Adelaide United Liberty A-League 2021/22 season recap

When the dust eventually settles and the heartache becomes a little easier to accept, 2021/22 will be reminisced upon with immense pride.

Sure, in the immediate aftermath, emotions run high and the overriding sensation is disappointment and frustration following its home semi-final defeat to Melbourne Victory. Even now, nearly a week later.

But Adelaide United experienced its most successful season in every statistical category to date in its 14-year history to finally secure an elusive finals appearance.

Nine wins. 27 points. Third place. 

You cannot deny the marked improvement.

This was by no means a coincidence, but a plan years in the making ultimately coming to fruition through hard work and dedication. United has been trending in a positive direction since an overhaul of the women’s program in 2017. First under Ivan Karlović and later bolstered and expedited by his successor and incumbent Head Coach, Adrian Stenta.

Adelaide agonisingly missed out on a finals spot in 2021 by one goal with Stenta at the helm. It was well-documented, but something that does not need to be spoken about anymore.

He and the existing Reds from that campaign, led by Captain Isabel Hodgson, were determined to right the wrongs and ensure history would not repeat itself this time around.

Holistically the season can be viewed as a success, even if there is a sense of what might have been.

Despite the premature ending, when the totality of the year and analysis is undertaken with a microscope – the campaign was a success and positive steps were made on a number of fronts. 

Players improved. Goals were scored in prolific fashion. We had two players in Fiona Worts (13) and Chelsie Dawber (10) reach double figures for the inaugural time, which subsequently produced a maiden Golden Boot winner. More clean sheets were kept than previously recorded, thanks to a resolute defensive line and goalkeeper – aptly dubbed MaKayla Anne Hodgson. Not to mention Adelaide played some free-flowing, high-intensity football.

Yes, the discontent that lingers from the finals exit still hurts. Perhaps magnified by the fact the defeat occurred at Coopers Stadium and the Reds were the higher seed – finishing three points clear of their opponents in the regular season – as well as beating them 3-0 just two weeks earlier.

However, pedigree counts and Victory are the holders.

So before you can run, you do have to walk – that expression unfortunately rings true in this context. Maybe the path to prosperity requires a few more setbacks before a championship can be achieved.

The Reds will only learn from its shortcomings and be better for it in the long run and indeed next year.

A summary of the season that was 2021/22…

Adelaide’s start to the campaign was far from ideal. A disjointed pre-season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic meant getting players into the country was difficult. A 5-1 thumping against Melbourne Victory proved a mere anomaly once United had its strongest team on the park.

The Reds avenged that loss with a dramatic 2-1 triumph over Canberra United, courtesy of goals Nanako Sasaki and Emily Condon. Defeat followed in the Reds’ next visit to Victoria losing 3-1 to Melbourne City.

Stenta’s side began 2022 in emphatic style with Dawber’s first-half brace inspiring United to a 4-2 win against Perth Glory. This coincided with Dylan Holmes and Kayla Sharples featuring for the first time, having got up to full fitness after completing quarantine, and provided are more accurate indication of what this team could be capable of. 

A resilient 3-1 victory in the nation’s capital ensued a week later, and a first since 2014, but a narrow 1-0 loss to City prevented a third straight win.

Adelaide then responded with a three-game winning streak and remarkably did not concede in that stretch, beginning with newcomers Wellington Phoenix, and back-to-back 3-0 triumphs over away at Western Sydney Wanderers and on home soil against Newcastle Jets.

Adelaide would embark on an energy-sapping three-match road trip in eight days which would take them to Gosford, Brisbane and Wollongong. 

Controversy marred the Reds 1-0 defeat to Perth Glory, and the less said about the game the better. 

With a chip on its shoulder, Adelaide made amends with a statement 8-2 trouncing of Brisbane Roar, headlined by five goals from Worts – a phenomenal individual performance. They backed that up with a 4-1 rout of the Phoenix after the initial fixture was postponed due to a severe thunderstorm.

A convincing 3-0 win over Victory in the penultimate round proved how far the team had progressed since Round 1, with Worts starring with a hat-trick, before an understrength side pushed ladder leaders Sydney FC but went down 1-0.

The challenge now will be to build on the foundations that have been laid. 

With an astute recruitment process and the right additions to complement the continuity established in the squad, one would confidently assume Adelaide will be amongst the contenders again.

Onwards and upwards from here.