With Vicki Linton at the helm, the Melbourne Victory had an excellent Season Four with only a Michelle Heyman strike, and a post or two, keeping them out of their first grand final appearance. This year season they were all set to go one better (may even two) but off-season upheaval has led to significant changes to Victorians.
When full time blew on Victory’s semi-final loss to Canberra last season, the disappointment was tempered by the direction the team was heading. Young players climbing into the Matildas ranks, some of the best imports in the league, a playing style that was the envy of most teams and arguably the successor to Tom Sermanni coaching on the sidelines.
The departure of Vicki Linton is understandable and cannot be begrudged. Into the vacancy comes former Gold Coast United A-League coach Mike Mulvey. Mulvey has already proven himself to be cool in crisis. The Victory have lost key players, through no fault of their own, in crucial positions in the off-season.
There was little the FFV could do about talking English star striker, and last season’s captain, Jodie Taylor out of not playing the Australian summer or the unavailability of commanding American midfielder Kendall Fletcher. After three seasons travelling to get a W-League game, it is fitting reward that Katrina Gorry gets to stay in her home state Queensland rather than hit the road again.
But if you were going to dismantle the 2011/12 Victory squad, those three names would be the first you’d pull from the side.
The focus now turns squarely to the Victorian talent pool of players and squad members who were looking up to the imports as their leaders. That pool is fronted by the recently capped Matildas trio of Ashley Brown, Stephanie Catley and Briana Davey.
Each will prove essential in their thirds of the pitch. Defensively the Victory remain almost unchanged. Key members of last season’s solid back four Davey, Catley, foundation member Maika Ruyter-Hooley, newly capped New Zealand international Rebekah Stott and American Danielle Johnson have all returned providing a good foundation to start from.
It is in the front half where the Victory will need to reshape their strategy. In the midfield Brown and Amy Jackson will be called on to step up as leaders with the unpredictable Caitlin Friend challenged to rise to the position of spearhead.
Support will come from products of the Victorian Premier League including Young Matilda Jackie Vogt, Australian raised Turkish international Gulcan Koca and the W-League experienced Enza Barilla.
How quickly it can all come together remains to be seen. The body of evidence has the odds stacked against the Melbourne Victory returning the Top four, and for good reason, but the highly regarded Mulvey has the raw ingredients to get results this season and beat the odds.
Victory can now look at a core of home-grown senior Matildas players as its strength for the season ahead. Brown, Catley and Davey are all teenagers but are known commodities and the most reliable three players for performance output this season. Another strength will be experience. Ruyter-Hooley, Barilla Caitlin Friend combined with internationals Stott and Koca are all players who all had varying amounts of W-League game time in the Linton years.
In short, this year’s challenge is goal scoring. Taylor’s finishing may have been questionable but her pace, and the fear she struck in opposition defences, was not. Her departure and Gorry’s leaves a large hole in the Victory arsenal. With them gone, one has to ask if state league replacements will now step up or if the youngsters can adequately fill the void.