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Unsung Heroes - An NWSL Series: Matchday 6

Erika Tymrak, Paige Metayer and Madison Hammond feature in this week’s edition.

NWSL: San Diego Wave at Washington Spirit Photo by Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Well, hello there.

I know you thought I was gone for good, and after the last few weeks of my life, it has felt that way. I bet you’re wondering why I’m back and starting at Week 6. Well, it felt like the most fair thing to do and those games are freshest in my mind. My plan is, if you’ll stick with me, is to go back and hit Matchdays 3, 4 and 5 in the coming weeks. I missed two weekends of games, but I promised I’d complete the series and that’s what I intend to do. So stay tuned and hold me accountable to my word to do this for 22 weekends. For now, on with the show.

Erika Tymrak - AMF- Orlando Pride

NWSL: Racing Louisville FC at Orlando Pride, midfielder Erika Tymrak dribbles against Racing Louisville Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

I said on Twitter this weekend that I owed Erika Tymrak an article. This isn’t a full article obviously, but it is a good place to start. I thought she was an excellent pick up for Orlando last season, who took a while to acclimate to that team (a team that is mostly gone now). What she has become for this young Orlando squad is a talisman, directing the tempo of play as she sits just behind the attacking line. Her position also allows Marta to play out wide and run with the likes of Adriana, with whom Marta is forming a fantastic connection, which serves them for club and country. But it is Tymrak, wily veteran with a high soccer IQ and ability to pick out the right pass, that has helped this Orlando squad start to turn it around. She is the calming presence in the middle of the park for a squad that can still be unsettled at times. She keeps the tempo, makes sure they are consistently pushing forward, and allows Marta to play, not just mentor. She’s been asked to do a lot of heavy lifting for this team and she’s done it calmly on the pitch. She is what I like to call a bonafide professional. Her skill set is a perfect fit for the NWSL and right now, for Orlando. Seb Hines is blessed with a lot of young and exciting talent, but Tymrak is essential to what Orlando is trying to build, both tactically and culturally.

Paige Metayer - MF- Washington Spirit

Listen, I will start with a few acknowledgements before I touch on Metayer’s performance. One, this a much better Spirit team than most of us thought we’d be getting early in the season. There were legitimate questions about their defense, which seems to have held up so far. Also, this is not the 2022 San Diego Wave. They strengthened their midfield with the additions of Dani Colaprico and Megan Dougherty-Howard, though the latter has yet to play. However, injuries to Emily van Egmond and especially Taylor Kornieck, have kept San Diego from playing the direct style of football they are accustomed to. Despite that, they are still in the playoff picture, but it is evident that there is midfield issue for them, as well as a depth issue. The Washington Spirit took advantage of the space provided by a thin midfield and proceeded to dissect The Wave for most of the 90 minutes. Ashley Sanchez moved freely in attack, and Trinity Rodman had her best game in a long time on national television (the match was on CBS). But the third goal scorer, and one of the unsung heroes of the season so far is rookie Paige Metayer. Metayer plays midfield, but has been asked to help out in defense from that midfield position, partnering with the left side of the Spirit backline to cut off running channels for the other team’s best attacker. Covering this space also allows Sullivan to pass from deeper and allows Sanchez freedom to push up in attack and play with, and off of, Rodman in the space left by the San Diego 4-4-2. She has played this position solidly, particularly after a shaky start (she received a red card earlier this season). Time will tell how the Spirit defense will hold up, but for now, a big reason why they are is the play of Metayer. She has proven to be a great draft pickup for the Spirit.

Madison Hammond - CDM - Angel City FC

NWSL: Kansas City Current at Angel City FC Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

You can sense a theme this week I think. That’s right, this week belongs to the midfielders, and we’ll end with the last match of the weekend. Many fans of the league had big questions when it was revealed that Super Saiyan 6 Julie Ertz would miss the ACFC vs KC match due to an excused absence. This meant that the task of protecting the middle of the park would fall to Madison Hammond, who until this season played primarily in the center back position for Angel City, and her previous club OL Reign. We have seen Hammond placed in this role this season, but the task of starting against a team with Debinha is a big ask even for the most experienced of 6s. Hammond played well in this match, protecting the space centrally and allowing her wide players to push up at pace. She stayed stuck in on Debinha and particularly Lo’eau LaBonta, which helped the backline neutralize Debinha, because you can never fully stop her. She also made intelligent play to head a pass back to Jun Endo for an assist on the third, and ultimately game winning, goal. Hammond seems adept at defending her back, a skill needed for anyone moving up from CB to CDM (the play shifts from in front of you to behind you). I believe with her working next to Julie Ertz for at least a season, she will only improve in this position. Angel City may have stumbled upon their future 6 without even knowing it.

Well everyone, that’s it for this week’s Unsung Heroes. Go back and watch some highlights or games if you can, and if you are able, go to games and watch these amazing footballers in person. They’d love to see you there.

P.S. There were other great choices this week, but I make sure I pick three or fewer players. Honorable mention goes to Jenna Nighswonger, Tara McKeown, Ryan Williams, and Veronica Latsko for their performances this weekend.