Melbourne Victory look poised to end their torrid W-League history of late and bring back the glory days of the 2013/14: the only time they have been crowned Champions.

Although Victory managed to avoid a third consecutive wooden spoon last season, head coach Jeff Hopkins will be determined to end a four year draught without finals football. With fresh captures and the return of reliable workers, the sky’s the limit for this outfit.

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Last Season
Regular season: 7th

They’ll win the league because…
Victory’s new look midfield and the mere presence of a handful of personnel from the national set up will give them a huge lift.

Dani Weatherholt adds experience and stability from America’s top flight while familiar faces MelindaJ Barbieri, Ella Mastrantonio, Grace Maher and Christine Nairn have gifted head coach Jeff Hopkins the perfect selection nightmare. This midfield will look to rectify the lack of chances created for striker Natasha Dowie last season.

With the 2019 Women’s World Cup looming on the horizon, Matildas’ Laura Alleway, Casey Dumont and Emily Gielnik will be looking to be in the best form of their careers. Their performances and positive influence over their teammates will need to remain at a high standard if they are to remain in serious contention for Alen Stajcic’s squad.

They’ll be cellar dwellers because…
Their attacking impetus could be their greatest downfall.

Despite Victory scoring in all but two games last season, an over-commitment up front often saw their opponents overwhelm Hopkins’ side whenever Victory was dispossessed. Fullbacks were often found marauding up front to support their outfield counterparts, leaving only the pair in centre defence to hold the fort.

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With the season underway in less than a week, moulding the perfect defence structure could be the final piece of the puzzle for this Victory side.

The initial two rounds against Adelaide and Newcastle are not only crucial test beds for the backline, but are a good benchmark when they face powerhouses City and Sydney in the subsequent rounds. With only 14 rounds to play, results early in the campaign could go a long way in their title push… or collapse.

Talk around the water cooler… look smart in front of your colleagues with this valuable piece of information
MelindaJ Barbieri is spelt correctly. The J found its way into the 18 year old’s name thanks to her father’s name, Joe. It’s pronounced as Melinda Jay. Or you can just call her Melinda, as she’s more commonly known around the league.

The off-season brought…
A good mix of fresh and familiar faces.

Tricky midfielder Christine Nairn returns to the club for a fourth season. Tagging along with her is Nairn’s former Orlando Pride teammate, the combative midfielder, Dani Weatherholt. At her second stint at the club, rugged defender Samantha Johnson completes the American trio who have all clocked miles in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).

Local talent comes in the form of Canberra United’s Grace Maher. Having captained the Young Matildas and with four years of W-League experience under her belt, the 19-year-old looks set to provide balance and brains to the centre of the park.

Throughout last season, head coach Jeff Hopkins has kept faith in Melina Ayres, Annabel Martin, Angela Beard and 16-year-old Kyra Cooney-Cross. The retention of the quartet this season spells Victory’s desire to hone these young prospects for Victory’s long term success.

One of the best crossers in the game, Gielnik reunifies with Hopkins after her 12 year affinity with Brisbane Roar, in which four of those saw the pair work together. Fresh from her outstanding season at Avaldsnes IL, where she netted eight goals in 19 appearances, the winger will look to get into the habit of swinging balls in towards the clinical Natasha Dowie.

Key player
Having committed two more years with the club, Natasha Dowie looks set to further increase her tally as Melbourne Victory’s all time leading goalscorer. A favourite of the Victory faithful, Dowie will spearhead Melbourne’s attack with incisive movements and clinical finishing. The English striker has been capped 14 times by the national team with a decent return of five goals. Expect her to be amongst the league’s top scorers again.

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One to watch
Kyra Cooney-Cross.

The 16-year-old starlet had a whirlwind 17/18 season. Last year, she signed her maiden W-League contract, went on to feature in all 12 of Victory’s matches, rounded off her season with two goals and was nominated for the NAB Young Footballer of the Year. But she isn’t just done yet.

With aspirations to play for the Matildas, she already has trained with them thanks to an invite from veteran striker Lisa De Vanna. Armed with brilliant ball control, the serial finisher doesn’t hesitate to tap on her pace and strength to beat players on her foray up front she is bound to get heads turning. Forget the need for a “Sam Kerr” comparison, this girl could be a star in her own right.

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Full squad list

GOALKEEPERS: 1. Casey DUMONT, 20. Beth MASON-JONES

DEFENDERS: 4. Alexandra GUMMER, 5. Laura ALLEWAY, 6. Annabel MARTIN, 8. Angie BEARD, 16. Samantha JOHNSON,

MIDFIELDERS: 7. Christine NAIRN, 11. MelindaJ BARBIERI, 17. Dani WEATHERHOLT, 18. Grace MAHER, 24. Ella MASTRANTONIO,

FORWARDS: 
9. Natasha DOWIE, 10. Kyra COONEY-CROSS, 14. Melina AYRES, 15. Emily GIELNIK, 19. Lia PRIVITELLI,

Ins and Outs

INS: Dani Weatherholt (Orlando Pride), Christine Nairn (Orlando Pride), Ella Mastrantonio (South Melbourne FC), Grace Maher (Canberra United), Emily Gielnik (Avaldsnes IL), Samantha Johnson (Utah Royals FC)

OUTS
Gülcan Koca (Retired), Joen Ga Eul, Laura Spiranovic, Christina Gibbons, Kirsten McNabb, Whitney Knight, Tiffany Eliadis

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Journalism undergrad at Monash University, Kai is a multimedia journalist covering Melbourne Victory. Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund. Once "stole" Shinji Kagawa's plane ticket.