EVER bubbly shot-stopper Melissa Maizels experienced her toughest W-League campaign to date, forced to watch her Canberra United teammates from the bench, all season long.
Having earned her first Australian top division cap with Canberra in 2014, Maizels’ return to the nation’s capital last August was met with excitement and expectation as she vowed to make the number one goalkeeping spot her own.
Coming off her best W-League season in 2017/18 where she played every minute in goal for Perth Glory, there didn’t appear to be much risk returning to Canberra with the number one mantle there for the taking.
But an untimely quad injury in the pre-season, opened the door for the club’s newly signed number two, 23-year-old Sham Khamis from Sydney FC, who took the opportunity with both hands, and never let go.
Speaking exclusively to The AJN, Maizels said, “Of course it’s very frustrating any time you get injured. As an athlete we do everything we can to stay on the pitch, so to have such a disrupted pre-season really set me back.
“I did everything I could to get fit for selection by at least round two or three but all credit must go to Sham – she was an immense performer, both on the training pitch and on game day, and deserved the opportunity she took.”
Despite Canberra struggling through the worst season of its 11-year existence, finishing second bottom with just three wins from 12 games, even once fit, Maizels failed to break into the starting line-up.
Khamis was a shining light, playing all 1,080 minutes, conceding the fourth least amount of goals in the league including four clean sheets, and topped off a career best year by winning the players’ player award.
Reflecting on the battle of the keepers, coach Heather Garriock said, “Maizels was our number 1 and I signed Sham as number 2 and told them to battle it out this season and I’d play who was performing”.
“It’s nothing against Maizels, because her attitude has been excellent, but Sham is the players’ player for a reason, and she’s been a pleasure to coach.”
Seven years into her W-League career, Maizels is far from settled, with this year’s chapter adding to a frustrating run of playing second fiddle to more favoured keepers.
The 25-year-old Melburnian lamented her misfortune but maintained a positive outlook, as she aims to bounce back.
“It was a tough season, and yes probably my toughest to date, but I believe there has to be a reason it fell that way, and I will just have to continue preparing myself to come back better for next season,” she said.
There was one opportunity for Maizels to pull on the Canberra colours and it came in a closed-doors, indoor friendly against the Chinese national team, during a W-League bye round.
“It was a great opportunity afforded to us by the league, the club and the Chinese national team, and I am incredibly grateful I was able to take the field against a national team of their calibre.”
Australia’s goalkeeper at the 2017 Maccabiah Games, has turned her immediate focus to sharpening her game in Victoria’s NPLW competition with Bayside United, where she played last season, but as for her future at Canberra United, she said, “It’s very early days right now in terms of next season”.
“I am just really excited being back at Bayside, getting some game time again, and plan to put everything into my performances in the NPLW for now.
“I will definitely be involved in W-League next season, but for now my priority is with my performance for Bayside United.”
Round four of the NPLW season will see the league’s two Jewish players go head to head.
Maizels played alongside newly appointed Southern United captain Casey Aarons when the two were at Alamein FC a few years ago.
“She’s a great player and a great girl, but come round four, however, we will make sure we get the job done against them, but I’ll give her a hug afterward!”
Away from her playing duties, Maizels has turned her passions into a career, recently gaining an FFA/AFC B Licence from the AIS which has allowed her to delve into coaching and development at community and grassroots level.
“As of last April I am co-owner of Absolute Soccer Junior Academy, based on the Mornington Peninsula. It’s my dream career and I am loving every minute of coaching the kids.”