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What the stats don’t say about NWSL Defender of the Year Naomi Girma

Photo Copyright Joseph Buvid for USA TODAY Sports

To understand the understated excellence of Naomi Girma, take a look at this counterattack from the North Carolina Courage against the San Diego Wave last April.

It was a pretty standard North Carolina attack when the team chose to go direct, with Denise O’Sullivan feeding a galloping Kerolin into space. Normally, Kerolin would have free reign to attack the opposing center backs and get off a clean shot, and probably score. Here, the shot took a small deflection off of a covering Kaleigh Riehl and turned into a harmless save. 

But why was it so harmless? How was Riehl able to get a foot to the ball at all? Go back and look again. Whereas most center backs might get turned around from Kerolin’s dekes and feints, instead, Kerolin is dealing with Naomi Girma, just named the NWSL Defender of the Year for the second consecutive season. 

There is no space for Kerolin to shimmy by, because Girma doesn’t bite on any of those feints. There is no clever footwork that Kerolin can do to put Girma on her heels and find a better angle from which to shoot. She doesn’t have the time to place the shot with any power in order to make up for said bad angle. Girma doesn’t even make contact with either Kerolin or with the ball. Even though Girma ultimately hits the deck, all she needs to do is to set herself up correctly and stay on tilt long enough for Kerolin to find no workable space. 

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