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Jess Fishlock propels Melbourne City to W-League final

The Welsh midfielder has a chance to win a championship with a new title: head coach

W-League Semi Final - Canberra v Melbourne Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Seattle Reign midfielder Jess Fishlock is no stranger to winning. The 30-year-old has earned a laundry list of team trophies over the years: two consecutive Eredivisie championships, two W-League regular season and championship titles, Scottish Women's Premier League and Scottish Women's Cup titles, and two consecutive NWSL Shields with Reign FC.

Fishlock was also part of an FFC Frankfurt team that went on to win the 2015 UEFA Women's Champions League. While few titles — aside from an NWSL Championship — have eluded the tenacious midfielder over the years, she has the opportunity to earn a very unique one this weekend.

Thanks to a Fishlock goal in the 107th minute against top-ranked Canberra United, Melbourne City will be heading to its second consecutive W-League final. Fishlock’s goal, a volley off a deflected City corner, was her seventh of the season — and arguably her most important.

While City now has the chance to become the first team in W-League history to win back-to-back championships, that’s not what makes this weekend unique for Fishlock. On Sunday, just after midnight in Seattle, the “Welsh Dragon” has the chance to earn her first championship as head coach.

You read that right: Head Coach Jess Fishlock.

On January 5, Joe Montemurro was named assistant coach of City’s men’s squad. Fishlock, who has served as an assistant under Montemurro the last two seasons, immediately became interim head coach — at a critical time, too. The club was winless in its last four matches and struggling to hold onto fourth place, the final playoff spot.

While Melbourne City earned a draw and a loss in its first two matches under Fishlock, the team slowly found its form. Now, City has won three matches in a row and will head to the final with momentum on its side.

"We lost it a little bit throughout the season, and that's where we didn't get the results we wanted," Fishlock told the Australian Associated Press after the semifinal win. "But credit to the girls because they turned it around, and after everybody was writing us off we're in the Grand Final and on our way to defend our title.”

Along with fellow Seattle Reign teammates Lauren Barnes, Bev Yanez, and Rebekah Stott, Melbourne will face Perth Glory, who advanced to the championship after beating Sydney FC 5-1 in the other semi-final on ­Saturday. Larissa Crummer, who also plays for City and is the newest Reign addition, won’t be suiting up due to a fractured foot.

The last time these two squads faced each other — two days after Christmas — resulted in an entertaining battle that included this Fishlock equalizing goal in the 60th minute. City struggled to contain the speedy Australian international Samantha Kerr, however, and ultimately fell 3-2 to the Glory.

Melbourne’s defense will need to keep an eye on more than Kerr if they want to stay in the match. The Glory attack runs through Chicago Red Stars midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo, who scored two of Perth’s five goals in their semifinal victory. If too much attention is paid to either Kerr or DiBernardo, forward Rosie Sutton — who has seven goals this season — is also ready to pounce.

Melbourne’s attack is a little thin after Fishlock. Forward Marianna Tabain has a second-best four goals for the team, while FC Kansas City midfielder Erika Tymrak and Reign defender Rebekah Stott have two. Tymrak seems to be sparking at the right time, however, and while Bev Yanez has only notched one goal, she joined the team mid-season and has been a constant threat on the wing.

Sunday’s “MelbReign City” championship match will kick off at 12:30 a.m. PT at Nib Stadium in Perth. It will air on ESPN3, which can be accessed in the U.S. on ESPN’s streaming platforms.

If these two teams put on a performance similar to their last encounter, it should be a thrilling match — one that hopefully gives Fishlock her first championship as a head coach. Maybe she’ll even bring back a few coaching tips for Laura Harvey.

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