Flashback to June 26, 2021. It’s Cary, North Carolina, again – the same place her collegiate career came to an end. But this time, instead of Yazmeen Ryan closing a chapter of her soccer career, she’s beginning a new one. That night, the Portland Thorns’ first pick in the 2021 NWSL Draft will make her National Women’s Soccer League debut, playing the final 21 minutes in a loss to the North Carolina Courage.
One month later, Ryan suffered an ankle injury, one that sidelined her until the end of August. Near the end of that recovery, we caught up with the Thorns rookie for the second edition of Her Words.
Editor’s Note: Her Words is a reoccurring Q-and-A series documenting Yazmeen Ryan’s first season in Portland. Edits have been made for clarity and flow. Part I was published earlier this summer. This is Part II:
ThornsFC.com: Last time we talked, you had already debuted, but we stopped short of that. So that’s where I wanted to pick up.
Where was your mind when you were approaching that – when you closer to, “alright, I can get playing time at any time, at this point?” Where were you mentally as far as your process of building into that? I imagine you probably just really wanted to play.
Ryan: Yeah, because it was kind of a slow process coming into the team, making sure they didn't want to just throw me out there. Of course, I was staying ready and staying prepared, knowing that going out there, because it was my first time playing, I had to showcase a little bit that I can do.
(*EN:\* Ryan stood out in her debut. Read more about that appearance, here, for context on her performance.)
Ryan: Although it was a pretty good debut, I still feel like there's more I can show and do: certain parts of the game that I can affect, and stuff like that. It definitely was a good start to get my name out there and for people to recognize me and how I play. After that, it kind of mellowed out, and so I’m kind of taking this injury as a new, fresh start, keeping in mind that debut was great.
After North Carolina, I was so hyped. I was like, "Oh my gosh, I want to keep playing. I want more minutes," especially since we didn't get the result that we wanted. Just knowing what we have the talent that we have, and what we can do ‑ I was just so excited to get more minutes and change the game even more, and build on more that I learned. Even playing with people like [Christine Sinclair] and Crystal [Dunn], and Rocky [Rodríguez] and Ang [Salem] in the midfield, Lindsey [Horan] as well, I was just so excited. I could not wait.
After that, I was just thinking too much. In the North Carolina game, I was just going out there, and I was a little bit more chill, because I knew there was no pressure on me at that time. I know that there's still not, but I knew at that moment, nobody knew who I was. Nobody knew what I can do as a soccer player. After that I was excited, but then I started overthinking a little bit. That’s when my performance kind of just stayed flat. It didn't necessarily rise, didn't necessarily drop. It just kind of stayed stagnant.
Now, it’s Just kind of remembering, keeping in mind that mindset of North Carolina, building on top of that, and not thinking too much about things going on outside of soccer, or even the soccer piece too much. If I can get ahold of my emotions a little bit more, it's only going to skyrocket from here. That's what I hope.
I think this injury really allowed me to take a step back, take a deep breath. I got a little taste of what it is going to be like, so I’m not just going in blind or anything. Now I get more training sessions in, I’m around the team more, I get to see how they play and play with them a little more. I'm starting to feel a little more comfortable for when I get that chance again to get minutes and make change on the field.
Definitely, this injury was a blessing and a curse, because I really think it allowed me to take a step back and be even more excited to get back out there and start playing.
Thorns.com: This already is the second time this year you’ve had to hit pause. The first was when you arrived and the team almost immediately spent a week on the road. You got that time to settle into Portland by yourself. You’re speaking so positively about this break, too. I’m wondering if that’s a process that you’ve found helpful before, these types of sprints then stops.
Ryan: No, this has definitely been a little bit different, with how things have been going.
When I got here, I didn't see it as a time to sit and reflect, because of the fact I was here, I was a new player, I hadn't even trained hardly with the team, yet. I wasn't in full training whenever they traveled in the beginning. I saw it as a chance to settle in and get used to Portland, but this whole process has definitely been unique and not something I've gone through before, especially getting injured early on, when I just started to find a rhythm and get playing time.
But I try to take on a lot of this with a positive mindset, because I am so happy here with this team. Even they are so positive and so supportive. This has been a real time to sit and reflect, but after that, I don't want any more sitting and reflecting. I’m ready to go.
I've been ready to kick start my rookie career and really put my name out there. So, it can be frustrating at times, because like any competitive athlete at this level, you want to do everything. You want to play, and you want to do this, this and that. It's good to have the trainers and the staff that we have to kind of balance it out a little bit, because they do know what's best. And you also know what's best for your body as an athlete, but it's good to keep that balance and know when to slow down and ramp back up again.
ThornsFC.com: The reality of it, though, has been hard, and I’m not just talking about the injuries. You look at this team, and you have just a loaded midfield. Ang Salem’s really forcing some decisions. Celeste [Boureille] has been great this year. Olivia [Moultrie] can play, now. When you’re back, you’ll be right in that mix.
Just straight up, what has it been like for you coming to an environment where those 15-, 20-minutes spurts are what you get? To me, that’s a pretty small sample size. You get some North Carolina-esque opportunities, but then you might get 30 minutes in game when all you’re asked to do is help see out a 1-0 win.
Ryan: It's definitely an adjustment, and it's obviously not something that any player is used to when coming into the league. We’re all used to being 90-minute players. It's different, especially with the pace of this game, and also as a rookie, not knowing any of these teams, with everybody having played against each other in the past.
North Carolina was great because I kind of put that aside, but then afterwards I let that creep up on me, and I was thinking ‘OK, I have 15 minutes, I have 20 minutes. I need to do something, and if I don't do something, I'm not going to play.’
And against North Carolina, I did feel like had a lot of space. The Louisville game and then the one after that, they were definitely completely different games. It was just a completely different situation. We weren't down. We were up 2-0, specifically with the Louisville game.
The idea that we have to do all these things in 15 minutes? Sometimes, it's just not what the game calls for. I don’t have to go out and just all of a sudden do all of these things. I've realized that a little bit, but also knowing that when I go out there, it's not about doing something crazy but doing the simple things at a high level; keeping the game at a high level. Coming in with energy and tactically doing the right things, and helping; coming with energy and doing what I can, knowing something will happen eventually.
It's hard, because you want to pride yourself on what you can do, and everybody wants to play. I've always said, I want to be on the best team. I want to play with the best of the best. I want to be in the best environment possible. Best, best, best. I came here, and this is what I got. Every single player on this roster brings something so special to this team and at a high level. I asked for the best, and I got the best.
I really just kind of think about that. Of course, I want to play and I want to start, and I have all these personal goals, so it's definitely difficult. Knowing that we're all still going to complete at the end of the day, whether the starting lineup is set or not, every single player is always really working out there as if it's not set. We're all still getting better. We're all still improving, and things happen. Situations happen. You never really know what it could be and who's going to end up playing the most, or who is going to end up playing the least. Just to be on the best team in the NWSL right now, I feel like I’m still getting all the personal gains I was looking for.
That makes it even more rewarding, knowing that this roster is so deep, when you can get playing time or get a starting spot. If I get there, I did earn it. That's even more rewarding than just going to a different team in the league where I could be getting more minutes, where I could be a starter. At the end of the day, I'm getting way better here faster. Not to say I wouldn't have earned a spot anywhere else or I wouldn’t work hard, but it's definitely a different type of hard work.
It's a different type of mentality. It's just different. It's definitely way more rewarding being with a team like this, getting to showcase my talents on the field and getting playing time.
Interviews with Yazmeen Ryan will appear throughout the season on ThornsFC.com and the Thorns FC Instagram account. Next, Ryan will discuss her life off the field in Portland.