Each month in the leadup to the World Cup, Just Women’s Sports will make the case for one player as most essential to the success of the U.S. women’s national team in 2023. Next up: Naomi Girma.

The future of the U.S. women’s national team’s defense also has cemented herself as its present ahead of the 2023 World Cup.

After nearly sweeping the NWSL’s end-of-season awards as a rookie in 2022 – which included winning rookie and defender of the year and finishing as an MVP finalist – Naomi Girma has picked up right where she left off to begin 2023.

As a center back for the San Diego Wave, Girma has established herself as one of the best in the NWSL. And this summer at the World Cup, she’ll prove herself on the world stage.

While captain Becky Sauerbrunn has anchored the USWNT defense for the better part of 214 caps, Girma has stepped up as her successor.

“There’s a reason she’s starting on our team, and that’s because she is growing into a great player,” USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski said of the defender.

And those sentiments are echoed by others who have coached her. Casey Stoney, who is her head coach with the Wave, has had to remind the masses that Girma is only in her second season as a pro.

“I think she’s just gonna continue to grow. Obviously, people need to realize this is only her second year as a professional,” she said recently. “Last year’s an exceptional season, and she’s played well again this season.”

And Stoney sees “masses of potential” and room for growth despite Girma already being “so good on the ball.”

“I think her ability on the ball is good,” she said. “It’s just about decision-making, confidence and bravery sometimes, and also, you know, seeing the pictures.”

Still, Girma plays with the maturity of someone with much more experience under their belt, and the former No. 1 overall pick has mobility that some players could only dream of possessing.

The 22-year-old is dangerous as she drives forward on the dribble. She knows her teammates’ movements and holds a strong passing range – a skill that will only get better as she continues to find her place with USWNT teammates.

“There’s some players that have made their mark in such a short period of time,” Alex Morgan said in the most recent USWNT camp of Girma, Trinity Rodman and Sophia Smith. “Those are just a couple of the players that have already shown that they belong and will be here for many, many years. So, it’s exciting to see what they can do in a World Cup and how they can really be a huge factor in us being successful this summer.”

Girma also knows how to position herself and read the game, and that makes it difficult for opposing attackers to find space. And the defender can help the USWNT attack find space as well.

According to American Soccer Analysis’ goals added metric, Girma led the NWSL in “interrupting” value in 2022. She also was rated in the 96th percentile for ball recoveries and in the 92nd percentile for fewest times dribbled past per 90 among center backs in the NWSL, per FBref.

“There’s very few players in my whole tenure that have stepped in and it’s just like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s a first person on the team sheet’ type of player every single time,” Megan Rapinoe said of Girma in February. “She’s just that good. I don’t think you can leave her off the field, calm, extremely smart. I don’t think her physicality gets talked about enough, deceptively quick. If you have any kind of quickness and brain, then that’s a wrap.

“She can play any kind of ball. She’s a great leader. She’s just f—ing good. It’s tough to step into this team at this level and immediately be a no-brainer starter. … The impact was just immediate with Naomi. She’s going to be the future of the team for a long time.”

Who is the most essential USWNT player?

The U.S. women’s national team’s April roster features a familiar, yet surprising, face.

Julie Ertz has not played since the Tokyo Olympics in August 2021, but she is making her return for the USWNT’s upcoming friendlies against Ireland, the team announced Tuesday.

The 30-year-old midfielder had been rehabbing a knee injury, and then she gave birth to a baby boy last August with husband Zach Ertz. She has not played an NWSL match since May 2021 and remains a free agent as the 2023 season gets underway.

Ahead of the SheBelieves Cup in February, USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski said that time was “running out” for Ertz to make her return ahead of this summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

“She’s someone that we’re probably not going to be able to count on in the World Cup,” he said at the time.

This is the last USWNT roster to drop before the World Cup in July. That makes Ertz’s inclusion all the more surprising, and the question remains: Will Ertz be making the trip Down Under?

Also returning for the USWNT are defenders Casey Krueger, for the first time since the birth of her son Caleb last July, and Tierna Davidson, after recovering from an ACL tear. And reigning NWSL MVP Sophia Smith is back for the USWNT after missing the start of the year with a nagging foot injury.

