‘Just chill’ Naomi Girma could make USWNT debut vs. Uzbekistan

Naomi Girma at USWNT training camp
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When the U.S. women’s national soccer team (USWNT) returns to action this week with its first-ever friendlies against Uzbekistan, San Diego Wave defender Naomi Girma appears likely to make her senior national team debut.

Girma is one of three players — along with goalkeepers Aubrey Kingsbury (formerly Bledsoe) and Bella Bixby — looking to earn their first international cap with the USWNT.

The 21-year-old Girma previously starred for the USWNT at the youth level, including as captain of the under-20 women’s team. At Stanford, she was a two-time Pac-12 defender of the year and member of the Cardinal’s national championship team in 2019.

The No. 1 draft pick in the 2022 NWSL Draft, Girma has started all three of the San Diego Wave’s Challenge Cup games so far this season.

“Naomi has been improving very well,” U.S. soccer head coach Vlatko Andonovski said on Friday, adding that Girma and fellow USWNT defender Abby Dahlkemper have been playing side-by-side together for the San Diego Wave.

“In this camp, we can see the comfort level has (risen),” Andonovski said. “I feel pretty confident we will see Naomi in one of these two games.”

Girma has also gained experience from practicing against one of the best forwards in history: San Diego Wave teammate Alex Morgan.

“The level is higher, the players are better and playing against one of the top players in the world every day – I feel extremely blessed and grateful that I have this opportunity,” Girma said on a recent episode of Goal.com’s podcast “All of US: The U.S. Women’s Soccer Show.”

On Friday, Girma also received high praise from longtime best friend — and new Portland Thorns rival — Sophia Smith.

“I’m excited for everything that Naomi does, any time she does well, except when it’s against the Thorns,” Smith said. “She’s one of the best center backs that I’ve ever played with.”

Smith continued: “The thing about Naomi that’s just amazing is her calmness on the ball at center back. She’s just chill back there. She’s always making the right decisions, finding the best pass, and she’s confident on the ball. That’s what you want in a center back.”

Born and raised in San Jose, Calif., Girma says she was greatly influenced by her parents, who immigrated to the U.S. from Ethiopia. While she admits there were challenges, Girma says her Ethiopian heritage served as great preparation for being part of a team.

“That dual upbringing was definitely interesting and something I had to navigate when I was younger, but I’m really thankful I had that experience now,” Girma told Goal.com. “It’s shaped me as a person, my values and the emphasis on community and support. That’s a big thing in Ethiopian culture and it’s something that I highly value.”

With a variety of U.S. national team players currently dealing with injury, pregnancy, or focusing on club play, this week’s games vs. Uzbekistan should provide an opportunity for young players like Girma, Jaelin Howell, and Trinity Rodman to gain valuable minutes.

How to watch the USWNT vs. Uzbekistan

The U.S. women’s soccer team will play two friendlies against Uzbekistan this week:

  • Saturday, April 9: Lower.com Field in Columbus, Ohio (5:30pm ET, FOX and Univision)
  • Tuesday, April 12: Subaru Park in Chester, Pa. (7 p.m. ET on ESPN2 and Univision Networks)

While the USWNT has played nine matches all-time in Columbus, Saturday marks their first visit to the new state-of-the-art, downtown venue, which hosted a World Cup qualifier for the U.S. Men’s National Team in January.

Uzbekistan, ranked 48th in the world and 10th in Asia, most recently played in February at the Turkish Women’s Cup, defeating Lithuania 1-0, falling to Ukraine 2-0 and drawing with Venezuela, 0-0. Uzbekistan, which gained its independence in 1991 following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, will be the 55th different country that the U.S. has played in international competition.

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On Her Turf editor Alex Azzi also contributed to this report.