ALW Focus: “We have the drive and hunger” – Sakalis

In the first of a series of in-depth interviews with our Liberty A-League players and staff, Ben Gilby catches up with midfielder Sofia Sakalis to discuss the season so far, her three years at the club and life in Perth:

Since leaving her native Victoria three years ago, Sofia Sakalis has developed into one of the Liberty A-League’s most exciting next-gen players.

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Now aged, 21, the East Melbourne-born player reflected upon how she is enjoying life in the West.

“I love the lifestyle here,” she said.

“It is a great balance with football, you are quite isolated from the rest of Australia and are able to put your head down and work hard, but it is also a beautiful place to live in and there are many things to explore… and of course great weather and beaches!

“It has been an amazing journey over the last three seasons.

“From the moment I arrived at the club, [Head Coach] Alex [Epakis] made it clear that he had a vision and wanted us to be a top team in the league.

“I believe every year we have had that drive and hunger to work towards that and this season we have taken it to another level.

“Our whole team, including all our staff, has a shared vision and there is this belief, drive, and unity within the group and our performances and results thus far this season have been a testament to that.”

Glory’s strong start this term, which has seen them regularly featuring in the top two on the Liberty A-League ladder, has come after the frustration of missing out on Finals football by the narrowest possible margins in the last two campaigns.

Sakalis still rues last year’s early-season form and believes it was the deciding factor in them ultimately falling short.

“I would agree that a slow start was a reason for just missing out,” she said, “and this has been the case for the last two seasons and I think that bitter feeling has motivated us more this season.

“I could tell from day one of pre-season this year that we had all worked hard in the off-season to ensure we were ready to come in firing.

“This ultimately enabled us to fine-tune some things in our friendly matches and ensure that we were well-prepared and ready to compete and get the results we wanted in Round One and the first few fixtures.”

Despite the sense of unfinished business surrounding last season, Sakalis still looks back fondly on the side’s growth across 2022/23 and her own adaptation to playing in a new position.

“I thoroughly enjoyed last season,” she said.

“It was a great season for the team too; we put forth some performances that really showcased the style and identity of football we were wanting to play.

“For me personally, due to Rylee Baisden suffering an ACL injury, I was converted into a left winger.

“I was up for the challenge and I often really enjoy playing different positions as it improves your football, adds new things to your skill-set and makes you more all-rounded and versatile which is always a positive attribute to have in any team.

“However, this year I am really enjoying playing as an attacking midfielder in the formation we play and being surrounded by great attacking players.”

Prior to joining Glory, Sakalis suffered an ACL injury and in the four years since, has looked carefully into the potential reasons for it happening.

And despite the frequency in which female players are being struck by the injury, the Perth player is seeing modifications to how her teammates are now being monitored.

“I suffered from an ACL injury at the age of 17 whilst I was playing at Melbourne City,” she said.

“I believe there are many factors that contribute to someone, especially female footballers, injuring their ACL.

“The top two factors that interest me the most are taking into consideration a player’s training load, for example.

“Overload, fatigue, age of a player and the menstruating cycle and this is mainly because both were very relevant to me.

“Due to being a current university student studying physio too, I have seen lots of studies and ongoing research about female athletes, their menstruating cycle and its correlation with ACL injuries.

“I have also noticed changes and clubs beginning to be proactive about it by including it in our daily morning questionnaire that we complete before training.

“A question has been added that asks players to inform the staff if they’re currently menstruating.

“By including this, it enables sports science staff to manage a player’s load if they find that a player is fatigued or negatively affected whilst menstruating.

“Ultimately this information can go a long way in preventing an injury like an ACL and more research is still being done to unearth the impact of it on women’s athletes.”

One of the reasons that Sakalis is enjoying life at Perth Glory so much is the presence of Head Coach Alex Epakis and she cannot speak too highly of him.

“He has created an environment and playing group that consists of not only great players, but also great people,” she said.

“We have players with great character, resilience and passion in our team and ultimately this ends up building our team identity and I think this is one of our major strengths this season.

“It is always important to have a good balance of experienced players and youth and I think we have that balance this season.

“However, what I love about this team is that everyone is treated as an equal, no matter your age or experience.

“We are all united and focused on a common goal and every player in our squad is contributing to our team’s success.

“We have a healthy, competitive environment that pushes every player in the team to perform each week to the best of their ability.”

As far as this season goes, Sakalis has only one aim in mind.

“Reaching Finals is something that as a team we have as a goal,” she said, “and due to being so close in previous seasons, we are very determined to reach this.

“Although we have had an impressive start to the season, we are all aware it is a longer season and we need to stay focused on our goal.

“Individually, if my team is winning and performing it is a great achievement, but also just creating goalscoring chances and contributing to these wins is a major focus for me this season.”

Our A-League Women return to action on Saturday evening when Brisbane Roar will provide the opposition at Macedonia Park.

Kick-off is at 7:30pm – tickets are available HERE.