The Australian W-League will provide soccer fans with some rare live action Saturday morning.
The league’s championship final will be contested between Melbourne City and Sydney FC. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:30 a.m. ET and the match will be streamed live on ESPN+.
Melbourne City is looking to claim its fourth title in only its fifth season playing in the W-League. With a win, City would clinch an undefeated season, which the club previously succeeded in doing during the 2015-16 season.
On the other side, Sydney FC will try to repeat its championship after beating the Perth Glory 4-2 in last year’s W-League final.
The match will be closed to spectators due to continued concerns over the coronavirus pandemic; however, it will still offer a rare opportunity for women’s soccer fans to watch a live match amidst cancellations by national federations and leagues alike.
The W-League final will also give National Women’s Soccer League fans the chance to scout a wide range of talent that will return to the league this season. Nine players from six different NWSL teams will feature in Saturday’s final.
Ellie Carpenter (Portland Thorns), Ally Watt (North Carolina Courage), Steph Catley (OL Reign), Emily van Egmond (Orlando Pride) and Claire Emslie (Orlando Pride) play for Melbourne City, while Alanna Kennedy (Orlando Pride), Aubrey Bledsoe (Washington Spirit), Veronica Latsko (Houston Dash) and Sofia Huerta (OL Reign) represent the Sydney side.
First look at North Carolina Courage first-round pick
The W-League has offered North Carolina Courage fans a sense of what new draftee Ally Watt will bring to the club. The Courage selected the Texas A&M graduate with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2020 NWSL Draft.
The midfielder went on to sign with Melbourne City at the end of January, with only three matches remaining in the W-League regular season. That shortened time didn’t stop Watt from making an immediate impact — the rookie scored three goals in four appearances, despite averaging less than 45 minutes on the pitch per game.
THAT first touch from @allymwatt 👌
Don't underestimate how good that trap was! Kinga absolutely pinged it in 😂
— Westfield W-League (@WLeague) March 1, 2020
It’s rare for a college player to jump directly into the W-League before returning for the NWSL season, and the time playing against professionals could help Watt in her adjustment to her rookie season.
Spirit GK Aubrey Bledsoe stands strong in goal
Bledsoe has been dominant between the posts for Sydney FC after he went through a frustrating finish to the 2019 NWSL campaign in which her Washington Spirit team fell a few points shy of making the playoffs.
Bledsoe has recorded eight clean sheets over 13 matches, while recording 54 saves and conceding only 13 goals.
This is the keeper’s first season in the W-League, and she’s looking to help Sydney FC notch back-to-back championships.
“The finals is just a different season, really,” Bledsoe said in a club interview ahead of the match. “It doesn’t matter how the regular season went just as long as you’re there, anything can happen. It’s just who the better team is on that day.”
"The finals is just a different season, anything can happen." 🙏
— Sydney FC (@SydneyFC) March 20, 2020
Pride midfielder Emily van Egmond roars back from injury
After starting all four games of the Australian national team’s run at the FIFA World Cup last summer, van Egmond struggled to regain her rhythm in Orlando.
She featured in three games after returning from France, logging two full 90-minute sessions and an assist while hiding a nagging ankle injury.
Unable to muscle through the pain, she informed the club of the injury in mid-August, then returned to Australia to begin rest and recovery.
Van Egmond experienced a resurgence in the W-League this season, netting six goals across 13 total games. Her play was also boosted at the international level. She scored her first-ever hat trick against Thailand on the Matildas’ way to qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics.
One, two, and three! 🎩
Watch @em_surf score her first international hat-trick. Which goal did you enjoy the most?
— Westfield Matildas (@TheMatildas) February 11, 2020
The season also gave van Egmond the opportunity to work alongside Pride teammate Claire Emslie for an extended time.
Emslie was acquired by the Pride in a midseason trade last year, but the pair only shared the pitch for 20 minutes in her debut match, and van Egmond departed shortly after to recover from her injury.
Emslie has gone through a similarly successful run in the W-League, scoring five goals and adding three assists.
Tomorrow’s match will mark the first time that both Pride stars have played in a W-League final.
Melbourne City vs. Sydney FC, 12:30 a.m.
Where: Melbourne Rectangular Stadium