San Diego’s Naomi Girma shines in first outing in captain’s armband

San Diego Wave FC defender Naomi Girma (4) kicks the ball against the North Carolina Courage during the second half at Snapdragon Stadium. (Ray Acevedo-USA TODAY Sports)

Naomi Girma donned the captain’s armband for the first time during San Diego’s Friday matchup against the North Carolina Courage.

The center-back helped log the Wave’s league-leading ninth clean sheet of the season, with San Diego and North Carolina splitting points in a scoreless draw.

Alex Morgan, who typically wears the captain’s armband, has been sidelined with a knock, missing San Diego’s last two games. The star forward serves as the Wave’s offensive engine, notching 15 of the club’s 32 goals.

In her absence, Girma stepped up, locking down the Wave’s backline as San Diego’s attack struggled to get going.

“A captain’s performance,” San Diego coach said of Girma following Friday’s tie. “I thought tonight she was absolutely outstanding, with or without the ball, the composure she shows as a rookie. I don’t see her as a rookie at all. She looks like she’s been playing in the league for years.”

Girma was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NWSL Draft, with Stoney telling reporters she was “adamant” about taking the Stanford star first.

The 22-year-old’s impressive professional debut has also caught the eye of USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski, with Girma quickly establishing herself as a reliable center-back ahead of the 2023 World Cup.

“I think Naomi is making big strides,” Andonovski said in September, commenting on the center-back pairing of Girma and Alana Cook. “One thing that I like about them, they’re very brace, not just off the ball, but on the ball.”

As Girma gears up for a Europen swing with the USWNT, the promising young defender will look to stake her claim as the future of the United States’ backline while leading San Diego to a playoff run.

“She just gives us that calm and assured performances week in and week out,” Stoney said. “She’s a very special player and a very special person.”