US striker Katie Stengel believes a grand final berth is a realistic goal for the Jets this W-League season and she’s hoping a friend from home can help her and Newcastle make it a reality.
Stengel led the way with 10 goals for the Jets in 2017-18 – her first season for the club – and was a key player in Newcastle’s third-place finish and return to the finals after a nine-year drought.
The 26-year-old, who is back after a stint with new NWSL franchise Utah Royals, was confirmed as a signing on Tuesday but she has been in Newcastle for the past week with fellow US recruit Taylor Smith, who she helped bring to the club.
Smith, 24, has come from Washington Spirit and appears an exciting addition in attack and defence after featuring as a wing-back for the US national team since debuting last year.
Stengel, Smith and returning goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom make up the US contingent at Newcastle this season. Countrywomen Tori Huster and Arin Gilliland are not coming back.
Smith looms as a replacement for Gilliland, who also came to Newcastle as a wide defender but often played a more attacking role for Jets coach Craig Deans. Gilliland scored 10 goals across two seasons and proved a successful foil for target striker Stengel last campaign.
Stengel played a part in bringing Smith to Newcastle and said it “would be great” if they could combine for goals this season.
“Taylor and I go way back, we’ve been friends now for about 10 years,” Stengel said.
“Deansy said he was interested so I thought I’ll give her a call, and she jumped right on board.
“I think she’s a really dynamic, fast player. She brings a lot to the game, she’s quick and will get up and down the field. She’s a great attacking presence but also she’s been playing as an outside back in the US, so she’s got that defensive mindset as well.
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“Growing up we did a bunch of youth camps together but that was probably 10 years ago. Recently we haven’t played together, we’ve played more against each other, but it’s always been fun and so far in training it’s been good.”
Although the Jets will have one less American import this year, the addition of Matildas striker-turned-central defender Larissa Crummer will fill the void.
Newcastle fell agonisingly short of the grand final last season, losing in the qualifier to Sydney in extra-time, and Stengel believed they had the squad to go one better.
“We always want to end up on top and a realistic goal last year was making the semi-finals and I think we can just progress from there and the grand final should definitely be in our sights,” Stengel said. “I think we’re about the same team as last year. There’s been a few changes but I think we’re going to be even stronger and hopefully finish better than we did last year.”
As for a personal goal, Stengel said: “Whatever I can do to help the team get to the grand final.
“My job as a forward is to score goals but I think the biggest thing is just leading the team and I’m hoping to get more assists this year, even more goals and win the grand final.”
She believed the Jets’ young players would benefit from the club’s breakthrough season in 2017-18.
“I think they learned a lot last year and as a club we learned a lot and it’s always good the second year around, getting used to the personnel,” she said.
“I think the younger players will step up this year and we’ll have Em [van Egmond] and a bunch of older players to have that leadership, so we’ll be a good side.”
The Jets start their season away to Melbourne Victory on November 1.
Meanwhile, the club announced on Tuesday that Greater Bank had returned as a sponsor of the W-League side, signing on for three years.