San Diego Wave defender, Naomi Girma, is a generational talent. That isn’t an opinion, it’s a fact. What else do you call a defender who was hand-picked as the foundational building block for an expansion team’s defense, came into the team as a natural-born leader garnering respect from teammates from day one, all while working her way into the world's toughest National Team roster? Oh, and not to mention, she’s just a rookie at 22 years old.
With the first overall pick in the 2022 NWSL Draft, Wave FC selects Naomi Girma, Defender from Stanford. Naomi was born and raised in the Bay Area, and we’re thrilled to have another Californian on the team. See you in San Diego, @naomi_girma! pic.twitter.com/U2yv3LyjlF— San Diego Wave FC (@sandiegowavefc) December 18, 2021
Despite coming into the NWSL draft as one of the sure-fire top three selections, there was still a bit of surprise when the San Diego expansion side opted to go with the Stanford defender, over FSU midfielder — and the more ‘attacking’ option — Jaelin Howell, who then ended up at Racing Louisville.
For San Diego, the Bay Area native couldn't have been a more perfect selection. To say Girma settled in right away might seem like hyperbole, but it is genuinely another fact. From preseason training the whispers and reports coming out were all about Girma and her leadership. How, despite being on team with USWNT superstars like Alex Morgan and Abby Dahlkemper, it was the 22-year-old shaping up to be the cornerstone to the defense.
Not only did she grow into a leadership role within San Diego Wave almost instantly, but it didn't take long before she drew the attention of that world-best National team I was talking about earlier, you know, THE U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team. The team that has sat atop world women’s soccer for the better part of three decades, and Girma essentially walked into training camp. Now, of course, that part is hyperbole, as Naomi worked her behind off and was already a know commodity at Stanford, but taking her game to another level with the Wave made the decision that much easier, and it wasn't long before she was receiving her first cap with the squad.
It’s kickoff for the USWNT in Chester, PA and the first -ever cap for Naomi Girma.— San Diego Wave FC (@sandiegowavefc) April 12, 2022
Congrats on this incredible achievement. pic.twitter.com/n5wvCk1QVG
However, this isn’t about International accolades, this is about awards season! As the NWSL regular season comes to an end, the time has come for the talk about who deserves which awards. Imagine our surprise when talk of Girma was centered more around ‘which award would be best and which should she concede?’ instead of the obvious, more factual soccer take of ‘Why can't Naomi Girma come away with two awards this year?’
If you will, a moment of complete transparency. Naomi winning Rookie of the Year really should be a foregone conclusion. Even with some of the great rookie play this year — we will get to that — she has been consistently the best.
Defender of the Year was always the big question, with so many ‘bigger’ names, and veteran players who tend to have a bit of history mixed in with current season performance to help booster their cases. However, as talk of Girma being firmly in the DOTY race, it raises the question for us, who says it has to be one over the other?
Let’s start with the harder one first, DOTY. There have been a lot of great defensive performances this season. Players like Alana Cook, Kristen Edmonds, Carson Pickett, Kelli Hubly and even fellow Wave FC teammate Abby Dahlkemper, have all had terrific years. They've all been essential to their respective team’s success, however the best part of awards like this, is the precedent set. Every year we get a winner, and we get to see the standard being set. The benchmark to beat if you want to be the next awarded, so eye test aside, let’s compare Naomi Girma’s season to 2021 DOTY winner Caprice Dydasco’ (2021 season of course).
In 2021, Dydasco featured in 25 matches making 24 starts. She finished the year with 49 clearances, 13 blocks, and 49 interceptions. She won 52% of her duels and 62% of her tackles. She also showed her talents offensively, boasting an 80% pass success rate on over 1300 passes, averaging 60 passes every 90 minutes. She scored one goal and five assists, as Gotham finished in fifth place, losing in the first round of the playoffs.
Naomi Girma still has a handful of matches left in the season, but has had very similar production that looks even better given the context. Starting all 14 matches played for San Diego Wave this season — her only matches missed for club were when she went off to represent country with USWNT — she has 66 clearances, nine blocks, and 20 interceptions. She's won 66% of her duels and 57% of her tackles. Girma boasts a whopping 82% pass success rate with a total of 698 passes so far this year, averaging 50 passes every 90 minutes. That number should grow exponentially as Wave FC Head Coach, Casey Stoney, uses Girma more and more during attacking build-ups.
Of course, each season is a bit different, and each performance is relative to that, however Girma has been one of the few main reasons for San Diego's immediate success as the team is currently fighting for first place in the standings, tied for the lowest amount of goals allowed (15) through the season to this point.
It may not be in the league highlight package, but Naomi Girma’s block in the 75th minute was a reason we left Kansas City with a point.— San Diego Wave FC (@sandiegowavefc) June 6, 2022
She earns the @plinqit Save of the Game. pic.twitter.com/5d9MBdiQM5
While she may not be the absolute runaway that Trinity Rodman was when she came into the league and took over (helping to lead her team to an NWSL Championship in her first season), Girma has been the best rookie over the course of the entire season. There is however, some stiff competition, especially as the season comes to its dramatic conclusion. Rookie of the Year has likely come down to three ‘finalists’ if you will. Our very own Naomi Girma, NC Courage forward Diana Ordoñez and Racing Louisville midfielder Savannah DeMelo.
While not the first pick for Louisville in this past draft, DeMelo has certainly become their first option in the midfield. She has grown into her place as string-puller for the attack, even putting in some highlight goals of her own. She has started all 16 matches played, tallied three goals with one assist. She's even pulled in NWSL Rookie of the Month honors for the month of July.
Ordoñez may not have been talked about much to start the season, but she has been on an absolute heater in recent weeks for NC Courage. The forward has featured in 12 matches with 11 starts. Tallying a mouth-watering 11 goals, currently second-best in the league. Eight of those goals have come in the last five matches for the Courage, putting her firmly in the driver’s position for August NWSL Rookie of the Month honors.
While those two have had great moments, and incredible stretches this season, Girma has been one of the best defenders in the league from day one, and has only gotten better, making a case to be one of the best players period. Of course, it’s always hard for defenders in conversations like this, I mean, Girma can't really score eight goals in five matches. She theoretically could, but as a defender and with how the Wave system is set up, she's asked to defend the goal, not attack it. She does a great job and as she gets worked into the attack more with the Wave increasing the way they play out the back, Girma will surely have more moments in attack, but she shouldn't need that to prove she's been the best rookie all year.
She was awarded the first Rookie of the Month award back in May, and it wasn't particularly close. Since then she hasn't put a foot wrong. Sure, she has had a few matches where she wasn't the cement wall we've grown accustomed to seeing, but even her bad days weren't catastrophic. When an NWSL expansion side was granted with the first overall choice in the draft, they chose a defender to build a team around, and in Naomi Girma they've gotten a person they can build an organization around. She's been one of the best defenders in 2022, definitely the best rookie, and should be honored as such.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!