New arrivals boost Melbourne Victory on and off the field

Melbourne Victory A-League Women coach Jeff Hopkins says the arrival of new signings Lynn Williams and Alex Chidiac has provided his side with an important pick-me-up after the loss of captain Kayla Morrison to a ruptured ACL.

After unveiling American international Williams ahead of their 5-1 thrashing of Adelaide United in round one of the season – the attacker unable to feature in that game due to international clearance not arriving in time – Victory announced the signing of Matildas midfielder Alex Chidiac on Thursday; the 22-year-old arriving on loan from Japanese side JEF United Chiba during the WE League’s mid-season break.

Following a brief three-day quarantine period, Chidiac joined her teammates at training on Thursday morning and looms as a likely contributor, in some form or another, against former club Melbourne City in Sunday’s standalone ALW Melbourne Derby at AAMI Park. Only signed until January 7, Williams is also set to feature in that contest; the 28-year-old making it clear to Hopkins that she was open to playing whatever role her new club needs her to as she seeks to “fall in love” with football again.

See Also: Lynn Williams backs USWNT to remain world No. 1

Withdrawn from the win over Adelaide with a slight hamstring issue, Courtney Nevin has trained strongly and will play against the Citizens, although Melina Ayres is still touch-and-go as she seeks to make her season debut.

Adding further firepower to a squad that was already hardly bereft of attacking options, the internationally capped duo’s arrival will further reinforce Victory’s status as one of the favourites for the 2021-22 ALW season but, in the short term, Hopkins noted that their presence served as some much-needed good news after the confirmation on Monday that Morrison had suffered a season-ending ACL injury.

“The players are really enthused to see the two girls involved as well, it’s a nice boost,” Hopkins said. “Especially after the great disappointment with Kayla earlier on in the week. Not just for Kayla but for the whole group it put us on a bit of a downer and felt bad for her.

“But I think the way that [Kayla’s] been this week – she’s been at training every day – she’s put her circumstances behind her and she’s supporting the team, which is fantastic. I think the team has appreciated that but also the two new signings are a boost for us as well.”

Entering her sophomore ALW season as the reigning Victory Medalist and newly installed captain, Morrison had been shaping as one of the league’s breakout stars heading into this campaign – mooted as a possible 2023 Women’s World Cup bolter if she could secure Australian eligibility – and even netted her side’s second goal in the 19th minute of last Sunday’s match when she followed up her saved penalty and buried the rebound.

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Just past the half-an-hour mark, however, the 25-year-old went down holding her knee and was taken down the tunnel in tears, with a scan the next day revealing that hers and Victory’s worst fears had been realised.

Female athletes two to eight times more likely to experience an ACL injury than their male counterparts, Hopkins said that Victory would now look to rally around their star defender and paid tribute to her immediate dedication to supporting her teammates despite the devastating blow to her own season.

“We need to get Kayla right and we need to get her physically right,” the Welshman said.

“But also, it’s a psychological thing as well – knowing you’re going to be out that long. You need the support of people around you and if there’s one thing we’ve got at this club, from top to bottom, we’ve got people that care about our players and the playing group especially have really pulled around her this week and shown that we’re going to support her.

“But also, she’s kind of done the same back to us; to turn up every day to training, knowing how she’s feeling and with a smile on her face. She’s been amazing, actually. Look, it kind of shows that the team culture and just the team spirit is just as strong as it was last year.

“For me, it’s great to see because you do worry about your players when they go through these injuries. It’s good to see Kayla… although she’s really upset, she’s come through it nice and strong as well.”

Hopkins said that his side would now explore a number of options in their efforts to replace their injured skipper, and also touched on the role that he envisioned Chidiac taking on during her time in navy blue.

“Obviously, Courtney can slot in [at centre-back] as she did with the Matildas. Emma Robers came in and did really well last week and we’ve been working with her through the pre-season in case one of our centrebacks did get injured. I thought she did pretty well last weekend.

“We have Tiff Eliadis as well, although TIff might not be ready for the weekend. We could even drop Amy Jackson in there in a pinch although she’s very important to us in the midfield. So we’ve got a number of options to put in there, and we had a little play around with that this morning.

“I think [Chidiac] gives us a number of options now. She can play, I think, a couple of roles in there. She can play that eight role, she’s a real good distributor of the ball. She’s got great feet as well, I noticed from her straight away that ability to get the ball under control and move it quickly. She’ll create things as well. And a good striker of the ball as well.

“I think we’ll maybe, at the moment, we’ll look to get her a bit further up the park combining well with our strikers and Kyra [Cooney-Cross] as well. I think that might… as time goes on, we’ll see how her role evolves in our group. But the good thing is that she is a very talented player and can do… she’s not pigeonholed as a certain type of player: she can drop into a number of roles.”

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Header Image Credit: Melbourne Victory

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