Yash Thakur profiles one of the more exciting talents entering European football this season.
Hammarby IF recently announced that Melbourne Victory youngster Kyra Cooney-Cross would be joining them for the upcoming season.
The Queensland-born footballer made her W-League debut aged just 15 with Victory in the 2017/18 season. After a spell with Western Sydney Wanderers in the 19/20 season, she made her return to Victory, becoming an instrumental part of the club’s fantastic 2020-21 campaign. At 19, she was voted the best young player of the season for her 6 goals and 4 assists, including a Championship-winning Olimpico in the dying minutes of the season.
Cooney-Cross climbed the ladder of Australian international football rapidly, first making waves at the 2017 AFC U-16 Women’s Championship qualifiers where she scored six goals for the Young Matildas. She continued to impress at the 2019 AFC U-19 Women’s Championship qualifiers, scoring another 6 to secure a top-of-the-group finish. These performances saw the Ballarat export being named in the reserves squad for the World Cup in 2019.
An attacking midfielder who started life as a striker, Cooney-Cross is slowly developing into an interior in midfield three: an offensive-minded 8. Her versatility across the frontline offers flexibility to the teams she plays for and she has been deployed as a winger on either side and a number 10 too. The 2021-22 season also saw her take up a deeper midfield role.
TransferLab gives her an overall rating of 91 in the “Central Midfield – Box to Box” profile. As you can see from her profile, her on-ball ability shows up really well:
But what should European fans expect from the young Australian?
Dribbling and Creative Flair
An important aspect of Cooney-Cross’ game is her ability to dribble the ball. As you can see from her TransferLab profile above, she is ranked in the 87th percentile for value-added through dribbles in the W-League.
At 5ft 5 inches, Cooney-Cross has a low center of gravity which allows her good close control on the ball. This gives her the ability to retain possession when challenged, navigate tight spaces and release pressure.
This visualisation shows Cooney-Cross’s dribbling actions that open up space on the right or the left. As you can see, she is adept at moving the ball in either direction under pressure:
Cooney-Cross isn’t a player with a bag full of tricks. Her dribbling largely consists of good first touches and smart orientation, body feints, shoulder drops, heavy touches into space and quick bursts of pace to generate room for her next actions.
She puts her upper body to great use, shielding the ball from opponents. Her quick acceleration on the ball allows for rapid change of direction and allows her to gain valuable yards on her opponent.
One of Cooney-Cross’s biggest strengths is her ambipedal ability. While right-footed, she is perfectly capable of using both her feet to dribble past players and shoot. This also allows her to manoeuvre in either direction, making her a versatile asset for her team.
Being ambipedal also adds an extra level to Cooney-Cross’s shooting as well. She can cut in on her left and curl it into the top corner, like she did against Sydney FC last season, whilst also being able to hit a thunderous strike off of her right foot.
Cooney-Cross’s capacity to drive possession forwards with the ball at her feet, coupled with her ability in 1v1 situations, makes her a vital asset for the team in the progression phase. Usefully, she can retain possession under 360 pressure while carrying the ball. This press resistance means she can pick the ball up in deeper regions and help her side gain territory, adding to her value as an 8.
Looking at Cooney-Cross’s carries from the last two seasons, we can see the long, striding runs from deep that move possession high up the field. The ability to have a midfielder who can break lines through carrying and help move possession into the final third is invaluable in disrupting an opposition’s shape.
Chance Creation through Open Play and Set Pieces
A player widely known for her creative flair, Cooney-Cross is perfectly capable of acting as a link player or playing the final ball in an attacking sequence.
Very capable of pulling the strings in open play, her ability to play line-breaking passes to generate chances is very good. This is aided by impressive vision which allows her to anticipate and pick out runs from her teammates. She tends to go for those high-risk, high-reward passes that would maximize the chance of her team scoring.
Another quality of Cooney-Cross’s is the tempo she has on the release of the ball. In the example above, she patiently waits for the passing lane to open up and uses a shoulder drop and a fake shot to generate space before sliding a pass in behind.
Her anticipation to quickly react to loose ball situations, pouncing on bad touches and gaining transition opportunities for her side, is amazing. She puts her game reading and quick acceleration to good use here.
Cooney-Cross is dangerous from open play as we saw but she also has dead ball wizardry in her repertoire, making her capable of influencing games with a moment of magic.
She can pick out targets from set pieces owing to her clean ball striking, something which makes her highly conducive to her team’s chance creation. On top of this, she can float a perfect ball in towards the centre of the box, either finding a target or causing chaos in the box.
The young Australian’s range allows her to pick targets near or far post from wide freekicks. Her corner deliveries have the perfect bend and lift on them and are directed in the dangerous zones in the penalty box causing all sorts of chaos.
Movements and Runs into the Box
Being deployed as an interior in a midfield three has helped Cooney-Cross to polish another facet of her game: her movement and late runs into the box from deep. Once again, her vision is vital here and her pace comes in handy in these situations as well.
The visulisation below comes from one of her best performances of the season against Western Sydney Wanderers. She was deployed on the right wing and allowed the freedom to venture up the field and into the box despite dropping into a deeper midfield area for much of the game. In the end, she was directly involved in two goals, scoring one and assisting another. She created another two through passing.
The visualisation shows how her positioning in the final third asks questions of the opposition back line, prompting them to step up and engage and thus opening spaces elsewhere. Alternatively, she forces defenders in 1v1 duels, where she can utilize her dribbling to generate spaces.
With her team in attack, Cooney-Cross is often seen making a run or lurking at the edge of the box. These delayed runs towards the edge of the box coupled with her close control and ability in tight spaces, allow her to get shots off with either foot.
In the first example above, she quickly identifies a transition opportunity and makes a brilliant supporting run into the box from midfield.
In the second one, she arrives in the golden zone right outside the box as the move develops on the right flank. She then uses her ability in tight spaces to manifest space before getting the shot off. We again see her bipedal abilities in those finishes.
Cooney-Cross is a player for the big moments. She has the clutch gene and a knack of producing magical moments on big occasions as we saw her do in the Championship finals last year where she scored an Olimpico in the 120th min to decide the game for Melbourne Victory.
She seems to have a switch that gets turned on when the big moments call for a difference maker. Her first goal for Western Sydney Wanderers was a 94th-minute winner off a direct free kick. She was 18 at the time.
Areas of Improvement
At 20 years of age, Cooney-Cross isn’t the finished product and there are aspects of her game that need polishing.
One of the aspects she needs to work on is her phasing within the game. She has a tendency to phase in and out of games during the 90 minutes where she can decide games in moments of brilliance but that brilliance surfaces in flashes. If she can retain a little more consistency over 90 minutes, she’ll benefit her team much more.
Cooney-Cross’s tendency to opt for high-risk, high-reward passes often surfaces when playing in a deeper role causing a lot of cheap turnovers. The decision making when playing as the deepest midfielder of when to recycle and retain possession needs to improve but there is also a case of that not being her best role despite having had to play there this season.
Her defensive work rate and awareness are improving as she is played as an interior but it still leaves little to be desired. She is often seen losing track of her runners in defensive situations and her positioning in the first phase of buildup can improve.
Her output in terms of direct goal contributions dropped this season owing to a change in role and position in the team rather than a downturn.
These are areas that can be improved upon as Cooney-Cross becomes a regular for Hammarby. Still young, she has yet to reach her true ceiling. But with the tools to be an offensive 8 in a midfield three, she is widely regarded as one of the best talents in Australia. Kyra Cooney-Cross seems set for bigger things in the near future.