Catarina Macario remains sidelined as she works her way back from an ACL tear, and Megan Rapinoe is out for the second time in three camps. Rapinoe missed the January friendlies in New Zealand with an ankle injury before returning for the SheBelieves Cup, but she has missed the start of the NWSL season with a calf injury.

Midge Purce also was left off the roster. The 27-year-old forward was snubbed from the last two camps of 2022, but she made the cut in January and February, with Andonovski saying ahead in January friendlies that Purce had the chance to “fight for her spot.”

The USWNT will face Ireland at 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday, April 8 at Q2 Stadium in Austin, Texas, and then at 7:30 p.m. ET Tuesday, April 11 at CityPark in St. Louis. The first game will air on TNT, Universo and Peacock, while the second game will air on HBO Max, Universo and Peacock.

USWNT roster for April 2023


  • A.D. Franch (Kansas City Current)
  • Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage)
  • Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)


  • Alana Cook (OL Reign)
  • Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars)
  • Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Emily Fox (North Carolina Courage)
  • Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Sofia Huerta (OL Reign)
  • Casey Krueger (Chicago Red Stars)
  • Kelley O’Hara (Gotham FC)
  • Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Emily Sonnett (OL Reign)


  • Julie Ertz (Free agent)
  • Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyonnais)
  • Taylor Kornieck (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Rose Lavelle (OL Reign)
  • Kristie Mewis (NJ/NY Gotham FC)
  • Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit)
  • Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit)


  • Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit)
  • Alex Morgan (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit)
  • Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Mallory Pugh Swanson (Chicago Red Stars)
  • Lynn Williams (Kansas City Current)

Thursday night’s SheBelieves Cup match featured as much action off the field as on, as the players of the Canada and U.S. women’s national teams protested inequalities prior to the opening kickoff.

Both teams’ players wore armbands that said “Defend Trans Joy” in support of trans rights. The players also wore purple armbands to signify gender equality, which the USWNT moved toward with its latest collective bargaining agreement and for which the Canada WNT is fighting with its national federation.

Prior to the game, the CANWNT wore purple shirts with a message on them: “Enough is Enough.” The team is in the midst of a dispute with Canada Soccer over equal pay issues, budget cuts and an overall lack of support from the federation.

In a statement, the Canadian Players Association said the team would be wearing purple “as a symbol of protest” due to its relation to gender equality.

“Considering the current circumstances, our players will continue to wear purple until our association has standards in place that ensure equal treatment and opportunity,” the statement read.

Both teams linked arms in solidarity before the kickoff.

“At the start of the eighth edition of the SheBelieves Cup, our players are united in continuing to raise awareness on issues of equality,” the USWNT Players Association said in a statement.

“Although we are now on the other side of this fight and can focus on our play on the field, our counterparts in Canada and elsewhere are experiencing the same pervasive misogyny and unequal treatment that we faced,” the statement continued. “We stand with all women’s footballers in calling attention to their collective fight, but also call on everyone to join and support the fight to eradicate ALL inequality and discrimination that exists in our sport.”

Following the match, which ended in a 2-0 USWNT victory, Canada captain Christine Sinclair addressed the USWNT’s support and the team’s own struggles on the field.

“Obviously we’re fierce competitors on the pitch, but the world of women’s football is very small and ultimately we support each other. The U.S., years ago, fought this fight. And now it’s our turn,” Sinclair said. “Their support has been amazing. They’ve helped really help amplify the message and get it going worldwide.

“We’re just exhausted. The first 10 minutes were rough. But I think there’s only so much people can do. But proud of the fight, I mean, it wasn’t a lack of effort out there tonight. We’ll continue the fight and we’ll move on.”

Canada coach Bev Priestman echoed those sentiments.

“In many ways, you think that your players are superhuman and they’re not,” she said. “And I think, I felt for what was in front of me, frustrated on the sideline of course because we started flat and I think it’s a result of the emotional and the training days lost and you add all those things up, they definitely play into it. Not to make excuses, but I thought the US came out really well.”

After Brazil’s own 1-0 win against Japan earlier in the day, Brazilian players expressed their solidarity with the Canadian team.

“We are together,” Marta said. “Women’s soccer worked so hard for being (at) this level and we can’t regress. We can’t take (a) step back. So we need to fight for everybody, develop for everybody. This is not acceptable.”

Debinha also voiced her support.

