JIM SHORIN/ISI PHOTOS

The captain of the U.S. U20 Women’s National Team, Naomi Girma was recently voted the 2020 U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year. Girma also plays for Stanford University, with whom she won the NCAA Championship in 2019 as the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.  

Congrats on the big award. Can you talk about what it meant to you to be named the 2020 Young Player of the Year?

It was an honor, and I think it was just a really cool way to end this year and award all the hard work that has gone on behind the scenes. We talked before camp, and I feel like I’ve just been working and trying to find the time to compete. Sadly, we didn’t get to play in the fall, but hopefully the team gets a season in the spring. But I was just really thankful and humbled to get the award, especially with Trinity [Rodman] and Mia [Fishel] having great years as well.

Coming out of national team camp in October, what do you think were your biggest learnings from playing with the USWNT?

It was an amazing experience, and I think I learned a lot from watching the older players and watching the more experienced defenders. Just seeing the little movements, and the way they communicate, and how everything is done with intention—I learned a lot just from watching them, which was really cool.

And from the coaches, we went through a lot of defensive shapes and the things we focus on when we’re defending in the box, and I think it was cool to be exposed to the language that they use and the specifics behind everything. Because although it’s a similar style throughout these national teams, the details are really emphasized there. I think learning those was really, really beneficial for me.

What kind of feedback did the coaches give you coming out of camp?

I think just being a younger player, a lot of times the things that separate us are the details. We talked a lot about that and just obviously being comfortable in that environment and just feeling like you belong and using your voice there, which I think I did a decent job of, for my first camp, but obviously that’s something that improves with experience.

15 former Young Player of the Year Award winners have gone on to play in a World Cup for the US. Does that bring pressure or excitement?

Oh wow, I did not know that. I think it brings excitement. Obviously, they didn’t win it and then just make the World Cup team. A lot of work went in behind it. And I think this is a cool step to take along the way, but this isn’t ultimately the end of where I want to get. So I think it motivates me to keep working and especially after going to that camp. Keep seeing or focusing on the little details I can work on.

How’s everything going? Are you on break still from school?

We just reported to campus a few weeks ago. But I tore my ACL, so I’ve kept it pretty low key so far.

Oh man. So are you on the path of recovery now? Did you have surgery and everything?

Yeah. It happened after camp. Sometimes you have to wait a while for your ACL to get the surgery, but luckily I wasn’t super swollen, so I got it the next week after I found out.

What does the timeline look like for you now?

I’m definitely out for winter or spring, whatever happens, but I can play in the fall, which I’m happy about. We are supposed to have a spring season, but it is still unclear. We’re currently having to deal with Santa Clara County restrictions, so we’re very limited in what we can do. I’m not sure if you’ve seen, but women’s basketball and men’s basketball are just continually on the road, because they can’t come back to Santa Clara County. So for now, we’re waiting for the county to lift those mandates, and then we’ll see.

Obviously everything is up in the air, but individually, what are your goals for the next year? 

Going into 2021, I just want to attack everything. That’s something I’ve been thinking about throughout rehab. After such a high of getting invited to camp, it was such a disappointment, but I’ve just been focusing on how I approach PT and my treatment and rehab and things like that.

As I start progressing, I want to do every little thing at each step of the way to make sure I can come back fully fit. And then I’m really looking forward to my senior season in the fall. I just want to be fully ready to compete and play with my teammates and lead the team.

You’re a year out from graduating, but have you given any thoughts to what your plans are afterwards? You could easily be the frontrunner for the No. 1 pick in the NWSL draft in 2022. 

Yeah, I mean, I’ve definitely thought about it, but I think for now, I’ve just been focusing on my rehab instead of thinking too far ahead past my senior season. Especially being injured, I feel like it gets overwhelming to think about that too much.

Was there anything else that you wanted to mention about the award and the excitement around that? 

I would just like to say how thankful I am to the Ethiopian community in my area. I grew up playing with them, and I’m just happy they’ve been with me along the way. I know this was really exciting for them too, because it’s a product of everyone’s hard work. So I’m just really grateful. And being given the award was just a huge blessing amongst a lot of other things happening.

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