Editor’s Note: We were honored to partner with professional soccer player and Washington Youth Soccer alum Katherine Reynolds last year as she worked with us alongside her offseason work with US Youth Soccer. Today she announced her retirement from professional soccer, and we are thrilled to help share her soccer story for the first time. A version of this story can also be found on the Thorns FC website.
It’s hard to believe that my soccer journey began about twenty-eight years ago. My earliest soccer memories are of local dirt fields, orange slices and Capri Suns, and my coach was my dad. What I didn’t know back then was what a major role soccer would end up playing in my life. The soccer field is the one place I have always found so much joy and happiness. Somewhere with nothing to worry about other than how I can improve, compete, be a good teammate, and win. My intense desire to become the best player I can be, which I’m still working on every single day, has been there from an early age, and it’s what motivated me to dedicate all my time and sacrifice so much to try and achieve this.
After several years of recreational soccer, I started to wonder why no one else on my team seemed to care about the sport as much as I did. I distinctly remember a day when I was nine years old and we were doing a simple passing drill at practice. We were all in lines waiting for our turn to pass the ball and then jog to the end of the other line. The drill had been going well for a couple minutes but the other girls soon got bored and the girl in front of me, Jasmine (I still remember her name because it reminded me of Aladdin), decided she would rather build a castle out of the dirt we were practicing on. This was my breaking point. In the car ride home with my dad, I explained my frustration and asked if there was a team where the girls cared about soccer as much as I did. My dad didn’t know the answer at the time but promised me he would look into it.
My parents are, simply put, the best. They provided my three sisters and I with every opportunity we were interested in pursuing. Therefore, my dad quickly came back to me with information (like he always did). He told me there was something called club soccer and tryouts for a club in our area, Eastside F.C., were coming up. However, I would have to wait another year because the youngest team was U-11 and I was only nine. I convinced him to let me try out anyway, but he was sure to sweetly tell me that I probably wouldn’t make it because I was younger and smaller than all the other girls. He said it would be good practice for the next year. Being young and small may have already put me at a disadvantage but having the flu the weekend of tryouts in torrential Seattle rain certainly did not help. After tryouts, I was sick and in bed when I heard the phone ring. Before I knew it, my dad had run up the stairs to tell me that I had made the team! I couldn’t believe it. To this day, I don’t know how coach Kevin Regan saw the potential in me that weekend, but from that moment on, I had the belief that I could do anything if I wanted it badly enough.
The Next Level
My years with Eastside F.C. are some of the best memories from my youth. A few of my best friends to this day were my teammates at Eastside. The first couple of years were formative and fun; it was the first time I remember being coached and critiqued as a player. Our coach challenged us to do 1,000 touches every single day. Looking back, I think that this sort of training was so awesome and helpful. This is when I learned that the only way I was going to get better was if I put the extra time and work in outside of scheduled training.
I wanted to get better, in part because the women on the 1999 Women’s World Cup team were my idols. Especially Tiffeny Milbrett, because she scored a lot of goals and wore number 16 like me. These women made a lasting impact on the whole team and they inspired me to dream big. I remember when I first started traveling to different tournaments around the state and occasionally to other states like Arizona and California. We would dye our hair red and blue and make up fun pregame cheers. My parents were always there supporting me–along with my three younger sisters, whether they liked it or not. My parents would set up blankets so they could play with their Barbie Dolls and Polly Pockets and occasionally cheer “Go Katherine” as I ran by them on the field. I still played other sports, but my first few years at Eastside are when I truly fell in love with soccer.
I was fourteen when my desire to become the best player I could be jumped to another level. My Eastside team had stayed mostly the same, but we now had a new coach, Randy Hansen. Even now, I’d say he was one of the most impactful coaches I have ever had. He really took the time to point out my weaknesses and stay with me after training to work on turning them into strengths. I wasn’t going to get anywhere if I just stuck with what I was already good at. It was around then that my team played in the Pleasanton Showcase in California, and we got to attend a Santa Clara vs. Stanford women’s soccer game. Santa Clara had recently won the national championship, and the talent of these women amazed me. I will never forget sitting in the stands at Buck Shaw stadium in awe, watching them play under the lights. At that point, it was only a dream that I would ever be good enough to play for a Division I university like Santa Clara.
Around this time I started playing in the Olympic Development Program (ODP), which meant I got to play soccer with a whole new group of girls from all over the state. The highlight of ODP was always going to regional camp at the University of Idaho. While it was an intense, hot, and tiring week, getting to stay in college dorms, meet girls from other states in our region, and play soccer with my best friends was so much fun. I loved all my state ODP coaches; Tami Nguyen (Bennett), Lesle Gallimore, and Chuck Sekyra are the ones that stick out most in my mind. They all went above and beyond to help me improve and instill the belief in me that I was good enough. Today, Tami is still a great friend and one of the first people I go to when I need advice or support. I don’t remember the exact timeline, but after attending a couple of summers of regional camps, (so probably when I was 15 or 16) I achieved my goal of being selected to the regional team. This meant I was considered one of the best players for my age in our region, Region IV. This was the first time in my soccer journey that I realized that maybe all my hard work and dedication was paying off. I finally stood out. This only motivated me to work harder and set higher goals.
High School Hero
I attended high school at a small 1A school in north Seattle, University Prep. U-Prep was known more for academics rather than for having outstanding sports teams but taking part in their programs was extremely rewarding. I loved competing with my fellow Pumas and I truly felt the support of all my teachers and classmates. This is also where I met my best friend and the love of my life, Tucker. He loved soccer just as much as I did; we later dated long distance for fourteen years before we got married in 2018. During my time at U-prep I played varsity soccer, basketball, track, and tennis. I won eight state track and field championships in my freshman and sophomore years before making the switch to tennis for my junior and senior year. While I disliked track more than anything, mostly due to the individuality of the sport and the intense pressure I put on myself to win every race I ran, my race times helped validate and highlight one of my greatest strengths on the soccer field: my speed.
College recruiting letters started pouring in earlier than usual, for both track and soccer. I was truly in disbelief that top universities actually wanted me to come to their schools. Once I realized the level of program that I could play for I made it known that playing at Santa Clara University was my dream. I wrote the coaches at Santa Clara frequently over the next few years. Every tournament and showcase I went to, I invited them to come watch me play. Never once did I get a response. While this was extremely disheartening, I eventually moved on and shifted my focus to other great programs that had shown interest in me. The summer before my senior year, after many recruiting trips and endless lists of pros and cons, I still hadn’t decided on a school. Then I found myself at the Pleasanton Showcase once again. “This was it,” I told myself. Many coaches from programs I was considering were coming to my game. I was going to show them all why I belonged. I was playing as a forward then, and in the first 10 minutes of the game I had already scored three goals. After the game my dad came up to me with some news, “Jerry Smith wants you to come play for him at Santa Clara, here is his phone number”. The SCU assistant coach had seen me play the day before and suggested Jerry come take a look. Jerry claims that he had never approached a parent on the sidelines of a game before that day when he went up to my mom and dad. I called Jerry immediately and he asked why I had never reached out. I told him that I had written him dozens of times and that playing at Santa Clara had been my dream for a while. It is still a mystery to me why they never received my emails. Within a few weeks, I had gone on my official visit and committed to attend my dream school. It was surreal.
A Dream Fulfilled in Santa Clara
Terrified, nervous, and questioning whether I was actually good enough to be part of such an incredible squad, I showed up for preseason. Somehow in just a couple weeks, I went from being an unknown freshman recruit from Washington State to being named the team’s starting forward. We beat Wake Forest 1-0 in our first game of the season – and I scored the goal. This is one of the soccer accomplishments I’m most proud of; the feeling after I scored my first goal and won the game is indescribable and one that I will never forget. The rest of my time at Santa Clara was full of ups and downs. Truthfully, most of the time our team didn’t meet the high expectations that were set. As a captain, I often felt responsible for constantly letting our coaches and school down. Most of all, I felt like we failed in carrying on the tradition of success and we were disappointing all the players that had paved the way and set that standard before us. It tested my mental strength and made me question my soccer ability and leadership skills. Luckily, I loved Santa Clara, I loved my teammates, I loved my classmates and I look back fondly at my time there.
It was during my sophomore year that I got my first call up to the U-23 national team. This was extremely exciting and gave me a taste of what it would be like to play at the highest level. Over the next several years, I traveled and competed with the U-23s, which both challenged and motivated me to become even better so one day I might get a shot with the full team, my ultimate goal. I took my training to another level during this time. I would travel home for summer and play with the Seattle Sounders Women W League team and I would train at the local soccer field with Tucker and his brother Brooks any chance I got. We would practice for hours together, not because we had to, but because we loved it and it brought us so much joy. It wasn’t until my junior year of college that the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) league began. FC Gold Pride played their games at Santa Clara so I was able to see firsthand what it would take to continue my soccer journey after college. I was determined to make it to the pros. I would eventually get drafted by the Boston Breakers (coached by Tony DiCicco), along with my teammate and best friend, Jordan Angeli. It was a dream come true. I was ecstatic. Unfortunately though, this was also the beginning of the toughest part of my soccer journey so far.
The Life of a Pro
After spending preseason with Boston, I was one of the final players cut from the squad. I felt like my entire world had exploded. I was so disappointed in myself. Never had I failed like this before. After hours of tears I decided I wasn’t ready to give up. The next day I was on a plane to Philadelphia after Paul Riley had invited me to tryout for his team, the Independence. Despite my lack of confidence, I made the team as a developmental player. I was pleased with this; it felt like I was somewhat back on track. I even got some playing time in our first game of the season and was told I would likely be getting more–or possibly even starting the next game. As luck would have it, I injured my ankle in training that week and was out for several weeks, and I never saw another minute of playing time the rest of the season. On top of injury and not getting game minutes, I had a horrific experience in Philadelphia. My host mom struggled with alcohol abuse and even kicked me out of the house at one point, I was accused of stealing money from the local diner I had to work at because I barely made enough money to survive, I got in a car accident, and I was told if I chose to go to a tournament with the U-23 team I would lose my spot on the Independence. If this is what it meant to be a pro, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be one. Never had I doubted myself more. I felt like nothing I did mattered. But I wasn’t (and I’m still not) a quitter and I loved the game, so I showed up to practice every single day and worked my butt off. I took all my frustrations out on the practice field. Luckily, my hard work didn’t go completely unnoticed.
I went into that off-season not really knowing what my future would hold. I attended some training camps with the U-23s, which made me realize how much I still enjoyed playing the game. I eventually got a call from James Galanis, head coach of Atlanta Beat. He had heard from a teammate of mine in Philadelphia that I had good character and a strong work ethic, so he wanted me to come play for him in Atlanta. I signed a contract with the Beat, a true turning point in my professional soccer career. I am extremely appreciative of James for taking a risk and signing me. The season with Atlanta didn’t come without its challenges. It was one of the most difficult seasons of my career, while at the same time being one of the most personally rewarding. We didn’t win many games in Atlanta, but I played every single minute of every game. While losing was tough, I grew so much as a player that year. My confidence grew as well. James focused on the technical basics. We had long double day practice sessions throughout a very hot Atlanta summer. Looking back, this was one of my favorite teams that I played for in my entire career. Carli Lloyd, Heather Mitts, Cat Whitehill, and Lori Chalupny were incredible leaders for our young team. Their mentality and work ethic were admirable, and their talent was undeniable. Together, we grinded through so much that season.
