The W-League weekend in 280 characters or less
Victory kicked off the round with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Adelaide, Canberra recaptured their spark by defeating Western Sydney 3-0, Brisbane snuck into the top four after a 3-2 win over Melbourne City, and Sydney FC stayed top after downing Newcastle 2-0.
Anyone familiar with Victoria's NPLW competition knows that Catherine Zimmerman is a baller. The American import, who's plied her trade with Calder United since 2018 and won back-to-back Golden Boots, got her first shot at the W-League this season with Melbourne Victory thanks to the pandemic making international visa players from abroad harder to land.
And while she took a game or two to settle in, Zimmerman is now showing the star quality that saw her picked up by Sky Blue FC in the NWSL in 2016, where she played alongside the likes of Matildas captain Sam Kerr, USWNT legend Kelley O'Hara and Manchester United winger Leah Galton.
- W-League on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)
- Lynch: Zimmerman, Morrison offer NCAA stars alternative route
Not only did she win the foul that ultimately led to her scoring the game-winning goal late in the match (U.S. audiences can stream a replay of this match on ESPN+), but up until that point, Zimmerman was one of the stand-out players in an overall stand-out performance by Victory -- a promising response to last week's 6-0 drubbing by Brisbane Roar.
Zimmerman is now Victory's leading goal-scorer and tied equal-second on the W-League Golden Boot tally. But if her 78 goals in 56 games for Calder over the last three years is anything to go by, she won't stay there for long.
Although the 2020-21 W-League campaign has been characterised by unpredictability, one constant presence throughout the first half of the season -- just as they have been a constant presence in the top four since the league began -- has been Sydney FC.
Following their 2-0 win over Newcastle on Sunday night, the Sky Blues remain the only club to have won each of their opening four games (which also happens to be a new record for the W-League side). Their goal-difference is equally as impressive: even though they've played one game fewer than seven of the other eight teams, Sydney have conceded just one goal and scored nine, making their GD of +8 the highest in the league so far.
And they've done it all despite the fact that last season's top goalscorer and Golden Boot winner, Remy Siemsen, has been experiencing her own goal drought -- until yesterday, that is, where she scored Sydney's second goal to secure all three points at Cromer Park in Manly; a ground she's more than familiar with, having emerged onto the scene through Manly United in the NPLW.
Like Emily Gielnik, Siemsen is a big confidence player whose own floodgates tend to open once she's on a roll, so as the NSW-based teams start to move out of their own state bubble to face other sides for the first time this campaign, the Sky Blues will be hoping their No. 9 continues to find the back of the net when coming up against deadlier teams in order to maintain top spot and potentially win their first Premiership in ten seasons.
Conceding three goals for your new club within 40 minutes of your debut is probably not the way Wanderers goalkeeper Sarah Willacy imagined Saturday afternoon going. Despite becoming a fan favourite in South Australia, having pulled off a string of memorable, acrobatic saves in the four seasons since her first start for the Reds in 2016-17, she made the move to Western Sydney in the offseason, perhaps with her sights set on her first ever finals appearance.
Well, she might have to wait a little bit longer for that based on the first half of the Wanderers' season. In fact, Willacy is probably kicking herself for leaving Adelaide just as the squad has started to hit form. The Reds currently sit third on the ladder, nine points ahead of the Wanderers in eighth, thanks in part to the recruitment of veteran keeper Sian Fryer-McLaren who stepped into the void Willacy left behind.
The three goals shipped by Western Sydney against Canberra on Saturday means they've now conceded the most goals in the competition (13). That would be okay if they were putting them away at the other end, but they aren't doing that, either, having scored just three goals in five games (one more than bottom-placed Perth Glory, who have two games in hand). Hopefully Willacy's first appearance for the club is just shaking off the rust and she'll be back to pulling off those ridiculous saves as the second half of the season begins.
Look, I'm no conspiracy theorist, but after what happened on Friday night I'm probably going to start taping over my laptop's camera, too.
For anyone who missed it (which would be surprising given this moment exploded into dozens of memes within minutes), towards the end of the first half of Adelaide's game against Melbourne Victory, the Fox Sports broadcast feed once again cut out. This is basically part-and-parcel of watching the W-League these days, and I recall feeling a kind of tired resignation when it happened this week as opposed to the shock and rage that had coloured my previous reactions over the last few weeks. However, instead of simply fading to black and pivoting to male-dominated sports ads like they did the previous two times, what audiences around the world saw on Friday was the interior of a mysterious man's bedroom.
WHO'S THAT GUY!? pic.twitter.com/H8xreuckf7— A-League Memes (@TheRealALM) January 29, 2021
The man, dubbed "Tuba Guy" because of the presence of the brass instrument in the background, took up the entire screen for a good 30 seconds as he clicked away at his computer. It's not known whether Tuba Guy realised what was happening, or if he was somehow responsible for the broadcast issue, or if he is involved in Fox Sports at all. But Australia's online sport community is small, so he no doubt knows by now that tens of thousands of people have gained a unique insight into his private life.
Luckily, as several people pointed out, he seemed to be in the middle of working when his camera randomly turned on instead of participating in another, um, horn-based activity. As mentioned, Tuba Guy became a meme almost instantly, spawning multiple tuba-based jokes and even a "W-League Tuba Guy" Twitter account.
