If there was one bright spot for the U.S. women’s national team at the 2023 World Cup, it was Naomi Girma.
In the absence of Becky Sauerbrunn, Girma stepped up in tandem with veteran Julie Ertz to lock down the backline. Their teamwork at center-back resulted in three shutouts and just one goal allowed, which came against the Netherlands in the group stage.
While Girma’s impact could be seen on the field, it also was felt off it. On the latest episode of Just Women’s Sports‘ “Snacks” podcast, USWNT forward Lynn Williams described how the young defender helped lift her teammates.
“I think that is one of the hardest things to do is to almost forget about everything in that last game,” Williams said. “[The World Cup] didn’t go how we wanted it to, but you were such a bright spot on the team, I think on the field but also off the field. I feel like you just always brought, like, a positivity to the environment.”
The 2023 World Cup served as Girma’s first major tournament, and at 23 years old, she already is stepping into a leadership role with the USWNT and gaining wisdom that will help her in the years to come.
“I think it’s hard and it’s so fun to see you do it so young, to speak up in meetings, even if it’s something as simple as a question, because you don’t want to sound silly,” Williams continued. “I just felt like, even if you were nervous, you did it with so much grace and you were just like, ‘What do we feel about this?’ And it was something that I don’t even think a lot of people thought about. So your attention to detail is far beyond your years.”
While Girma admitted that she was nervous to ask questions, she also said her time at Stanford helped her to feel empowered to do so. While with the Cardinal, she never had anyone shut her down when she asked questions, which helped her as she’s stepped into the NWSL with the San Diego Wave and onto the international stage with the national team.
The atmosphere on the USWNT also has helped make it easier to ask questions, Girma said.
“When you’re younger it’s a little harder, because it’s easy to default and let other people do it,” she said. “I also think in this group, like it was very much said, it doesn’t matter how old you are, it doesn’t matter how many caps you have, if you have something to say, say it.
“Without that encouragement from leaders on the team, it’s harder for younger players to feel comfortable and to not feel like, ‘Oh, like I’m gonna get shut down.’ … It’s really just like, we’re nervous and we make it up in our head. … I think that encouragement from leaders on the team was really, really helpful, too.”
The maturity Girma has shown in just two years in the NWSL and with the USWNT has shown through, as Williams pointed out.
“It’s so funny, because you talked about wanting to work on your leadership side but it’s your second year in the league,” Williams said. “It’s so crazy. I feel like when I was in my second year in the league, I was like, I got to worry about myself, good luck to everybody else. Like I only have the capacity to worry about me and that’s what’s going to help the team. I just feel like you’re so mature to recognize that you have something to give and you want to grow outside yourself.”