Naomi Girma becomes first defender to win U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year

United States women’s national team and San Diego Wave center back Naomi Girma was a brick wall in defense last year and has deservedly been named the 2023 U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year.

Girma is the first pure defender to win the award in its 39-year history. 

Naomi Girma Player of the Year award

In 2023 Girma won the NWSL Defender of the Year award (for the second year in-a-row), was a finalist for the league’s MVP award and led the USWNT backline to a historic year.

The 23-year-old played every minute of the 2023 Women’s World Cup and led a defense that only allowed one goal and two shots on target during the tournament. 

A look at the calendar year shows the national team allowed an average of 0.17 goals per game. That’s the best in team history.

For her club team she was stellar. Girma led the San Diego Wave to winning the NWSL Shield and conceded just 22 goals tied for second-best in the league.

“I’m honored and grateful to be the first defender and second Black player to win this award,” Girma said in a statement from U.S. Soccer. “It’s really a testament to all the hard work put in by our goalkeepers, the back line and our whole team to achieve an historic year for our defense. 

“We are all very connected, work hard on the field, watch a lot of film to get better and really take pride in stopping teams from scoring. I always want to thank my friends and family, because they’ve been with me on every step of this journey. 

“My coaches and teammates for club and country are the people who have helped shape me into the person and player I am today, so I’m very thankful to all of them. I’m super excited for what’s to come and can’t wait to get started here in 2024.”

Girma is the third player in history to win the award that wasn’t a forward or an attacking midfielder. Goalkeeper Hope Solo won the award in 2009 while defensive midfielder Julie Ertz won in 2017 and 2019.

The next generation of USWNT players will have plenty to prove in the coming years as powerhouses like Spain, England, Australia, Japan and more continue to improve. Having a young and talented player like Girma in defense is just the leader needed to usher in the new wave.

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