Heartbreak at the Highest Level
The following season, I was set and excited to head back to Atlanta. James had made many improvements to our team and I was ready to go. This year we were going to win. A couple weeks before the season was scheduled to start I woke up to an early morning call from Angela, my Atlanta teammate and best friend on the team, who was a couple hours ahead on the east coast. She asked me if I had heard the news. The WPS had folded. There wouldn’t be a season. I had no idea that was even a possibility. I was not prepared for my soccer career to end. As I began to ponder my next move, I received a call from Aaran Lines, the coach of Western New York Flash. They were the WPS champions from the previous season. He explained to me that his team would be playing in the newly formed WPSL Elite League, a semi pro league, but the players would still be paid and treated like professionals. After briefly considering staying in Seattle to play for the Women’s Sounders and a little convincing from Angela who had already committed to the Flash, I decided to make the move to Buffalo, NY. At the very least this would buy me more time to figure out what was next. Western New York was a serious and professional environment despite being classified as semi professional. I continued to improve and develop as a player by playing with and against top players. Our team had a stellar season, winning the championship after a dramatic penalty kick shootout. During my time in WNY, an agent from Germany contacted me. A club in the Bundesliga was interested in signing me. Figuring it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to live and play in a foreign country, I jumped at this offer. The day after we won the championship with the Flash I was on the plane to Germany where I would meet my new team, S.C. Freiburg, in the Austrian Alps to join them for preseason training camp. So the journey continued.
The transition from winning a championship with WNY straight into preseason with a new coach, new team, and new country was a bit overwhelming–but also extremely exciting. Training camp was very serious. We had three trainings a day, starting with a mountain run at 6am every morning. We ate all our meals together and were required to wear specific clothing depending on the occasion: meeting, meal, training, travel, etc. This was a good opportunity to get integrated with the team despite the language barrier. Eventually we would travel back to Freiburg to start our season. Like most of my other professional experiences, Freiburg didn’t come without its challenges. I spent the first two months living alone in a sport hotel, which meant I was eating all my meals out at restaurants and living far away from my teammates. Coordinating rides to and from training sessions was also stressful because I initially didn’t speak a word of German. Eventually I got my own apartment and got into a groove. I enjoyed the challenge of learning to play a new style with girls and a coach who didn’t speak much English. When I think about my time in Freiburg, I don’t necessarily think of all the quality soccer I played but I think about how I adapted to a new culture and battled through the feeling I often had of being all alone. I think about my hours of German lessons, learning my way around Freiburg, and doing my best to fit into a new culture. I was considering re-signing for another year until it was announced that a new league was launching in the US, the National Women’s Soccer League. It was still my dream to get an opportunity with US Women’s National team and I felt like my best shot at achieving this was to play back in a top league in the US. It turned out that Western New York had my rights and an agreement was reached and I left Freiburg just in time for the start of the NWSL season.
New Beginnings, Smooth Sailing
The next seven seasons of professional soccer went relatively smoothly. The league continued to grow and stabilize and I continued to perfect, develop, and improve my game. While I’ve earned starting roles for every team that I’ve played for other than my rookie season, I still feel like I have spent most of my career under the radar. Which I’m okay with. I spent two more seasons with WNY. While playing in Australia for the Newcastle Jets during the offseason I respectfully asked WNY to trade me to a team closer to my family and Tucker. Instead I was traded to Washington DC, aka the wrong Washington. While not what I was expecting or hoping for, I had an amazing experience in DC. After my first season there my coach, Mark Parsons, took the job with the Portland Thorns. While it was a tough decision to leave the Washington Spirit, when Mark asked if I was interested in coming to the Thorns, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I would not only get to move closer to home but I would get the chance to play for what I personally think is the best women’s professional sports organization in the country and possibly the world.
Being part of the Thorns organization for the past five years has been a dream come true. Playing in front of 18,000+ fans every home game is incredible. I always love to try and find my family in the stands after the games. My parents and Tucker are always there supporting me, as well as my sisters when they can. They still yell “Go Katherine” when I run by, but just a little louder now so they can stand out in the crowd. “You’re a superstar,” they always say. I will never be able to thank them enough for their constant support. The same goes for the entire city of Portland; their dedication to the Thorns is unique, special, and unprecedented in this country. This is the first club I have played for where I truly feel like a professional and am treated like one. It has made this whole journey worth it and gives me tremendous hope for the future of women’s soccer. We have had a lot of success in Portland over the past four years, and winning a championship in 2017 is one of the best moments of my soccer career. The only negative from my time in Portland is that I have been plagued with some serious injuries, which has brought new challenges. In July of 2018 I tore my MCL off both bones, which required surgery to repair. Fortunately, I got off crutches a couple days before our wedding and was able to cover my brace with my dress. I knew I would have to work harder than I had ever worked before to come back from such an injury, so I spent the off-season doing hours of PT every day, trying to get strong and fit again. I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue to play knowing I wouldn’t be ready to even touch a soccer ball until the start of preseason. I worried I wouldn’t be the same player, that I wouldn’t be good enough. Thankfully Mark convinced me that it would all work out. To both our surprise, I recovered and returned to form quickly and started in the backline for our first game against Orlando. The season had its ups and downs, eventually coming to a disappointing end in the playoff semifinals.