Honestly, I feel bad for Tuba Guy. Imagine it: You're working away in your makeshift home office on a Friday night when, all of a sudden, your face becomes the symbol for an organisation that has become almost universally hated in Australia for the complete disdain with which they treat its top domestic football leagues. But if there's anything Tuba Guy can take from this experience, it's that he plays exactly the right type of instrument that encapsulates Fox Sports' repeated broadcasting cock-ups: Womp, womp, womp.
Here's the tea
There's an old parable of a man who lived in a house next to a river. One day, there was a radio announcement that the river was rising and would flood the town, and that all locals should flee.
"Oh, no," said the man, "I'm religious, I pray. God loves me, God will save me."
The water rose up, forcing the man to climb to the roof of his house. A neighbour in a row-boat floated past and shouted at the man, "Hey, you! The town is flooding! Jump in my boat and I'll take you to safety!" But the man shouted back, "oh, no. I'm religious, I pray. God loves me, God will save me," and the neighbour rowed away.
A helicopter flew overhead and a person with a megaphone shouted, "Hey, you! The town is flooding! Let me drop this ladder and pull you to safety!" But the man shouted back that he was religious, he prayed, that God loved him and that God will save him. The helicopter flew off.
In the end, the man drowned. And when he stood at the gates of heaven, the man asked God why this happened. God said: "I sent you a radio report, a neighbour in a row-boat, and a helicopter. What the hell are you doing here?"
What the hell is Australian football doing here? This is the third time in just over a month that Fox Sports has appeared in one of these columns. Thousands of words have been written about how the relationship between the broadcaster and the professional leagues has deteriorated, almost to the point of no return. And while the A-League has certainly experienced a drop-off in quality over the years (fewer cameras, fewer preview/review shows, etc) the W-League has -- predictably -- suffered the brunt of it.
Friday night's Tuba Guy cameo was the latest in a string of extraordinary broadcast bungles that have cast a dark shadow over what is one of the most intriguing and exciting W-League seasons in the last few years. Despite the loss of big-name Matildas and internationals, the quality of the league itself has arguably not dropped by much, if at all. In fact, the number of Goal Of The Season contenders, particularly those scored by younger players, is probably the highest it's been in several seasons; a sign that this emerging crop of local talent is taking their opportunity with both hands and providing the league's long-suffering fans with some unforgettable moments.
But the brilliance of the W-League -- the rise and fall of clubs and players, the induction of new coaches, the league-wide narratives that speak to the growing vibrancy of women's sport in Australia and around the world -- is being completely undermined by the deliberate decisions made by Fox Sports to treat the league as though it were a fringe competition undeserving of consistent, professional coverage.
In fact, a number of W-League games are not produced by Fox Sports at all. Instead, they have shunted responsibility onto contracted companies like BarTV, which is primarily a producer of grassroots and lower-tier sports broadcasts (identifiable by their single-camera streams, lack of replays and highlights, etc). Fox Sports, it seems, doesn't even care enough to do the work themselves.
Sure, Fox Sports have had to undertake cost-cutting exercises recently (which explains the increased involvement of the "cost-effective" BarTV), but so has every other major sports broadcast network in the world. Yet this is the one women's league of any Australian code that is experiencing this kind of neglect. Unsurprisingly, this is only a W-League issue -- the same back-room broadcast deals have not been made for the A-League.
Following Friday's disaster, Leagues boss Greg O'Rourke released an illuminating statement: "APL appreciate the commitment made by Fox Sports to the Westfield W-League by extending the number of games broadcast beyond the contracted agreement. Unfortunately, this extension of coverage seems to have resulted in various technical challenges. The Westfield W-League is the premium women's sports league in the country and an incident during coverage last night did not meet that standard."
Fox Sports, then, appear to be going above-and-beyond to show the W-League even when they don't legally or technically have to. Should we be grateful, then, that they're showing something at all -- even if that "something" is of such poor quality that it requires weekly statements from leading figures in the game?
No. The W-League is not a charity case and it's no longer acceptable that the game's main broadcaster is treating it like one. The story that opened this section is a story about trusting the signs. Fox Sports' one-year broadcast contract ends at the end of the current season, at which point clubs will be free to negotiate with other interested parties.
The power, then, is in the hands of the sport: A rare opportunity for professional football to dictate its own future rather than have it dictated to them (Fox Sports has had enormous influence over the leagues over the past 15 years from the insistence on summer seasons, fixture make-ups, stadium usages, and kick-off times). But if the Leagues continue to ignore the obvious signs that Fox Sports no longer cares about their products, they'll only have themselves to blame when they drown.
Is there a gif of that?
Too much time has been spent focusing on off-field negativity, so I wanted to end this week's column with a display of total joy: Siemsen's celebration after breaking her nine-game goal drought on Sunday. And to top it all off, she did it in front of family and friends and a community that adores her.
This is why the W-League matters.
loved this celebration by @remyysiemsen after scoring her first goal in nine games. the look of relief on her face and the joy of her team-mates says it all. and to do it on home turf at Cromer Park, too! how good!!! #SYDvNEW pic.twitter.com/e6LqsmMxt2— Samantha Lewis (@battledinosaur) January 31, 2021