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  • Isa Almeida

Naomi Girma Wins U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year, First Defender in Award History

At the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Naomi Girma made her first, but certainly not her last, appearance at a major world tournament. She was a central point on a defense that allowed just one goal and a total of two shots on goal over the four matches. She finished the year third on the USWNT in minutes played and started all 16 games she played while helping lead the U.S. defense to its lowest-ever goals-against average in a calendar year.

With this recognition, Girma became the first defender to win the award in its 39-year-old history.  

Before becoming a U.S. women’s national team star, Naomi Girma was a five-year-old girl from San Jose, Calif. playing for her father’s club Maleda. An Ethiopian immigrant, Girma’s dad founded the soccer club to unite Ethiopian families in the region through the sport. As she grew as a player, Girma moved to more competitive clubs, and as a sophomore in high school, she committed to Stanford.

“None of my success in soccer would’ve been possible without the community around me,” Girma said in a Stanford interview in 2020. “I had family here and I had friends who were like family.”

Girma went on to captain Stanford to the 2019 Women’s College Cup victory in her second year in the program. That same year she received her first call-up to the United States senior team but had to withdraw due to injury. After missing the 2020 and starting the 2021 season with a torn ACL, Girma declared for the 2022 NWSL Draft, where she was the No. 1 pick, and headed to San Diego for her new team’s inaugural season.

Going into her third year of professional and senior international soccer, Girma made her name known in the league and the sport. On top of being named Rookie of the Month in June and later on Rookie of the Year in 2022, Girma was named NWSL Defender of the Year for two consecutive years. 

Naomi Girma walking out at Snapdragon Stadium for San Diego Wave | Photo Credit: San Diego Wave FC

In 2023, following a successful rookie year with San Diego, Girma was named to the Women’s World Cup roster. 

"She looked like she had three World Cups behind her," former USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski told USA Today after her World Cup debut. “She was so comfortable.”

Though the tournament didn’t end as she wished for, Girma proved to be a defensive key for her national team, playing all 90 minutes of her first match against Vietnam and assisting the USWNT’s first goal of the tournament. Girma also earned the title of Woman of the Match in the group stage draw with Portugal.

Girma dedicated her time at the World Cup to her best friend and former Stanford goalkeeper Katie Meyer, who passed away in early 2022. 

“I was a lot more indecisive. I remember she would always tell me, ‘You’re going to make the national team, Nay. You’re going to play in the World Cup,’” Girma wrote in an article for The Players Tribune. “Well, my friend…. You were right. You were always right.”

Since Meyer's passing, Girma and some of her national team teammates partnered with Common Goal to launch a mental health initiative during the tournament in Meyer's honor, with hopes to save lives.

"We know how important it is to destigmatize the conversation around mental health," Girma wrote. "Especially for the millions of young people around the country who will be watching this World Cup, so FOX Sports will be dedicating 1% of its broadcast coverage to spotlighting the importance of mental health across all its platforms."

Naomi Girma distributing the ball for the U.S. against Wales on July 9, 2023 | Photo by Kallie Hansel-Tennes

After her 2019 Stanford triumph alongside Meyer, Girma was named U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year, and with her new senior-level award, she joined a strong and short list of players to have been awarded both titles, including former college teammate Sophia Smith, Lindsey Horan, Tobin Heath, Lauren Holiday and Julie Ertz.


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