“We’re talking about the best team in the world. They just won the Olympic games. This position, I think it’s not good. And of course, we’re always gonna stand with them. And I just think they need respect,” she said. “It’s a shame what is happening, and if they need us for sure, women’s soccer, we’re always going to stand with them.”

Rose Lavelle will miss the first game of the SheBelieves Cup for the U.S. women’s national team, coach Vlatko Andonovski revealed Wednesday.

The 27-year-old midfielder was injured in training, picking up what Andonovski referred to as a knock, though both the coach and a team spokesperson did not provide further information. Still, the team did not rule her out for the second and third games of the round-robin tournament, which kicks off Thursday.

The USWNT opens the tournament against Canada at 7 p.m. ET Thursday in Orlando. The game, which will air on HBO Max, already features the dramatic storyline of the Canadian women’s national team’s heated dispute with its national federation.

Next up, the USWNT will face Japan at 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday in Nashville. The host team closes the tournament against Brazil at 7 p.m. ET next Wednesday, Feb. 22, in Frisco, Texas.

Lavelle was one of just six players who played at least 1,000 minutes for the USWNT in 2022. A rising star turned seasoned veteran, she is a reliable presence for the team on a midfield line that sorely needs one.

The midfielder scored a brace in the USWNT’s second match against New Zealand in January while serving as the team’s captain.

Olympic gold medalist Sophie Schmidt announced on Tuesday that she will be retiring from international soccer after the 2023 World Cup due to what the team has described as unequal treatment from Canada Soccer.

“Following our meeting [with Canada Soccer] on Saturday, I immediately approached Bev [Priestman],” Schmidt told reporters on a press call organized by the Canada Soccer Players Association. “I told her of my intentions to retire from international soccer and I would like to fly home. She asked me to sleep on it.”

After that meeting with Canada Soccer, Canada’s women’s national team players say they were forced to end their work stoppage due to threats of litigation toward the union and the individual players currently in camp preparing for the SheBelieves Cup.

The players had boycotted training on Friday with the intention of also refusing to play games, in protest over unequal treatment compared to the men’s national team and a lack of financial transparency after being told that funding for both the first team and the youth national teams had been cut.

Captain Christine Sinclair described the players being at their “wits end” as they attempt to rectify both short- and long-term issues with only a few months before the World Cup.

“After a long chat with Sincy trying to debrief what has just transpired, she talked me off the ledge so to say, for lack of a better word,” Schmidt said. “She made me promise that I will see this final fight through, that we need to leave this place a better environment moving forward and ensure a sustainable pathway that gives girls an opportunity to be successful and to chase after their dreams.”

While Schmidt is committed to the fight for the future, she said she will not continue with the team after the World Cup. Outside of international soccer, Schmidt signed a two-year extension with the NWSL’s Houston Dash in the offseason.

“My views of the CSA have never been more concerning. I am still rocked to my core by the situations we are currently in,” she said.

The players say that talks of a strike are not over, and if they can’t come to a resolution with Canada Soccer, the team is prepared to refuse to play scheduled friendlies during the next international window in April.

“For me, it’s devastating,” OL Reign and Canada midfielder Quinn said about being forced to return to play. “I think we’ve come to a lot of realizations of the realities that we’re in with our organization, but for us we’ve put everything … [into] playing for our country. And to understand that our organization put us in that position, for me, it was shattering.”

The players emphasized that the entire Canada player pool, which expands beyond the 23 currently in camp for the SheBelieves Cup, is being included in decisions. They are united in pushing for the same resources the Canada men’s national team received during their 2022 World Cup campaign, as well as simple remedies like being paid for services rendered (players say they have not been paid for their work in 2022.)

With support from the men’s team, the women’s national team is also pushing for greater transparency from Canada Soccer about the financial discrepancies that have caused youth national team funding to be slashed despite record revenues in the past calendar year.

Canada’s women’s national team is entering the 2023 World Cup this summer as a top contender after winning gold at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. They open the SheBelieves Cup against the United States on Thursday.

“It’s pretty disgusting that we’re having to ask just to be treated equally,” Portland Thorns and Canada defender Janine Beckie said. “It’s a fight that women all over the world have to partake in every single day, but quite frankly we’re really sick of it. And it’s something that now, I don’t even get disappointed by anymore, I just get angry about.