Today & Tomorrow
That brings me to 2020, a year of many challenges that no one saw coming. I had spent the off-season trying to decide whether I would play another season. As I have gotten older, every off-season I have taken time to reevaluate. I was really torn this year as my interest in officially starting the next chapter of my life back at home with my husband was strong but something inside of me wasn’t ready to move on from soccer. So two nights before preseason began I made my final decision and packed up my things and headed back to Portland. I am so thankful that Mark and the rest of the organization were so understanding and patient with me during my decision-making process. I arrived in Portland and I didn’t even have a place to live as my decision was so last minute. Luckily Emily Menges let me crash at her place for what ended up only being about a week before things got shut down due to the global pandemic. Once I have committed to something, I am in it 100%. So when I was back at home, I trained harder than I ever had before. We didn’t even know if there would be a season, but if there was, I was going to be ready. Once we returned to Portland again to begin preparing for the Challenge Cup as a team, I promptly strained my quad about a week and a half into training. This meant I had to sit out the rest of the preseason and wouldn’t be ready to play until the third game of the Challenge Cup. I was incredibly disappointed and beyond frustrated. Despite my injury, I was motivated to heal quickly and make the most of my time at the tournament. Luckily we were having a lot more fun than expected being trapped in a bubble in Salt Lake City. That was one of the most disappointing things about this season, we really had such a special and talented group and I wish we could have had an entire season together. Anyway, I was finally cleared to play and it felt so good to finally be back out on the pitch. In the quarterfinals of the tournament, we played the North Carolina Courage. We were under constant pressure from North Carolina from the moment the game started. Just before half time I went up for a header and hit my head against my opponents. While on the ground, I remember opening my eyes for a brief second and all I saw was blood everywhere. I ended up needing nine stitches and I suffered a mild concussion. I am very thankful for our trainer, Bailey, who held my hand the entire time and then later washed all of the blood out of my hair. Needless to say, this head injury really scared me. This is when I knew it was probably time to retire.
I’m 33 years old, with 11 (10.5?) professional soccer seasons under my belt, and no regrets. I truly believe that every single up and down in my journey thus far was instrumental in turning me into the person and player I am today. My coaches describe me as a leader and a focused hard worker with a winning mindset. I’m very thankful for my parents, who instilled these characteristics in me at such a young age. They are what have gotten me to where I am and I’m confident they will continue to lead me to future success. As difficult as it is to admit, I haven’t achieved every soccer goal I have set out for myself, and that is something that will weigh on me for the rest of my life. However, it won’t stop me from continuing to set high goals and strive for what seems impossible. Now that I am retired, I hope I am remembered most for being a great teammate and as a pioneer paving the way for future generations of female professional soccer players. It’s hard to know when it’s the right time to leave the game. I can’t imagine life without soccer and playing still brings me so much happiness. However, the injuries are wearing on me both mentally and physically and I can’t ignore the feeling of wanting to find the next thing I want to try and become great at. Throughout my eleven-year career I’ve always had second jobs, both in-season and in the off-season, both out of financial necessity and also through a desire to gain experience to be prepared for this next phase of my life. I am hopeful that I can leverage my experiences into a meaningful “second” career that is as stimulating as playing soccer for me. I’m looking forward to finally living in the same city as my husband, having more financial stability, and hopefully having a family. One day at a time, one season at a time is always what I told myself. Soccer has given me so much more than I could have ever imagined. I have played with and against so many incredible women and we are all on this journey together. It’s a journey that I’m beyond l grateful for. I am moving on knowing I gave it my all every single day. And I’m extremely proud of that.