U.S. Female Player of the Year: Girma 1st defender to win award

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Naomi Girma made history Thursday, becoming the first pure defender to be named U.S. Soccer's Female Player of the Year in the award's 39-year history, the federation announced.

The 23-year-old started all four games for the U.S. women's national team at the 2023 World Cup, leading a defense that allowed just one goal. Girma was also named the NWSL defender of the year after helping the San Diego Wave win the the 2023 NWSL Shield as the best regular season team.

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While goalkeeper Hope Solo won in 2009 and defensive midfielder Julie Ertz won in 2017 and 2019, all other winners of the award have been attacking-minded midfielders or forwards.

"I'm honored and grateful to be the first defender and second Black player to win this award, but it's really a testament to all the hard work put in by our goalkeepers, the back line and our whole team to achieve an historic year for our defense," Girma said in a U.S. Soccer release.

"We are all very connected, work hard on the field, watch a lot of film to get better and really take pride in stopping teams from scoring. I always want to thank my friends and family, because they've been with me on every step of this journey.

"My coaches and teammates for club and country are the people who have helped shape me into the person and player I am today, so I'm very thankful to all of them. I'm super excited for what's to come and can't wait to get started here in 2024."

Girma is also just the sixth player to win both Female Player of the Year and Young Female Player of the Year, which she claimed in 2020.

Portland Thorns midfielder Olivia Moultrie, 18, was named this year's Young Female Player of the Year after impressing for the U.S. at the Under-20 World Cup and making her debut for the senior USWNT.

"I'm just super exited and thankful to everyone who voted for me for this award, it's really special," Moultrie said. "To see the list of those players who have won it before, and what they've gone on to accomplish in their careers, is inspiring and motivating for me."