Stephanie Catley may not be a household name outside of Australia, but her record speaks for itself.
Last season she captained her Melbourne Victory side, which included Lisa De Vanna and Jess Fishlock, to their first W-League Grand Finale championship, defeating a Brisbane Roar side that included Thorns goalkeeper Nadine Angerer, capping off a quick ascent that has seen her go from watching and playing with her older brother to starter in last month’s AFC Asian Women’s Cup runner-ups, where the Matilda qualified for next year’s Women’s World Cup in Canada.
Did I mention Catley is only 20. She’s the youngest player on the Thorns, with fellow defenders Emily Menges and Courtney Niemiec the next youngest on the team.
For Catley, coming to the Thorns was a natural decision.
"I knew I wanted to go overseas, I’d been looking into it a bit last year but we had a chance in coaching in the national team and it was the best idea for me to stay in Australia." Catley said after training Monday. "When it popped up again for the year after, I just knew I wanted to go. For it to be such a great club, it was just like ‘let’s go.’ I was ready by then….I’ve been to the U.S. before. This is my first time playing for a club overseas, so it definitely is a big step, but there’s a lot of senior girls over here that I can learn from every day and hopefully I can grow a lot as a player over here."
Catley began playing professionally with Melbourne at 15, joined the Matildas at age 18, and has won multiple awards in her young professional career. The most recent of these was the 2013-14 W-League Young Player of the Year, which she won for the second consecutive year.
"Steph will be a massive addition to our squad," said Thorns head coach Paul Riley at the time of her signing. "She will bring added speed to our back line and has the ability to go end line to end line. She can provide width on the field and has great delivery and provides a physical presence. She is a fantastic signing for the club and her international experience will be extremely valuable in our quest for the title."
Riley revealed after training Monday that this was his first time working with Catley, but his assessment seems to be spot on. While she was naturally a bit hesitant in her first training, Tuesday’s session gave me a glimpse of what she brings.
"It was pretty much a no-brainer with some of the players that were already signed: Sinclair, Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, some great national team players. It’s just a great environment I wanted to be involved in…Just spoke to Paul and had talk to him about what was here and he just sort of told me who was already signed and his ideas and it was a no-brainer, as I said before, it’s such a great place in Portland and a great soccer team."
A speedy left back, Catley showed off her speed and passing in training. Working with a group of starters, she looked like a regular, routinely bringing up the ball up the field and feeding the ball into the attack, giving her forwards the ball with space to finish, albeit without any defensive pressure. Later in the session, she was able to dribble herself out of pressure and pass the ball back down the line when it was clear she was trapped.
"When I was younger I used to be a midfielder, so I’m a left back, I defend, but I love to attack and get forward. I like to play against people one-on-one and get some crosses in. Yeah, so I like doing both."
With the Thorns struggles brining the ball up the field and generating open scoring opportunities, the skills that Catley brings seems to make her an immediate starter, as she fulfills a need with defender Kat Tarr suspended after her red card against Boston last week.
Should Riley choose her this Saturday against Western New York and she says that she’ll be ready.
"I’ve come off starting for an Asian Cup, so I was playing a lot of matches there and we had a really big lead up with the national team and definitely ready to go as soon as I’m called."
Here are some highlights featuring Catley from Tuesday's training: