe Montemurro, who has since gone on to lead Arsenal and Juventus, Sakalis took up the game in her own backyard along with her brothers. Having a father who coached the sport only helped to channel her into playing.

Above: Sofia Sakalis in action for the Young Matildas. Photo: La Trobe University.

Having made a total of five appearances across four seasons with the Sky Blues, Sakalis made the decision to look for more game time away from her home city. She became one of the first of an exciting crop of young players to move across to Western Australia (WA) and join Perth Glory. Making 13 appearances and scoring a goal, she was living up to expectations as a notable next-gen talent of the competition.

Yet last season came with significant challenges. What was originally a move to the other side of the country soon turned into something very different as Western Australia’s state borders closed due to the pandemic, forcing Glory into a hub in New South Wales (NSW) for virtually the whole season. I asked Sakalis what this whole process was like for her personally, and for the wider Perth team.

“A big reason I decided to move to WA was to get out of my comfort zone and immerse myself in a new experience and a new challenge. I found that as a result of this, I grew a lot as a footballer and person.

“It was challenging moving to NSW and staying in a hub for an extended period. We had to stay in a hotel setting with no transport for months, we were quite isolated, and a lot of the players were away from their families and jobs. In addition, we had to play countless away games and never got the advantage of playing a home game.

“Under these circumstances, it would be easy to turn on each other and to some extent give up but I think what stood out the most with our team is that we became more united,

“We built a bond that became unbreakable and I think the multiple games we won while we were ‘on the road’ and our position on the ladder at the end of the season despite not being able to be in Perth was a testament to the team’s character.”  

Sofia Sakalis on Perth Glory’s experiences during 2021/22.

“We had an amazing team culture last season and I think what made us so strong was all the adversity we had to overcome together. The difficult circumstances united us and made us stronger; we had that underdog mentality and knew that most teams would not be as threatened by us due to the circumstances and having to relocate mid-season. However, we used that to our advantage and went into every game with the mentality to win and we played some of our best football whilst being in NSW.”

After a successful A-League Women season, one which the 20-year-old readily admits saw her grow both on and off the pitch, Sakalis returned to Victoria to play for Box Hill United in the NPLW Victoria. It was a club she was thrilled to represent once more.

“I played in my junior years at Box Hill with the boys, so I was already familiar with the club and knew they were a tight-knight community who always had players’ best interest at heart. Therefore, returning there was a no-brainer, and they were very supportive and assisted me in maintaining the progress I had made whilst I was in Perth.

Above: Sofia Sakalis (right) in action for Box Hill United against FV Emerging in the NPLW Victoria last season. Photo: Passion Creations.

“We also had another three A-League Women players, which was great for the club and raised the standards. I was given freedom on the pitch as a creative and attacking midfielder which enabled me to score and assist goals and led to me winning the gold medal as (joint best player in the competition) with my teammate Sarah Cain.”

After another hugely positive period of her career in Victoria’s NPLW, Sakalis returned to Western Australia and has finally been able to experience life in the city and wider state, as well as being able to play home matches a year later than planned. It’s a location that she is enjoying and reaping the benefits of.

“I have loved exploring Perth and being able to stay here for the duration of the season this time. It is very different to Melbourne, but I have always liked that about it, the beaches are sensational and this season I have been living in Fremantle which I have really enjoyed.”

Perth Glory’s season has been one of two halves. Going into the campaign tipped by some to make the Finals, a squad with huge potential were not quite able to put together the 90-minute performances required to put the points on the board that they might have. However, since December, the purples began to fire and impose their quality on the competition.

It’s a situation that you sense causes Sakalis some frustration. “A lot was expected from us coming from last season and we recruited well but just weren’t able to show that in early games. We have been working really hard in training and have been pushing each other and that has shown in recent results and games, I think we still have a lot more to show and prove to everyone.”

Above: Sofia Sakalis drives in the ball at home to Newcastle Jets. Photo: Tom McCarthy.

In terms of her own performances this season, Sakalis is growing into her new role in the team and is beginning to stamp her class on the competition, although, as she revealed, her prime focus is getting minutes and growing.

“In recent games, I have been playing in a position I haven’t played in since I was very young,” she admitted. “Therefore I have had to adjust my game a bit. However, I always enjoy a new challenge and being versatile.

“Since doing my ACL, my focus has been to play as many games as I can and keep building on each performance. Each season I feel like I keep maturing and growing as a footballer and I have felt stronger and fitter this season. My focus has been on starting and playing 90-minute games week in and out and aiming every game to create goal-scoring opportunities whether that be a goal or an assist.”

As Perth Glory’s form and consistency continues to develop, the Victorian youngster believes that there are good things to come as the season heads towards its climax.

“I believe that we have all the answers within the team, we have great footballers within the squad and it is about transferring our training performances into games and sometimes that takes some time.”

Artwork: Charlotte Stacey, founder of On Her Side.

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