Liberty A-League Finals Preview

Find out more about what's coming your way in the Liberty A-League Finals Series

The Liberty A-League finals series will pit established Matildas against football’s rising stars in a thrilling conclusion to the most competitive season in the competition’s history.

Matildas star Cortnee Vine and decorated fellow Australian internationals Elise Kellond-Knight, Alex Chidiac and Kyah Simon will all be battling in knock-out games for the trophy.

After 22 home-and-away rounds, a top six finals series will be implemented for the first time in the competition’s 16-season history.

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Melbourne City and Sydney FC enjoy a weekend off by virtue of finishing in the top two, and will await the winners of this weekend’s elimination finals.

Saturday matches Western United against Newcastle Jets at the Western’s recently opened Tarneit base.

Western United earned hosting rights by finishing third on the Liberty A-League ladder, albeit in the face of serious adversity as a number of star players fell injured during the season.

Matildas candidate Chloe Logarzo has been battling a hip injury for the last month and is unlikely to feature, while knee injuries for American top scorer Hannah Keane and midfielder Adriana Taranto mean both are out long term.

Western United will be relying on Kahli Johnson to find the back of the net against the Jets (Photo by Jonathan DiMaggio/Getty Images)

Western United won through to last season’s grand final on the back of a Hannah Keane goal, and will be looking to Young Matildas international Kahli Johnson to fill the scoring void. Other Western United players to watch include pacy wing back Aimee Medwin and Philippines international midfielder Jaclyn Sawicki.

Newcastle Jets enter the game with the confidence of having defeated Western United in both home-and-away matches, 4-2 in Newcastle in December and 3-1 in Tarneit in March.

Star Philippines striker Sarina Bolden scored in both matches on the way to 12 goals for the campaign for the nation’s hero of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Sarina Bolden has scored in both matches against Western this campaign (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

The Jets grabbed everyone’s attention by winning 8-0, a club record, against Adelaide in the final game of the home and away season. It continued a three-game winning streak that allowed Newcastle to leap into sixth place at the expense of Western Sydney Wanderers.

The Jets may have the form line but have never won a finals match. Under the old top four system, Newcastle only qualified for finals twice in 15 years, most recently in 2018 when they lost in extra time to Sydney FC.

An exciting group of Newcastle locals have emerged this season, with Young Matildas international Lara Gooch scoring four goals and Junior Matildas (U17) selection Emma Dundas playing 19 of 22 games at just 16 years old.

Lara Gooch has been one of many up and coming rising stars that have propelled Newcastle into the Finals (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

Melbourne-raised Melina Ayres is a proven big-game player in finals, having scored a hat-trick for former club Melbourne Victory in last season’s elimination final. In defence, Newcastle will be looking to second-gamer Tiahna Robertson in goal as American shot-stopper Izzy Nino serves the second and final game of a suspension after her high-profile scuffle with Matilda Emily Gielnik.

Sunday’s elimination final takes place at Melbourne’s Home of the Matildas ground where Melbourne Victory will face Central Coast Mariners.

Victory are an established power of the Liberty A-League, having won the grand final on three occasions and most recently in 2022.

But an up-and-down season left Victory needing to win away to Sydney FC in the final round just to qualify for the top six. Victory responded to the pressure by winning 4-0, a result that would also end up costing Sydney FC top spot on the ladder.

Victory have Matildas experience on every line of the team, albeit with injury playing a role inhibiting a number of their higher profile players through the season.

Long-time Matildas goalkeeper Lydia Williams underwent ankle surgery in late January with the goal of returning by finals, having been deputised for by emergency signing Courtney Newbon in the months since.

Emily Gielnik has eight goals this season from just 13 games but suffered a second calf injury of the season while on Matildas duty in America just this week. Veteran Matildas midfielder Elise Kellond-Knight featured in 16 games this season also, having only returned from a short-term injury at the tail end of the home-and-away season.

Rachel Lowe has 12 goals to her name this season for Victory (Photo by Jonathan DiMaggio/Getty Images)

Victory’s regulars include top scorer Rachel Lowe, the one-cap Matilda having netted 12 times in a mix of midfield and forward assignments. American-born but recently qualified Australian dual national Kayla Morrison will captain Victory from the centre of defence.

Other standouts to watch include one-cap Matildas Jamilla Rankin and Jessika Nash, three-cap Matilda winger Beattie Goad and fan favourite Alex Chidiac. Seemingly on the outer for now when it comes to Matildas selection, Chidiac will be looking to lift Victory on another finals run similar to the 2022 campaign, when her performances were too good for national selectors to ignore.

Victory beat Central Coast 2-1 at home in November, before the teams drew 1-1 in Gosford in February.

The Mariners women’s team had been in recess since 2009, revived this campaign with spectacular success.

Building a new squad from scratch, English coach Emily Husband appears a near-certainty to win coach of the year, even if the Mariners fall in the first final.

From a starting point of defensive solidarity, the Mariners won just three of their first 10 games, but thanks to the evenness of the season never lost touch with the top six.

An inspired five days in mid-January would be the turning point of Central Coast’s season as they beat Wellington Phoenix on neutral territory in Unite Round, then backed up midweek to beat Sydney FC.

Wurigumula has enjoyed a profitable season in front of goal for Central Coast (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

The Mariners have many avenues to goal, with Chinese international Wurigumula the top scorer for the season with eight, supported by a range of talents including veteran Matilda Kyah Simon (three goals), American Rola Badawiya (seven), Young Matildas speedster Peta Trimis (three) and Central Coast academy graduate Annalise Rasmussen (three).

Midfielder Izzy Gomez has been the revelation of the season, leading the league in successful tackles. The former Wanderer and Phoenix midfielder is still just 21 years old and has typified the upturn in performance the Mariners have inspired from players at their second or third A-League club.

One player who will be determined to show a former club what they’re missing will be goalkeeper Casey Dumont. It is hard to believe only a year has passed since Dumont inspired Melbourne Victory to a penalty shoot-out win against Melbourne City last season’s elimination final.

Casey Dumont will be lining up against her former side this weekend (Photo by Scott Gardiner/Getty Images)

Dumont was released from Victory in the off-season, went via the AFLW with Hawthorn, before returning to the round ball by joining Central Coast.

The shot-stopper has a peerless record in penalty shoot-outs, and should Sunday’s elimination final go the distance, Dumont looms as the ‘final boss’ standing in the way of a Victory win.

Eager onlookers this weekend are Premiers Melbourne City who will face the lowest advancing team by ladder position, while Sydney FC will face the highest advancing team in the semi-finals.

For the first time the semi-finals will have home-and-away legs, identical to the Isuzu UTE A-League Men’s finals series. All six teams are pursuing a spot in the Liberty A-League Grand Final, currently slated for Saturday May 4 at a venue to be determined.