“Because it’s time, it’s 2023, we won the damn Olympic Games. And we’re about to go to the World Cup with a team who could win.”

FIFA has released the shortlist for the 2022 FIFPRO Women’s World 11, the only global player award voted on exclusively by the players themselves.

Alex Morgan and Kelley O’Hara represent the United States women’s national team on the 23-player list, which features the best women’s soccer players based on their performances from Aug. 7, 2021 to July 31, 2022. The final World 11 will be revealed at The Best FIFA Football Awards in Paris on Feb. 27.

Morgan, the USWNT’s sole nominee for the Best FIFA Women’s Player award, won the 2022 NWSL Golden Boot after scoring 15 regular-season goals for the San Diego Wave. The 33-year-old forward also scored the game-winning goal for the USWNT on a penalty kick in the Concacaf W Championship final, securing the U.S. a spot in the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Morgan was named one of three finalists last week for FIFA’s top player award, joining England’s Beth Mead and Spain’s Alexia Putellas.

O’Hara played over 1,200 minutes for the USWNT in 2021 and was a key contributor to the team’s bronze medal-winning campaign at the Tokyo Olympics. She then recorded a goal and two assists in eight games in 2022, but hasn’t played for the U.S. since withdrawing from camp last August with a lingering hip injury. O’Hara, 34, plays as an outside back for the U.S. but was listed as a midfielder on the World 11 shortlist.

Sophia Smith is notably absent from the shortlist after being named the 2022 U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year in January. Smith, 22, led the USWNT with 11 goals last year, becoming the youngest player to do so since Mia Hamm in 1993. Despite finishing second to Morgan in the NWSL Golden Boot race, Smith won NWSL MVP and Championship MVP after leading the Portland Thorns to the NWSL title in October.

The World 11 will feature the goalkeeper, three defenders, three midfielders and three forwards who receive the most votes. The remaining outfield players with the next highest number of votes will fill the last spot.

Full shortlist


Mary Earps (Manchester United, England)
Christiane Endler (Olympique Lyonnais, Chile)
Sandra Panos (Barcelona, Spain)


Lucy Bronze (Manchester City/Barcelona, England)
Ellie Carpenter (Olympique Lyonnais, Australia)
Ashley Lawrence (Paris Saint-Germain, Canada)
Mapi Leon (Barcelona, Spain)
Irene Paredes (Barcelona, Spain)
Wendie Renard (Olympique Lyonnais, France)
Leah Williamson (Arsenal, England)


Aitana Bonmati (Barcelona, Spain)
Caroline Graham Hansen (Barcelona, Norway)
Amandine Henry (Olympique Lyonnais, France)
Lena Oberdorf (Wolfsburg, Germany)
Kelley O’Hara (Washington Spirit/NJ/NY Gotham, USA)
Alexia Putellas (Barcelona, Spain)
Keira Walsh (Manchester City/Barcelona, England)


Ada Hegerberg (Olympique Lyonnais, Norway)
Sam Kerr (Chelsea, Australia)
Beth Mead (Arsenal, England)
Vivianne Miedema (Arsenal, Netherlands)
Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride/San Diego Wave, USA)
Ellen White (Manchester City, England)

The Canadian women’s national team players attended training on Sunday ahead of the SheBelieves Cup, but not without making statements of protest.

Players trained for roughly two hours, wearing their kits inside out or with tape over the Soccer Canada crest, per TSN’s Rick Westhead. The protests come as the Canadian players prepare to participate unwillingly in the SheBelieves Cup after Canada Soccer considered their attempted strike to be “unlawful” and threatened legal action in response.

The players had planned to boycott the friendly tournament in the United States over budget cuts, equal pay grievances and lack of support from the federation.

The Canada women’s national team launched a strike on Friday. The next day, Canada Soccer used union busting tactics to end the team’s strike, threatening to sue players for “what could be millions of dollars in damages.”

In a statement, Canada Soccer said that the players “were not and are not in a legal strike position under Ontario labour law.”

“Canada Soccer therefore took the necessary steps to ensure that such games will be played as scheduled,” their statement continued.

Longtime Canada captain Christine Sinclair pushed back against the federation’s representation of the events.

“[Canada Soccer] flat-out just lied,” she said. “And now the public’s being lied to. That’s how they operate.”

