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Megan Rapinoe sees Naomi Girma as ‘the future’ for the USWNT

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Naomi Girma has excelled for the USWNT in her first year on the squad. (Sam Hodde/Getty Images)

Naomi Girma made her first appearance for the U.S. women’s national team in April 2022. Less than a year later, she already has established herself as a “no-brainer starter,” veteran forward Megan Rapinoe said.

The 22-year-old is coming off a breakout year in 2022, in which she became a mainstay for the USWNT and won the Rookie of the Year and Defender of the Year awards in the NWSL.

Girma’s first cap and first start for the USWNT came last April against Uzbekistan. She appeared in nine of the team’s next 13 games to close out 2022, starting in seven of them.

So far in 2023, she has started four of the squad’s five games, including Wednesday’s 2-1 win against Brazil to close out the SheBelieves Cup. Rapinoe praise the young star ahead of that match.

“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,” the 37-year-old forward said.

In considering Girma’s immediate impact on the team, not to mention her intelligence and leadership, Rapinoe compared her to midfielder Julie Ertz. Ertz gave birth to a baby boy last August and looks unlikely to return for the World Cup, and her absence has been felt on both sides of the ball for the squad.

Still, the development of Girma has helped to soften that blow.

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NWSL draft, Girma helped lead a San Diego Wave defense that allowed less than a goal against per game through 22 matches. For the USWNT, she has been a stalwart presence in the center of the backline.

“She can play any kind of ball. She’s a great leader,” Rapinoe said. “She’s just f—ing good. … She’s going to be the future of the team for a long time.”