Sydney FC 4-0 Western United
Report by Kieran Yap, EXCLUSIVE photography from Kris Goman at CommBank Stadium for Impetus.
Above: Sydney FC lift the trophy after their Grand Final success today against Western United. Photo: Kris Goman for Impetus.
Madison Haley’s brace will get the headlines, Nat Tobin lifted the trophy, and Mackenzie Hawkesby was dominant. But this was a crowning moment for a truly dominant team.
Ante Juric has built a dynasty at Sydney FC and finished on top of the league for three seasons in a row. For each of those campaigns, they have made the Grand Final and been beaten at the last hurdle, sometimes in the last seconds.
That albatross is not off the neck of Sydney FC. There are no more questions about this team. This group of players, build around youth, and blessed with talent have now conquered all.
There is a constant discussion in Australian football, of “which matters more, the finals or the premiership?”
The premiership is a massive achievement, it takes a remarkable level of quality and consistency. You cannot win it through luck. However, the geography of Australia means that the knockout series still has value. Teams like Perth Glory and Brisbane Roar simply have harder travel schedules than the sides in Victoria and NSW, where the majority of the competition call home.
The finals give the top four teams an even chance at silverware, and by the jubilation after the whistle, and the aggression from the first, this was a title that Sydney FC desperately wanted to win.
They were on from the start. They had to be against the day’s opponent. Western United had beaten every other top-four side this season. They have been tactically versatile, dangerous in attack, and disciplined in defence. Western United boasted the golden boot winner Hannah Keane, and arguably the league’s top goalkeeper in Hillary Beale.
In midfield, they did not have the names that have interested Matildas selectors like Sydney FC, but the Taranto twins have been in sensational form in their first A-League Women season since 2018, and Jaclyn Sawacki is the captain of The Philippines national team.
In defence, Alana Cerne has done enough to be awarded a Future Matildas scholarship and Stacey Papadopoulos has carried her NPLW form seamlessly into the elite level.
There are not a lot of weaknesses in this Western United squad. Sydney FC did not take them lightly in the first final, but they were determined to come out of the blocks fast in the rematch.
Cortnee Vine was the most obvious danger for Mark Torcaso’s team. In the absence of Angela Beard, they were forced into a reshuffle. Tyla-Jay Vlajnic was one of the league’s best full-backs at Melbourne City but has been used in attack for most of her career at Western.
She moved to her old role with Danielle Steer coming onto the wing. Vine enjoyed plenty of space in the early stages. Whether the ball came over the top or was played to her feet, she was able to drive into the penalty area. Vlajnic did well to keep pace, but allowing her to run is just waiting for punishment and eventually, that came. Vine was able to win repeated corners and Mackenzie Hawkesby’s delivery made for an easy-headed finish by Haley.
The same play was repeated again soon after. This time, the corner kick was knocked away by Beall but Nat Tobin headed the rebound over the line to make it 2-0 by the 18th minute.
Western are still dangerous when wounded, and Keane was lively up front for the Victorian side. She had some half chances that she managed to direct on target, but Jada Whyman was well-positioned to save on each occasion.
It was a difficult match for Western United to get back into. Sydney FC defended deep and rarely with less than four players. They did not want to let Khali Johnson or Hannah Keane get in behind them. Sarah Hunter was composed as a holding midfielder. She applied pressure to Western’s midfield and moved the ball quickly when she had it.
Hunter basically ran the show for Sydney FC. Her passing is always decisive, her positioning is excellent and her tackling is rapidly improving. She was almost faultless in the Grand Final, and she had to be. Sydney FC’s midfield was otherwise very attacking. Rachel Lowe and Mackenzie Hawkesby often ran ahead of the strikers.
Hawkesby played her best game for some time. She has been the league’s most productive midfielder and created more chances than any other. But she has been quieter in recent weeks. Her passing range and off-ball movement was marvellous, and her set piece delivery was the difference early. She set the tone for the match.
Princess Ibini was well marshalled for most of the game by Papadopoulos, but one weaving, dangerous run into the box caused momentary panic. It was only a slight grab of the arm by the full-back, and Ibini did not go down, but the referee awarded a penalty. The Matildas winger dispatched the spot kick emphatically. It never looked like missing.
That made it 3-0 and it felt like it was a bridge too far for Western United. They continued to push for a lifeline, but Madison Haley put the final nail in the coffin with a late second. She did not have many chances in the game but took them when they came. Two goals was a good reward for the hard-working striker.
A 4-0 loss feels harsh on Western United. They will feel like they played their worst football at the biggest moment. However, nobody should lose of how far this side has come in what feels like an instant. This team was only announced in June of 2022, in that time they have assembled a brand-new team, recruited players from The Philippines, USA, Canada, and Guyana. These players have supported a group of players that are among Victoria’s best, but Australia’s most unheralded NPLW stars.
They stepped into their first A-League Women’s season as an untested side and their first game was a win against the defending champions. Mark Torcaso’s team build on that foundation to come within one game of a Championship, but they still have created history. This is the start of something for Western United, not the end.
Sydney FC simply could not be denied on this occasion. In front of a record crowd, they turned on the style while matching Western’s trademark effort. The feeling at the end must have been one of jubilation but also relief. Sydney FC are finally Champions for the first time since 2018/19. After four consecutive losses on the big day, they finally have their trophy and are the first team to win the double since Melbourne City in 2019/20.
Congratulations Sydney FC.
Kris Goman’s exclusive Grand Final photo gallery from CommBank Stadium
Teams: WESTERN UNITED (4-3-3): Beall, Papadopoulos, Cerne, Cummings, Vljanic, Sawicki, Robers, A. Taranto, Steer, Keane, Johnson. Substitutes: Dall O’ste, Sardo, Dakic, Jaber, M. Taranto.
SYDNEY FC (4-3-3): Whyman, Mclean, Fenton, Hunter, Lowe, Haley, Vine, Tobin, Hawkesby, Rule, Ibini. Substitutes: Offer (GK), de la Harpe, Hollman, I. Dos Santos, Badawiya.
Scorers: Haley 4’, 90+1’. Tobin 18’. Ibini 63’.
Referee: Casey Reibelt.