Australia’s Westfield W-League begins play in the early hours of Thursday morning, and as has been the case during previous NWSL offseasons, a number of Portland Thorns FC players will be enjoying the summer down under.
If you need a Thorns fix between now and February, here is a brief FAQ on how to enjoy the Australian league’s season.
How does the W-League work?
From October through February, nine teams will contest the 2018-19 W-League season, a campaign that runs over 12 regular-season rounds and qualifies four teams for a single-elimination playoff. This will be 11th season for Australia’s top league, one that has allowed a number of prominent NWSL stars to ply their trade year-round.
Last season, Melbourne City won their third-straight title, besting Sydney FC 2-0 in the league’s Feb. 18 Grand Final. This season, however, City will be without midfield mainstay Jessica Fishlock, who is electing to spend the offseason with French powerhouse Lyon. Having led all midfielders in goals, last season – as well as scoring the Grand Final’s winning goal – Fishlock’s absence looms large over the 2018-19 season. She’s led City in each of the last three seasons.
Which Thorns are playing where?
After a 2017-18 offseason that saw six Thorns head to Oz, five players will return for the new campaign, with each Portland player returning to their previous club.
Midfielder Celeste Boureille is back with Brisbane Roar for a second season along with teammate Hayley Raso, who moved with Boureille from Canberra United after the 2016-17 W-League season. Last year, the duo were integral parts of Brisbane’s playoff campaign, with the Roar finishing top of the standings during the regular season before bowing out in the semifinals. Raso scored four goals in 11 games for the Roar last year, while Boureille started and played every minute of Brisbane’s season.
Both goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom and forward Caitlin Foord also featured in last season’s playoffs, with Eckerstrom starting for the third-place Newcastle Jets while Foord scored three times in seven appearances for eventual finalists Sydney FC. For Foord, it will be her seventh season with Sydney; Eckerstrom is making her first return trip down under.
And finally, Ellie Carpenter will be rejoining Canberra for a second season, having spent her first two W-League campaigns with the Western Sydney Wanderers. Canberra finished 2017-18 just outside the league’s playoffs spots, their fifth-place finish slotting them four points behind eventual champions Melbourne City. The two goals Carpenter scored for Canberra last season were the first of her W-League career.
Who’s going to be good?
If you didn’t see the pattern from the section, above, we’ll spell it out: Each team a Thorns player is on is expected to be good. At least, if past results are the true indication of future performance (author’s note: they’re not), all of Brisbane, Canberra, Newcastle and Sydney should be playoff contenders.
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And that sixth place team? They have the NWSL's all-time leading scorer, Sam Kerr. Almost every team in the W-League has established internationals and players who've established themselves among the tops in North America. The league is basically the NWSL's sister circuit.
How do I watch?
Not that any of our readers would ever use a VPN or virtual IP to do so illicitly (we feel bad for even mentioning the idea), but this year, you won’t have to. The W-League’s matches will be on ESPN+, so the subscription you purchased to watch Timbers games and T2’s matches? Congratulations, you’ll get to watch the Thorns’ Oz contingent, too.
That means the most difficult part of watching the league’s games will be the time difference. Spanning four-and-a-half hours, Australia has five different time zones, the most westwardly of which (Perth’s) is 16 hours ahead of Pacific time. On Australia’s east coast, where each Thorn will be based, the time difference is 18 hours.
Factor in different kickoff times, and W-League games will start at some strange hours. For week one, Foord and Sydney kickoff Thursday at 1:30 a.m. (vs. Western Sydney); Boureille, Raso and Brisbane face Perth Saturday at 8:30 p.m.; while Carpenter and Canberra begin their season on Saturday at 10:00 p.m. (vs. Melbourne).
Eckerstrom and Newcastle will stay out of the loss column in week one, being the week’s odd team out. For Thorns diehards, that means one fewer team to watch as the new W-League season starts.