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Yazmeen Ryan is ultracompetitive, dangerous — and all sunshine and smiles

The 25-year-old Gotham FC midfielder says she's looking to find her spark. But is she already catching fire?

Courtesy Gotham FC

Yazmeen Ryan is accustomed to winning.

In her rookie year, she won the 2021 National Women’s Soccer League Shield with Portland Thorns, in 2022 the NWSL Championship with the Thorns, and in 2023 the NWSL Championship with NJ/NY Gotham FC. With all that winning, Ryan ought to feel pretty good about her career up until this point, but the 25-year-old isn’t satisfied.

“Last season couldn’t have ended better,” Ryan said. “This season, [my goal is] to hit that next level for myself.” 

Ryan is soft-spoken and not one to brag about herself, but as her teammates and coaches know, she is an ultracompetitive, self-motivated talent who is nowhere close to her ceiling.  

“On the field, she can play any position you put her in, and she's going to give her all in every position,” said teammate Nealy Martin. “She's super dangerous. She proves it time and time again every time she's on the field and she's also willing to put in the defensive work, which is essential to the style that we play. Off the field, we describe her as like a sunflower. She’s always happy, can talk to anybody, and she’s a joy to be around.” 

Standing in the media scrum after Gotham’s home-opener, Ryan was all smiles holding her 2023 Championship Ring and a customized bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label with her name etched into the glass. She’s not going to drink it though. At the rate she’s going, it could easily be a collector's item one day. 

“This year we have some new players, but the same ideas and concepts within the team, so we’re building on that,” Ryan said. “This season, I have the same mentality as far as coming in and making my mark every time I can.” 

Ryan certainly made her mark in Gotham’s home opener, creating the most chances (5), completing the most dribbles (3), and assisting on the team’s only goal. FotMob rated her an 8.2, earning her Player of the Match honors according to the stats site.

“I want to get on the board, statistically,” Ryan said. “Last season, I was pretty consistent in the ways that I was playing. This year, it’s all about being consistent and effective in certain areas of the pitch that will result in goals and assists.”

Ryan knows she needs to stay confident, push forward, and not second guess herself on the field to get into her flow and inch closer to her extremely high ceiling.

“When I start to flow, things start to come, which ultimately helps the team,” Ryan said. “I feel like once I find my spark, even in just an individual game, even with something as simple as connecting that first pass or playing a nice through-ball or having a good shot on goal, that’s the spark that sets the tone for the rest of the game, and eventually the rest of the season.” 

Ryan is not just looking for a spark, though – she’s hoping to use it to ignite a flame. 

From depth player to key starter

In Gotham’s first game of the season, Ryan found herself at a very familiar venue. The team traveled to Portland to take on her former Thorns side, but Ryan did not make the Starting XI. 

As Ryan surveyed the game from the bench, the unthinkable happened. Her teammate Midge Purce came off in first-half stoppage time with what would later be revealed as a season-ending ACL injury. Ryan threw off her pinnie, warmed up quickly, and entered the game. 

“It’s always a scary moment seeing a teammate go down like that, especially a player like Midge,” Ryan recalled. “We’re doing our best to support her and I know that her recovery and her comeback is going to be epic.”

Although losing Purce was devastating for Ryan and Gotham, the team, managed by Juan Carlos Amorós, are coached to be ready for any moment. 

“When one player goes down we try not to drop the level, so I had to make sure I kept up the level in the best way that I could, especially entering a game like that against a team like [Portland],” Ryan said. “Like Juan says, we all have to stay ready and prepare for the worst, and unfortunately the worst did happen. It’s hard to stay focused when you’re concerned about your teammate and an injury this big, but we love Midge and we’re looking forward to her return.”

The first half ended scoreless, but it would be Ryan whose expertly timed run down the right-hand side and perfectly placed pass into the box to the feet of Esther broke the deadlock leading to the game’s only goal.

“Leading up to that play, we had been defending a lot,” Ryan recalled. “Finally getting out on the weak side and seeing Bruninha get the ball, the field really opened up. It was just a matter of timing my movement and her pass to me, which was perfect. We work on that ball all the time in training. I kept my head up to see where Esther was, as soon as I saw her stop and find the space she wanted to be in, it was just about finding her and executing that pass.” 

For Ryan, it felt just like it did in training. Her timing was perfect, her movement was just right, and finally getting into the attack for the first time in that match gave her that spark, perhaps one that could ignite for the rest of the season. 

Freedom on and off the pitch

As Ryan enters her fourth year in the NWSL, she is keenly aware of the rapid growth she has experienced under Gotham FC head coach Juan Carlos Amorós. Even during his interim stint with the Houston Dash in 2022, Ryan keyed in on the Spanish manager as a coach who could help take her to the next level.

“I had full confidence that he was more than capable of turning this team and club around and he has done that and delivered every single time,” Ryan said. “Day in and day out, he is keeping the environment competitive and making sure each player is pushing 100% every day in training.” 

Amorós has set a standard where, according to Ryan, it’s impossible not to find growth and excel both as a player and a person. She and her teammates have rallied around the coach and his staff, and in turn, Amorós has given everything he can to make the team better by making the individuals better.

“One of the highlights of [Ryan] is her attitude towards the everyday work, no matter her role,” said Amorós. “We’ve asked her to play as a number 10, on the wings, even as a fullback if we need her, and she’s willing to do her best whether she’s in the starting XI or coming off the bench. To me, that’s the key as to why she’s growing and becoming a better and better player. She’s an important player for us.” 

Along with Jesús Botello Hermosa, Gotham’s Head of Tactical Analysis, the coaching staff has given the players a unique way of visualizing the game to apply their skills and thrive in the game environment. 

“Speaking with Jesús during film sessions, it’s just done in a different way than I’ve ever experienced,” Ryan said. “You're looking at different things that relate to the overall shape and things that we want to do as a team, while still giving that confidence and freedom to make decisions.”

At the end of the day, it’s the players who have to take what they’ve learned and apply it to the game. Ryan, through film sessions and even chess playing with Hermosa, is learning how to read the game in different ways, play with freedom, and apply her strengths no matter where on the field she’s asked to be.

“I love that there’s this organized chaos in place, but what makes it so great is that there is still this freedom to read the game and do what you as a player know how to do,” Ryan said. “It’s just so unique. Every player, no matter what position they’re asked to play, can still play it in their own way while executing the game plan and the concepts.”

This weekend, Gotham will travel to Washington D.C. to play its third away match in four games, but Ryan is itching to get back to Red Bull Arena and play in front of the home fans. 

“We need [the fans], we hear [them], it’s electric and it brings us energy,” Ryan said, noting the support from NYCFC fans who have come out to see Gotham play. “We love the support, and when people show up, it’s a different game. It changes the game for us as the home team.” 

Local fans are crucial to the team’s success, and Ryan has her own hometown fans in her brother and his family who live in the New Jersey/New York area. From her family, to her teammates, to the fans, the Oklahoma native has very quickly settled into her new home out east. 

“I feel like I’ve created a home here,” Ryan said. “I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”