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NWSL 2022 Rookie of the Year: Naomi Girma leads a tight race

Naomi Girma has made a case for NWSL awards even beyond Rookie of the Year. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Of this year’s NWSL awards, Rookie of the Year might be the toughest to hand out. The 2022 first-year players — between our list and players like Amirah Ali, Elyse Bennett, Kelsey Turnbow and Alex Loera -— have been some of the best the league has ever seen.

Just Women’s Sports has chosen four players as frontrunners for Rookie of the Year, representing positions across the field and teams from coast to coast.

Diana Ordoñez, F, North Carolina Courage

Drafted sixth overall in last year’s draft, Diana Ordoñez has been a top-five scorer in the league this season, rising as high as second in the Golden Boot race. Her most impressive run was from June 19 to Aug. 24, when she scored nine goals in six straight games, contributing to her season total of 11 goals and earning August Rookie of the Month honors. With 17 starts across 18 games played, the former Virginia Cavalier has a long-ball success rate of 70 percent and has made 13 key passes.

Savannah DeMelo, M, Racing Louisville FC

In the same draft class as Racing Louisville teammate and No. 2 overall pick Jaelin Howell, USC’s Savannah DeMelo might have initially flown under the radar but was quick to set the record straight. One of Louisville’s most consistent players, the No. 4 overall pick and July Rookie of the Month has led her team in chances created, successful dribbles per 90 and penalties won. She has also been one of the league’s best at scoring off set pieces, with two of her four goals coming from direct free kicks.

Sam Coffey, M, Portland Thorns FC

Not only has Sam Coffey been impressing in the defensive midfield during her NWSL rookie season, but it’s her first season in that role entirely. Formerly an attacking midfielder at Penn State, she has transitioned seamlessly into her new position, recording an 83 percent passing success rate and hitting her target on long balls 56.6 percent of the time. Defensively, the June Rookie of the Year wins 69 percent of her tackles and 55 percent of her duels, and she’s made a total of 38 interceptions.

Our pick: Naomi Girma, D, San Diego Wave FC

No. 1 draft pick Naomi Girma has had a good enough season to be nominated for NWSL Defender of the Year and MVP, let alone Rookie of the Year. Named to three of four NWSL Teams of the Month, she has been the fearless backbone of the San Diego defense, even getting a chance to wear the captain’s armband in her first season with the 2022 playoff-bound expansion team.

The former Stanford defender reads the game like a book, can play deadly long balls to teammates in the opponent’s 18-yard box and is bold enough to carry the ball out of the back and through multiple players in the midfield. Playing every minute of every game she’s been available for, Girma has passed with 83 percent accuracy, won 68 percent of her duels and made 85 clearances, 12 blocks and 24 interceptions.

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.