For this week’s WA on Wednesday interviews featuring the NPLW WA clubs, Perth RedStar head coach Carlos Vega Mena spoke exclusively to Ben Gilby about their unbeaten season of 2022, preparations for the 2023 season, and how he views the NPLW WA more widely this year (12/4/23).
Above: Perth RedStar head coach Carlos Vega Mena. Photo: Fotoenzo.
Last season was about as good as it could possibly have been for Perth RedStar. The newly merged club won all four trophies available to them (one under their original guise as Northern Redbacks) as part of an unbeaten season.
Head coach Carlos Vega Mena looked back on that incredible year saying: “There is no question that the 2022 season is one the team, the club, and myself will never forget.
“Going completely unbeaten in all competitions was an obvious highlight, but the desire and togetherness of the team throughout the year was a pleasure to witness. The key achievements were winning all four major competitions available and also seeing our players be nominated for awards.”
RedStar were relentless and had that quality that all the best teams do – making the most of scoring opportunities when they came – and punishing the opposition for not taking their own. It was another outstanding campaign for the club’s legendary Larissa Walsh, who finished as the competition’s top scorer.
However, going into this season, Vega Mena’s side have lost Walsh to NPLW Victoria side Calder United, who have a strong relationship with A-League Women outfit Western United. Two other icons, Shawn Billam has retired, and Carla Bennett has suffered a serious knee injury.
The RedStar head coach reflected on those losses: “Larry’s (Larissa Walsh) goalscoring record spoke for itself last year and it was only going to be a matter of time until real external interest surrounded her talents. Calder United are a club known for developing and progressing players in Victoria so it’s great to see Larry take on the challenge of a new league while testing her own capabilities. We fully support her in her endeavours.
“Shawn is an invaluable member of the club and now holds the role of NPLWA – Women’s first team assistant coach. She works directly beside me and continues to be a massive part of our team, guiding and mentoring the players.
“Carla is in the early stages of recovery after successful surgery was performed. She was on the bench with us throughout the night series, crutches in hand, and will continue to be with us on the sidelines throughout the competition. We look forward to supporting Carla to a full recovery and plan to keep her involved with the squad as much as possible throughout the journey.”
Throughout its history, back as Northern Redbacks, the club has been renowned for spotting talent, developing young players, and giving them opportunities to perform on the highest possible stage. Vega Mena has added some significant new talent to his first-team squad. He outlined the new arrivals in Perth’s northern suburbs.
“Chiori Ikeda (midfielder/wing) and Reina Kagami (midfielder/six) both join us directly from Japan. The duo has proved to be exciting additions for far, showing real professional quality, and are a great fit with the squad.
“Chiori is 23 and is from Okinawa and spent six years at Kamimura Gakuen in Kagoshima, one of the most famous and strongest secondary schools in football in Japan. She then went to Daito Bunka University in Saitama and played there for four years as a right winger.
Reina is 25 and is a former teammate of Chiori’s from Daito Bunka University. From Ibaraki, she achieved great results with her high school and university teams. After graduating from Daito Buka University she has been playing for Enagic Ryukyu Deigos in Okinawa in Kyushu Women’s League First Division since April 2021 as a centre back and defensive midfielder.”
“Casey Webb, 32 is a former Northern Redbacks winger who was sidelined with an ACL injury. She is easing back into playing and we are very happy to have her back.
“Additionally, we are fortunate to have a strong under-21 team with some very talented players who have come through the ranks. This season has seen some new additions to the group who bring extra depth on the pitch.
“Abbey Woolley has joined us from Hyundai NTC. She provides a sound technical basis to her game and can play across multiple positions on the pitch. Natalia Vega Mena has also joined us from Hyundai NTC. She is a fast-thinking technical player who is an intelligent midfielder on the pitch. Katie Ritchie joins us from Perth SC. Katie was the captain of Perth SC’s U21s last year. She is a fast-thinking, sharp midfielder with high technical standards.”
Perth RedStar started 2023 making it through to the Night Series Grand Final against Perth SC – a game that truly had it all. Before our discussion moved to that particular showdown, the Perth RedStar head coach considered the tournament as a whole.
“The Night Series is a valuable preseason competition that gives teams an opportunity to get on the pitch and rectify any issues they may have. It was interesting to see the new faces in the squads and to see these players on the pitch. I think the competition showed that we will have a competitive season with several clubs offering up strong teams who look like they can challenge for the title.”
The final itself saw RedStar build a 2-0 lead and then suffer the heartache of conceding a late equaliser to Perth SC which forced the game into a penalty shoot-out in which Vega Mena’s side came out second best.
“The Night Series final was a good test for the squad and showed the real competitive nature the league can take on this year. I believe over the 90 minutes we had more than enough opportunities to be walking away with a trophy, but unfortunately, football doesn’t work like that sometimes.
“Both sides produced diligent displays, with chances on either end of the pitch, however, there wasn’t a winner after 90 minutes of play so it was off to penalties for an outcome. It was a tough way to finish the Night Series competition, but we played our hearts out on the pitch.”
Vega Mena views the Night Series as a barometer by which to judge the strength of the NPLW WA this season. He believes, from what he has seen so far, that the league could be extremely tight and competitive this year.
“All the teams in the league bar one or two have the potential to cause damage this season. There is a good spread of talent throughout the league, with quite a bit of player movement. It will be interesting to see how the teams perform.
You look at the youthful energy and talent of NTC, the strength of Fremantle City, Perth SC, and Balcatta – all squads that will provide good competition. Subiaco has been working hard, and Murdoch University Melville has a young squad full of energy.
“I think the league this year has the building blocks to be competitive across the board. Teams have strengthened, mentalities are stronger and teams are hungry.”
Whilst the Perth RedStar head coach would love to retain the silverware that the club still holds, he believes that player development and keeping standards high will be the best indicators of a good season.
“Player development is always a priority at the club. As a coach, helping the younger players develop and being able to give them time on the pitch is a true sign of success. They are the future of the club.
“As I have always said, we want to be able to turn up every week and perform to the standards we expect of ourselves. We continue to focus on one game at a time with the aim of being competitive and challenging every team we face.
“We have a proven philosophy that we stick to and if we can execute this every week with a sprinkle of individual brilliance here and there, we can look forward to hopefully another successful year.”