The ridiculous new A-League Women’s finals series format is yet another reason to extend the season

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The new three-week finals series format, reminiscent of the A-League Men (ALM) from its first four seasons, is ultimately another cause for concern over the A-League Women’s all-too-brief regular season.

The meeting between ALW premiers Sydney FC and second-placed Melbourne City on Friday night, which coincided with the strong possibility of both sides meeting yet again this season in the grand final, only served to highlight the absurdity of the competition’s new final series format which harks back to the first four seasons of the ALM.

The unconventional semi-preliminary-grand final format was first adopted by the ALM in its inaugural season, with the only difference being the semi-final which comprised of two legs. A readjustment to the format between the 2009/10 and 2011/12 seasons saw the addition of the fifth and sixth-placed teams as well as an extra week in the series.

Although this was even more confusing a format than the previous one, it ultimately made way for the more familiar elimination-semi-grand final format used up until last season in the ALM.

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Low and behold, the former was the format that the ALW decided to go with in “extending” its current season, and upon recent discussion, has been generally praised for its addition of the double chance for the league’s top two sides.

“It is an extra game of football after all,” said former Canberra United defender Grace Gill during the Paramount+ coverage of the semi-final.

The platform’s pundits were led to discuss the extremes of its previously existing two-week format, which saw Gill’s former team United crash out of the semi-finals despite winning the Premiers Plate in the 2016/17 season, but conversely win the championship from third position in 2014.

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However, the newfound safety of a double chance in Friday night’s clash resulted in a period of extra time which failed to see either team be eliminated from the competition. In addition, the extra 30 minutes left City severely undermanned for their preliminary final next week following the red card suspensions of both goalkeeper Melissa Barbieri, as well as midfielder Tyla-Jay Vlajnic during regular time.

The announcement of the semi-final also caused scheduling chaos in the ALM, as it led to the Sky Blues’ clash with Western United at Leichhardt Oval on the same night being pushed back to next Saturday at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium; all on just four days notice.

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Ultimately, all would have been avoided if the ALW regular season was simply long enough to align more closely with the ALM, and followed the more sensible six-team finals series format which has served the ALM remarkably well for 10 seasons.

With Wellington Phoenix’s addition to the competition this year, the ALW has now evened out to same total of 10 teams which the men’s competition comprised of before the recent arrival of Western United and Macarthur FC.

For that reason, as well as the Australian Professional League’s plan for expansion next season with the addition of Western United and Central Coast Mariners, it makes good mathematical and logical sense to take the three-week ALW final series format one step further with the addition of fifth and sixth-placed teams.

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Despite finishing 14 points off the top four, Newcastle Jets coach Ash Wilson lamented the non-extension of the current season, particularly after its heavy disruption from COVID-19.

“Had there been more games, we could have got ourselves into a position where we could get through this time and then still had weeks after to build on our performance,” she said.

Intended or not, Wilson’s comments made for a daring proposition upon the proposed extended format, which, had it existed this season, could have seen a sixth-placed Brisbane Roar have the opportunity to potentially upset a top-four side in the finals despite finishing in the bottom half of the table and 16 points behind premiers Sydney FC.

This would make for a much more exciting and less predictable final series, which would rightfully see the first and second-placed team awarded with a week off, leaving the four teams below them to battle it out in a scrap during the first week of the finals.

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With enough teams already in the competition and more to come with expansion on the horizon, there has never been a better time to quickly abort this nonsensical finals series format.

Feature Image Credit: Jaime Castaneda

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Jimmy Alexander
Covering Sydney FC for the 2021/22 A-League season. Studying a Bachelor of Sports Media (Journalism) at Charles Sturt University.

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