U.S. Soccer announced the nominees for its 2023 Female Player of the Year award on Monday, including last year’s winner Sophia Smith.
Joining Smith are Crystal Dunn, Emily Fox, Naomi Girma and Lindsey Horan. Both Horan and Smith are among the team’s leading scorers, while Girma and Dunn featured heavily for the defense. Fox, meanwhile, had a breakout year for the USWNT.
Just Women’s Sports breaks down the three front-runners. The winners of U.S. Soccer’s annual awards will be announced in January 2024.
The national federation also announced nominees for Young Female Player of the Year, including senior national team members Alyssa Thompson and Olivia Moultrie as well as U-20 players Savannah King, Onyeka Gamero and Ally Sentnor.
If there is one player who has stood out among the rest for the USWNT, it’s Girma.
Questions arose about the team’s defensive line at the World Cup, particularly after longtime captain Becky Sauerbrunn went down with an injury. But Girma – alongside veteran Julie Ertz – answered those questions and then some. Penalty shootout against Sweden aside, the team allowed just one goal at the tournament due in part to Girma’s work along the back line.
In total, the team allowed just three goals through 16 games in 2023, going undefeated in friendlies. The USWNT allowed just 0.17 goals per game on the year, which is the best in any year in team history, according to OptaJack. Without Girma, that backline would have looked much different – and, arguably, the group stage at the World Cup would have gone much differently as well.
To end the year, the USWNT held its opponent without a shot attempt in the first half of its Dec. 2 friendly against China. That marked the eighth time in 2023 that the USWNT did not face a single shot in a half. Girma anchored that choke-you-to-death, lock-down defense, making the 23-year-old a top contender for the player of the year award.
A former winner of this award, Horan once again had a banner year for the USWNT. She was one of few players to score at the Women’s World Cup – doing so twice, including a critical tally in the 1-1 draw against the Netherlands.
In total, Horan scored four goals on the year, which ties her for second-most on the team. (Mallory Swanson, despite going down with an injury in April, is the team’s leading scorer, with six goals in 2023.) Horan also added an assist to bring her total goal contributions to five. She started and played in 15 games for the squad, wearing the captain’s armband during the World Cup after Sauerbrunn went down with an injury.
Not only did the 29-year-old midfielder contribute offensively, but Horan also has been a steady presence for a USWNT team that has undergone some major changes this year — and will continue to do so under new head coach Emma Hayes. Horan also is the only player from the USWNT this year to have been nominated for the FIFA Best Player award, which is a testament to the year she had.
Smith followed up a banner 2022 with another great one for the USWNT in 2023. She joined Horan as the only two players to score for the U.S. at the World Cup, doing so twice. She also had an assist to finish as the team’s leader in points for the tournament.
Smith missed significant time with an injury after the World Cup, but the 23-year-old forward returned to the starting lineup for the team’s December friendlies and scored almost immediately – showcasing just how good she is and just how much the team needs her on its attack. The reigning player of the year, Smith backed that up, continuing to excel and putting herself back in the conversation once again.