TEMPE — It’s likely to be a long time before Nicole Douglas’ name isn’t sitting atop the goal-scoring column in Arizona State’s soccer record book.
The Sun Devils graduate forward became the school’s all-time leader in goals earlier this season against the University of Alabama-Birmingham, breaking Stacey Tullock’s mark of 50 career goals that had stood for 21 years.
And Douglas has an opportunity to pad a career goal total that has grown to 55 since the UAB match with five games still remaining on Sun Devils’ regular-season schedule. It is unlikely that the final number “Dougie,” as her coaches and teammates call her, puts up will be challenged anytime soon.
“I think it’s still not 100% sunk in yet, but I feel like I can kind of breathe in a way, you know?” Douglas said. “I knew that I just wanted to make everyone proud … my family, my teammates, my coaches.”
There is little doubt that her coach is proud, but ASU coach Graham Winkworth said his emotions go beyond that.
“It’s absolutely pride in her. We are very tight,” he said. “As a coach, you will have one or two players throughout your whole career that you know are just a little bit special, not just from a talent standpoint, but from the way that you connect.
“Dougie is certainly one of those players that, we will stay close for the rest of our lives. I’m very thankful that she chose ASU, and I couldn’t be more proud of her. And I know that her family would feel the same way back home.”
Winkworth recruited Douglas to ASU from London out of the Chelsea Football Club Youth Academy, where she played for 11 years. Douglas credits her time at Chelsea and time spent playing for the English National Team for molding her as a player before she arrived in Tempe.
“Obviously, Chelsea is one of the best teams in (Great Britain), and I was thankful and grateful to be able to play and to train with the first team weekly for my last year and a half of being at Chelsea,” Douglas said. “So, I was playing at 17-,16-years (old) … I was playing with women that were playing on the English Senior Team, so it only made me a better player being around better players.”
It is easy to assume, looking back at ASU’s goal-scoring tally allies over Douglas’ time in the program, that she’s just a goal scorer. After all, she has been the team’s leading scorer in every season she has been in the program.
But Winkworth said there is much more to her game, and it is often overshadowed by her scoring prowess.
“So many strikers are judged on the number of goals they score, and that’s what everybody obviously writes about with regards to Dougie,” Winkworth said. “But it’s what she does off the ball that goes massively noticed by me. She defends from the front. She’s our first defender.
“Our goalkeeper’s our first attacker, Dougie’s our first defender, and she sets the tone for everybody else’s work rate, because if your center forward is prepared to defend that hard and work that hard off the ball, then everybody else is. So I think she leads by example that way.”
The transition from her style of play back in England to Tempe was a seamless one, Douglas said, which did not require her to change her game. And she credits Winkworth, calling him “one of the best coaches I’ve ever had.”
Winkworth spots similarities in her game to Tottenham’s Harry Kane and former Manchester United player Wayne Rooney, two of the greatest scorers in English history, Douglas said. While she agreed with her coach’s assessment, she believes her game also resembles one of her Chelsea teammates.
“I also watched and played with Fran Kirby, who’s on the Chelsea and England team back home,” Douglas said. “I had the opportunity to train with her every week, so seeing the way that she plays and everything in training, it helped me. Just like a sponge, getting all the information that I can and being taught by the senior players, it helped me a lot.”
To net as many goals as Douglas has, a player has to have an assist from teammates. Literally.
For Douglas, the assist often comes from midfielder Eva Van Deursen. The Dutch graduate student has been a vital part of the Arizona State midfield throughout Douglas’ entire time in the Valley, building strong chemistry with Douglas up top.
“I think it tells you how well we link and how well we can play together,” Van Deursen said. “What I really like about playing with Dougie is, I always kind of know where she is when I receive the ball. I don’t even necessarily have to check my shoulder anymore, but I just kind of know because it’s been four years. So we know very well where we’re going to be in space. So I really like that she’s always available, always an option.”
Van Deursen is on the brink of sitting atop another page of the Arizona State record books, thanks in large part to Douglas. With 23 career assists, she is just three assists shy of breaking the program’s all-time assist record of 25, also held by Tullock.
The Sun Devils have been on a rough run of form as of late, going 0-1-3 in their last four games and only coming away with one goal in that span. The Sun Devils will look to get back in good form this week as they travel to play Thursday against Washington State and Sunday against Washington.
With Douglas leading the way, Winkworth is confident in his Sun Devils squad and considers it one of the best he has coached.
“We got a really good, quality, deep team,” he said. “We’re not as big with regards to the number of players on our roster as we have been in the past, but the quality is extremely high. So every player is fighting for minutes, and we have that level of competition in every position on the field.
“I’ve never been so blessed in that department.”