Sports

Forward thinking, Reign FC acquired Jenkins to help their offense

Reign FC forward Darian Jenkins runs through warm-up drills with teammates during soccer practice at Foss High School in Tacoma on Thursday, April 18, 2019.
Reign FC forward Darian Jenkins runs through warm-up drills with teammates during soccer practice at Foss High School in Tacoma on Thursday, April 18, 2019. toverman@theolympian.com

The Reign FC acquired forward Darian Jenkins for such occasions like last week’s season opener.

Down a goal midway through the second half at Houston, Jenkins tied the game in the 58th minute. She sprinted down the field, took a pass from Jodie Taylor just shy of the 18-yard box. Jenkins beat the defender and delivered the ball into the back of the net in what ended up as a 1-1 game.

“We were very aware of her qualities and what she can do,” Reign head coach Vlatko Andonovski said about the December trade that brought Jenkins to the Reign from the league-champion Carolina Courage for a first-round pick.

“We knew the profile of the player that we wanted to add on the team and she fits that profile.”

The Reign staff liked Jenkins’ potential as a goal scorer, something the Reign wanted to add for 2019 considering the challenges the season would present in a Women’s World Cup year. That means Taylor, with England, and Team USA veteran forward Megan Rapinoe would be unavailable for a chunk of time, and the hope was Jenkins could help fill that void.

Rapinoe — who is doubtful to play when the Reign make their Tacoma debut at 7 p.m. on Sunday against the Orlando Pride at Cheney Stadium because of a lingering calf injury — has liked what she’s seen in Jenkins so far.

“She has that knack for being dangerous,” Rapinoe said. “She’s good in front of goal, she has a knack for the goal. She’s really aggressive, she doesn’t force going one but she does well with it. She’s a good finisher and she’s taken well to this environment.

“Vlatko does a lot of teaching and us kind of playing in the same position you can tell she wants to learn the other nuances of the game, not just what she knows already.”

Jenkins has had to bide her time in NWSL after a stellar career at UCLA (29 goals in 76 games) that was cut short because of a broken leg in her senior year. At the time of her gruesome injury, she was leading the Pac-12 with seven goals, including five game-winners.

“My cleat got caught in the turf at Oregon while I was sprinting and I heard two loud pops and my leg felt cold,” Jenkins said about her injury on Oct. 2, 2016.

“I knew I broke something and when I went down to touch it, I could feel a bone outside of my shin. Broke my fibula, compound fracture to my tibia. That’s like a year and half recovery and then some.”

Bruins head coach Amanda Cromwell remembers the moment vividly.

“I still get ill thinking about it,” Cromwell said. “It was so hard to watch her in that much pain in the moment and when it happened. It was one of the most excruciating things, not just as a coach but a human being that I’ve experienced in watching that.“

With the NWSL draft only months away in January, Jenkins figured she might have to play in Europe once she returned to full health. To her surprise, Carolina drafted her with the seventh pick of the first round, knowing full well that she would spend the entire 2017 season rehabbing.

“I was shocked that teams were still interested in me because I had no idea what to expect after my injury,” Jenkins said.

Last season the 5-foot-10 Jenkins made it all the way back, debuting against Portland on March 28 and playing in 14 games, mostly as a substitute. She also made two appearances for Carolina in the Women’s International Championship Cup, scoring her first professional goal with a game-winner over PSG.

Despite the time in Carolina, Jenkins felt she needed a change and welcomed the trade to the Reign.

“It was premeditated,” Jenkins said. “I had grown so much at Carolina in the two years I was there and there wasn’t much opportunity for me. (Carolina Courage head coach) Paul (Riley) was great with me and helped me through it so it wasn’t a huge surprise to me that I was traded.

“I’m glad I’m somewhere where there’s more opportunity and space for me.”

Healthy, happy and scoring again, what does Jenkins think of where’s she’s landed after all she’s been through?

“The first thing I said when I got here is everything is run so smooth and everybody’s so nice. Everybody does their own thing but likes to come together and are great friends,” Jenkins said.

“The team and the organization is so well run and I’m gelling with the team very well. It’s been nice.”

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