Canada defender Vanessa Gilles outlined the team’s full list of grievances on Saturday, while U.S. women’s national team stars Alex Morgan and Becky Sauerbrunn voiced their support for the Canadian players. Canada’s women’s national team has been negotiating a new CBA with an emphasis on equitable pay after their previous contract expired in 2021. The USWNT reached a landmark CBA with U.S. Soccer and the men’s national team last year guaranteeing equal pay.

The USWNT and Canada meet in the first game of the SheBelieves Cup on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET in Orlando, Fla.

Canada women’s national team is being forced to play in the SheBelieves Cup after Canada Soccer used union busting tactics to end the team’s strike.

The CANWNT began their strike on Friday over budget cuts, equal pay issues and lack of support from Canada Soccer. They had threatened to boycott the SheBelieves Cup if the issues were not resolved.

The two sides met on Saturday in what the players described as an “hours-long meeting.” But it was before that meeting that Canada Soccer informed the players that “they consider our job action to be an unlawful strike.”

Canada Soccer threatened to take legal action against them if they did not commit to playing in Thursday’s game against the USWNT. They also threatened to take steps to collect “what could be millions of dollars in damages” from both the players’ association and individual players.

“As individual players who have received no compensation yet for any of our work for Canada Soccer in 2022, we cannot afford the risks that personal action against us by Canada Soccer will create,” they wrote.

In a statement, Canada Soccer said that the players “were not and are not in a legal strike position under Ontario labour law.”

“Canada Soccer therefore took the necessary steps to ensure that such games will be played as scheduled,” they said.

National team player Janine Beckie told The Athletic that on Feb. 6 the team filed a “no-board” request to their conciliator that was essentially a request to strike. But as it has yet to be approved, resulting in it being unlawful. In Canada, an unlawful strike can be punishable by “substantial fines.”

But players maintain that the fight is not over.

“To be clear,” wrote captain Christine Sinclair. “We are being forced back to work for the short term. This is not over. We will continue to fight for everything we deserve and we will win. The SheBelieves is being played in protest.”

Alex Morgan and Becky Sauerbrunn are speaking out in support of the Canada women’s national team.

In response to budget cuts, equal pay issues and an overall lack of support from Canada Soccer, the team has gone on strike. They have said that they will boycott the SheBelieves Cup if the issues are not resolved.

“What do they have to do, win a gold medal? Sell out stadiums? Oh wait…” wrote Morgan, referencing the fact that the women’s national team are the reigning Olympic gold medalists. “It’s 2023, wake up Canada Soccer you’re on the clock.”

A number of national teams around the world have implemented equal pay resolutions in the wake of the USWNT’s landmark CBA, which guaranteed equal pay between the women’s and men’s teams.

Canada’s teams, meanwhile, have had ongoing talks for their own CBA and have previously called out disparities and corruption within Canada Soccer.

On Friday, Canada’s women’s team called for a change in leadership if a resolution cannot be reached.

“The players of the Canadian women’s national team are demanding immediate change,” wrote USWNT captain Sauerbrunn. “Treat your world-class players as world class.”

Janine Beckie and Christine Sinclair are calling attention to the pay disparities between the Canada women’s and men’s national teams.

In 2021, the men’s team was given over $11 million for expenses, while the women received just shy of $5.1 million. Both marked increases from 2020, though the men’s team’s budget jumped from $3.08 million while the women’s sat at $2.8 million in 2020.

That means that the gap between the two teams’ funding grew from roughly $267,000 to nearly $6 million.

“Numbers don’t lie,” wrote Beckie.

The Canada women’s national team has since gone on strike and has said that it will miss the SheBelieves Cup in protest, which is set to begin next Thursday.

Other players have also called out Canada Soccer’s lack of equality despite previous claims that they would do more to ensure that the women were paid equally. Beckie also tweeted out a video on Friday, in which Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis goes on the record prioritizing equal pay.

“The other right thing to do is to make sure whatever we pay the men, we pay the women. Because that’s the right thing to do,” he says.

Other Canadian stars like Desiree Scott joined in the public protest against Canada Soccer.

“We have been beyond successful as a program and is players have given our all to this team!” she wrote. “We are simply asking for what we deserve! Enough. Is. Enough! It’s time!