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Steph Catley departs OL Reign

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The Australian defender was a key part of the team’s back-to-back playoff appearances.

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OL Reign announced today that defender Steph Catley will not return to the club for the 2020 season.

The news may not come as a particular surprise for those who have been keeping tabs on Catley this year. After leading Melbourne City to a W-League title in March as the team’s captain, Catley elected to remain in Australia as the coronavirus pandemic unfolded.

“Obviously around the world, there’s a lot of risk in travelling. So right now, I’m staying put after the W-League grand final until we hear more information about what’s happening in the US,” Catley said in March. “It’s safer to be grounded in one place and the best place to be is here surrounded by family.”

Catley played for the Reign in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, locking down the left back position for a club that secured back-to-back playoff berths. She started and played 33 matches for the team, recording five assists across all competitions.

“It is with a heavy heart that today I announce my departure from OL Reign. In saying that, my heart is full from the memories I have made over the past 2-3 years in Seattle and Tacoma. I am beyond thankful for the entire organization, but in particular Bill and Teresa Predmore who have cared for and molded the club into the family that it is today,” said Catley. “Every day I spent as an OL Reign player, I felt supported and cared for as a footballer but more importantly as a person. Most significantly, I will never forget the support that the club showed me when I went through the toughest period of my life in 2018 with the passing of my father. They stood by me through every step with patience and understanding, and made returning to America feel like I was coming home to a second family. I’ve been challenged and grown as a player and a person, I’ve had fun, and made memories and lifelong friendships that I will always cherish.”

While she had nothing but praise for her time with the Reign, the grind of racking up minutes in the W-League, NWSL and international play led a number of Australian players to find leagues outside the U.S. and Australia this year. Earlier this year, Catley admitted she was interested in playing in England, where fellow Matildas teammates Sam Kerr, Catilin Foord and Hayley Raso had just transferred. Kerr went to Chelsea, Raso signed with Everton, and Catley was heavily linked with a move to join Foord at Arsenal.

“I’ll more than likely be in Europe the next transfer window. I haven’t signed anything, just been talking. England’s where I’m looking,” Catley told the Herald-Sun in January.

While she did not share specific plans in announcing her departure from the team, Arsenal features a number of familiar faces for Catley. That includes Joe Montemurro, who became Arsenal’s manager after leading Melbourne City — a team that featured both Catley and Kim Little — to a W-League title in 2016.

At just 26 years old, Catley already amassed an impressive resume. She’s been a professional soccer player for more than a decade — making her pro debut with Melbourne Victory as a 15-year-old in 2009. Catley made her international senior debut at the age of 18 and has featured in two World Cups and the 2016 Rio Olympics. For the 2019 World Cup, Catley was named a vice-captain.

Catley, regarded as one of the best left backs in the world, will certainly be missed. So, too, will “Clawdia,” the name given to the cast and then splint she sported last year after picking up an injury during the World Cup. Catley has a vicious, pinpoint cross, was one of the more technical defenders in the league, and is excellent in possession. Those skills are hard to replace, although the club does have players like Steph Cox, Lauren Barnes, and Kristen McNabb who can slot into the left back spot.

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Given her strengths, it is no surprise that OL Reign CEO Bill Predmore left the door open for Catley to return if she wanted.

“It is difficult to see Steph depart, given all she has meant to this club over the past two seasons. She is a fantastic talent and individual,” said Predmore. “While we are all disappointed to see her go, we understand and are supportive of her move. Should the opportunity ever arise, we would gladly welcome her back to the club in the future.”