Thorns defender makes comeback after knee injury
Portland Thorns defender Katherine Reynolds thought the 2018 season might be her last as a professional soccer player.
For nine seasons as a pro and four years at Santa Clara University, soccer was the driving force in Reynolds' life. Soccer had taken her around the United States and to stints in Germany and Australia. She'd been an integral part of some special teams, including the Thorns' 2017 National Women's Soccer League championship club.
But she was getting married, and at age 30 contemplated a future away from the game that meant so much to her.
Then, in a July 2018 match against Sky Blue, she tore the medial collateral ligament in her right knee.
"Before the injury, I was thinking that I was going to be done," she said. "Then I got injured and decided that it can't end like that."
After undergoing surgery for the first time in her career, Reynolds was determined to play again but didn't know how long it would take to get back on the field.
Last fall, over coffee, Thorns coach Mark Parsons told Reynolds she would be ready for preseason in March and be an important member of the 2019 Thorns.
"She was a bit worried. It's hard to say with those (recovery) processes with any injury," Parsons said. "But if it comes down to work ethic and focus and attitude towards rehab, we know Kath is going to crush it better than anyone else."
Reynolds spent the off-season rehabbing in her native Seattle with the support of husband Tucker Hopp, an athletic trainer who owns Lake Washington Athletic.
"I still don't feel like my right knee feels the same as my left. But you learn to accept the new normal," Reynolds said. "It was a really tough off-season — a lot more focused on strength and conditioning more than soccer. I didn't touch a soccer ball until preseason. It was a scary feeling, new to me. I was a little nervous about not being prepared."
On March 24, Reynolds played the entire 90 minutes of Portland's season-opening win at Orlando. During the first half of the season, as the Thorns weathered the absence of nine players for the World Cup, Reynolds was a mainstay in the lineup. This season, she has spent time at every position along the back line.
"When she plays in any of those positions, she looks like she's been doing it all her life," Parsons said.
Soccer played a prominent role in Reynolds' life from an early age. By her teen years, she was playing high-level club soccer and on Washington state Olympic Development Program teams. Her University Prep High soccer team won a Washington Class 1A title her senior year. Reynolds played basketball at the Seattle school and won eight 1A individual titles in track and field (100, 200 and 400 meters and long jump twice each) before switching to tennis as a change of pace her senior year.
Santa Clara was one of her dream colleges, but it wasn't until the summer before her senior year that she caught the Broncos' attention by scoring three goals in a tournament game for her Eastside FC club team.
Reynolds has scored only one goal in the NWSL. It came late in a loss to North Carolina last season in her 100th game in the league. She couldn't help laughing when her shot from just inside the penalty area found the goal.
"That was probably one of the funniest moments of my career," she said.
It wasn't until her senior season in college, when Women's Pro Soccer formed and FC Gold Pride played games and trained at Santa Clara, that Reynolds thought about pro soccer. Until then, she was contemplating law school.
Her pro career started in the WPS as a reserve with Philadelphia in 2010, but gained traction in 2011 when she played 18 games for the Atlanta Beat.
When WPS folded, Reynolds joined the Western New York Flash in 2012 and helped them win the Women's Premier Soccer League title. She spent the next winter playing in Germany, then rejoined the Flash when the NWSL formed in 2013. She helped that team post the league's best record.
The loss to the Thorns in the 2013 NWSL championship match is one of Reynolds' more painful soccer memories.
An avid traveler who cites trekking with gorillas in Rwanda as a life-changing experience, Reynolds appreciates the places soccer has taken her.
Reynolds has been with the Thorns since 2016. She played the 2015 season for Parsons with the Washington Spirit and was thrilled when the Thorns acquired her after hiring Parsons.
Parsons knew Reynolds could strengthen the Thorns' defense and create the positive culture he envisioned. Her habits on and off the field prepare her for success. She isn't outspoken, but is a strong presence within the club. Directly in one-on-one chats or with the way she prepares herself every day, Reynolds has a significant impact on teammates, particularly younger ones.
"Her character, her mentality, her no-nonsense, businesslike approach to trying to be the best" are qualities Parsons said rub off on Reynolds' teammates. "Whether its a conscious or unconscious thing, she's had a massive influence on younger players."
On the field, the 19 games (15 starts) Reynolds has played in this season are more than she or Parsons expected coming off the knee injury. Her minutes have decreased since players returned from the World Cup, but Parsons expects Reynolds to be a factor the rest of the season.
"There's no doubt she will start more games going forward, no doubt she's going to play a critical role coming off the bench," Parsons said, emphasizing that Reynolds "continues to show that she's very, very important and needs to be in and around the team for us to be successful."
During her soccer career, Reynolds has worked in a variety of marketing jobs. She now supplements her NWSL salary with individual coaching sessions for young players, but sees her future in business or marketing.
"If I could combine that with soccer or with sports, that would be ideal," she said.
Not that Reynolds is sure when she will turn that corner. Her focus in 2019 is on doing whatever is needed to help the Thorns' pursuit of another NWSL championship.
Her approach is "one day at a time, one year at a time. I still love soccer more than anything. Playing gives me so much joy."
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