For any professional soccer player, getting waived from a club can be a hard process. For Jenna Bike, who paused her nursing career to pursue her dreams of playing pro, getting waived from NJ/NY Gotham FC last November was understandably difficult.
“That hurt, but I had so much support around me, so many people who believed in me, that it helped me get through that process,” Bike told AllForXI.
It would be exactly eight weeks until she was picked up by the Chicago Red Stars. During those weeks, Bike continued to train, not knowing if she would find a team in the National Women’s Soccer League. “I really wanted to stay in this league and stay stateside, so it was a lot of training with not knowing where my future was going to be or what was going to happen,” Bike said. “It was honestly a little difficult at times, and as we got closer to pre-season, it was a little scary.”
Throughout the process, Bike remained optimistic but realistic. In a small league with a limited amount of roster spots, oftentimes talented players find themselves on the outside trying to break in. “Coming into the league as a trialist, I know how hard it is to get onto teams here,” she said. “I was realistic that it may not happen, and it would have nothing to do with me or my abilities as a soccer player. I was reminding myself over and over again throughout this process that timing is everything.”
Quickly, things started falling into place for the 25-year-old winger. “Chris [Petrucelli] reached out in January, they needed a winger, and I needed a team,” Bike said. Three weeks after that call, Bike was driving herself out to Chicago ready to take on a new challenge with a new team in a new city.
Welcome to the Windy City
Before Bike even set foot in Chicago, she already felt at home with the Red Stars. “When Chris called me, he told me the team valued me as a player and person, and wanted to help me grow,” she recalled. “I think hearing that just started everything else on the right foot.”
It was an easy adjustment for the Connecticut native. In only a few months, she has developed her game substantially and sees just how much the players and staff in the organization care about their club. “This is where I’m supposed to be, I’m in a good place,” she said. “All my teammates are bought in.”
With a two year deal and an option for a third year, Bike is also completely bought in, not only to her own success, but the success of a club that has been struggling both on and off the field. “This club has such a high ceiling. It’s no secret that there is a long history here, and this club obviously has a past, but I think there are people here who care so much about the success of this club and doing things the right way,” she said. “It’s honestly so inspiring to be part of it.”
Specifically, the leadership from veteran players Alyssa Naeher and Arin Wright has been critical for a club looking to find their stride in the 2023 season. The club sits in 11th place of the 12-team table with seven points on the season and is missing a critical component in Mal Swanson who suffered a knee injury during a U.S. Women’s National Team game earlier this year.
“Alyssa and Arin talk about their past experiences, but also what they want from the club,” Bike said. “Seeing how loyal they are to all of us new people here and what they want to see in the future for the club has been really great. I’m honored to be part of it, and being here for two years, hopefully more, I can really be someone who can help bring that change and get us back into where we all want to be. I’m not an outsider trying to break a roster spot. I’m here, I’ll be here for a while, and I want to see that change everyone is talking about.”
As Bike continues to settle into her new surroundings, she is grateful to play with teammates who show genuine care for their individual and collective success. Although it has not been an easy season, they are sticking together, continuing to grind, and remain hopeful that they can turn things around. The NWSL is unpredictable, the season is long, and the Red Stars have no intention of letting it pass them by.
“I think we have all the right pieces, and once we put things together and click, we’ll get rolling. The hardest part is getting started and getting that first win after a long stretch of losses and finding a way to break through,” Bike explained. “No one has hit panic mode yet. We know how good we can be and how good we are, so we’re just trusting the process, letting this part of it ride out, and looking to come out the other side better - which is something we are fully capable of doing.”
The Red Stars would notch their second win of the season on May 27th, lifting them out of last place and providing a much needed confidence boost to the struggling Chicago side. “It’s been a rocky road for us, but I have no doubt that we’ll get to where we want to be,” Bike said. “It’s just something we have to be patient with.”
Becoming a difference maker
As Bike continues to make her way in her professional soccer career, the biggest part of her evolution has been more mental than technical, and with the help from her teammates and coaches, she is slowly but surely finding the confidence she needs to become an impact player.
“The technical piece is something you can always control and something I always try and work on, but where I had to pay more attention is the mental piece, playing with confidence, and being the player I know I can be every day, no matter who I am standing next to or who is on the field with me,” Bike said. “Believing in myself has been so hard since I joined the league, but slowly I’m starting to break the shell and get back to the basics. I know how to play soccer, I have all the pieces, it’s just the mental side.”
For Bike, the most important thing she can do for her teammates and for herself is become a player that adds value to the team. “I want to be a difference maker,” she said. “I want to be one of those players, whether it’s this year or in a couple years, where people think, ‘She needs to be on the field.’ I want to work towards that, have fun, and enjoy my career.”
Off the field, Bike is enjoying Chicago, taking advantage of life in a big city with her teammates and enjoying this special time in her life. “I love this city, it’s beautiful, and I feel so fortunate to live right in it,” she said. “Off the field, I just want to enjoy my time as a professional soccer player. This sport has given me so much. It’s been hard at times, but it’s honestly the best time of my life.”