PORTLAND — Kat Tarr didn't come home with plans to play soccer. Her return last fall to Vancouver with husband Fabian Wöpke and newborn son Elias was all about family.
But with the Portland Thorns FC in her own back yard, the 2005 Columbia River High School graduate figured she'd give it a shot.
"I have traveled around the world to play, and there's this team in my back yard. The ability to play in front of my friends and family is just something I couldn't pass up," Tarr said.
That decision was officially rewarded on Wednesday, when the National Women's Soccer League champion Thorns announced the signing of Tarr. The Thorns kick off their second NWSL season at 5 p.m. Saturday at Houston.
A defender who turns 27 on Thursday, Tarr most recently played in 2012 for SGS Essen, her third season in Germany's top women's soccer league. In 2013, while pregnant with her first child, she worked for the German club as an event planner and media relations coordinator. It was not until days before a Thorns tryout combine in early March that Tarr decided to give playing professionally another shot.
"I didn't know if I was ready to dive into this because it does take a lot of your time," she said. "But it is a short season, and I had my family behind me and they told me, 'You love soccer. Go for it.' "
Thorns coach Paul Riley called Tarr's arrival "a great surprise."
Tarr said she did not start working out until after Christmas. Now eight months after the birth of Elias, she is still working to regain top fitness and form. She credits Vancouver fitness coach Ryan Paul at New Athlete for helping her prepare for the tryouts.
"You're used to having your body do all these things that you want it to do. Still, it's not 100 percent, and you're just constantly working to get that back. But I went in (to the tryouts) with no fear," she said.
Tarr's experience and take-charge personality jumped out to Riley.
"She's just a pro player. Everything she does organizationally with the back four," Riley said. "She's tough as nails. I wouldn't want to get in a fight with her. She'd probably kick her grandmother if she needed the ball."
Tarr is prepared to play either center back or outside back. With the addition of Courtney Niemiec, whose singing also was announced on Wednesday, the Thorns have six defenders on their 19-player roster.
"For me, I just want to come here every day, get better," Tarr said. "If I can fight for a starting spot, I'm going to do that to the end of the season, and just be the best teammate and player I can be."
One month of training under coach Riley has already paid off, she said.
"What's cool about Paul is his trainings are intense and they are high skill. They ask everything of you and if you can bring that to training everyday you're going to learn something," she said. "I've learned already more in these past weeks than I can honestly say I've learned in a long career of soccer."
A decade after she last played as a senior for Columbia River before a standout college career at Missouri, Tarr is looking forward to playing close to home.
"It feels great. I'm really excited. I've got a lot of support from my friends and family here that I didn't have in Germany," she said. "It's nice. I train, I get to go home and see my son and husband and go out with my friends."
Riley discusses U.S. national team opening
Portland Thorns FC coach Paul Riley said on Wednesday that he would be interested in coaching the United States women's national soccer team, but not if it means giving up his job with the Thorns.
"I won't be leaving Portland," Riley said.
Sunday's unexpected firing of national team coach Tom Sermanni has led to speculation that Riley might be in line for the job. But with his first match as Thorns coach coming on Saturday, Riley said he would only consider coaching the national team if he can also coach the Thorns.
"I want to coach in Portland. We've got a great team. I've got, I think, the No. 1 (women's) club job in the world and that's the No. 1 job in the world," Riley said. He added that head coach for the U.S. women's national team and the head coach for Portland Thorns FC are "both great jobs, but I'm very, very happy."