When defender Naomi Girma and forward Alyssa Thompson stepped on the field for the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) against Vietnam on July 21 (July 22 in New Zealand), they were both making their World Cup debuts. And like almost all newcomers, nerves marked both of their pregame warmups as they anticipated the momentous game.
Girma joined the USWNT amid her second NWSL season with the San Diego Wave, and Thompson did the same in her first season with Angel City FC. Both players were drafted No. 1 overall in their respective NWSL drafts.
Thompson is 18-years-old, and graduated high school in June. Girma, on the other hand, is 23-years-old, but is still considerably younger than the average age of the USWNT squad of 28.5 years old, according to U.S. Soccer.
Despite high expectations and large crowds, once both of them stepped on the field for the USWNT, calmness flowed through them because they prepared for the moment.
Girma picked up advice from USWNT and Wave captain Alex Morgan ahead of the tournament. With a preview of what was to come from Morgan, she was ready to battle the whirlwind of emotions that come from playing in a World Cup.
“Alex [Morgan] has been great and giving advice just kind of preparing me for what to expect going into the World Cup,” Girma said. “And I would say a lot of our veteran players have been really good at that. They’ve just been telling us to enjoy the moment, and so I think in that first game that was really big, just staying calm and just knowing that it’s a normal game and trusting ourselves to go out and get the job done.”
‘Staying calm’ and ‘get[tting] the job done’ was exactly what Girma and the USWNT did when they beat Vietnam, 3-0. She started the game and she was vital in helping the USWNT to a clean sheet against Vietnam.
“I definitely felt the nerves before the game. But once the whistle blew and we were just in it, I did feel that calmness, that confidence,” Girma said.
Thompson experienced much of the same when she entered 75 minutes into the game as a substitute. But she was calm by then because once the opening whistle blew and she saw her teammates in action, her nerves disappeared as she was overcome with joy as Angel City teammate Julie Ertz’s advice uplifted her.
“Julie [Ertz] has helped a lot,” Thompson said. “She is just an overall team player and she helps everyone on the team so being able to know her a little bit better from club is really nice. She helps me just stay calm and she really knows what she’s doing and is that’s just really helpful for me.”
Such a level of composure from young players is rare in any debut, let alone one in the World Cup. But Girma and Thompson have prepared well in their short time playing professionally by learning from their club teammates.
With Morgan, Ertz, and other veterans’ advice in mind, the two young stars are playing towards a notable effort in their first World Cup. They are trying to help the USWNT win their third straight World Cup, becoming the first country to do so. And after beating Vietnam, the USWNT will try to build a winning streak, hoping to finish first in their group, Group E. But next, the USWNT faces the Netherlands, who they beat in the 2019 World Cup final.
|Country||Games Played||Points||Goal Differencial|
Thompson was 14 years old when that final happened, and playing in a World Cup was not on her mind. Now, she is in the midst of the action.
“I was super excited that we got to win another World Cup. And in that moment, I wasn’t really thinking about ‘oh, the next one I’m going to be at’ because I felt so young and it felt like so far away. But being here now is crazy to me because I didn’t think about in the moment,” Thompson said.
Girma was 19 years old during the 2019 World Cup final and possibly had a slightly clearer sense of her future as she competed with the USWNT U-20s in 2018. This week, now amid the World Cup action, Girma has been watching the Netherlands and other teams primarily for her personal enjoyment but also for an early impression.
“I enjoy watching other games… Everyone’s going to be a hard opponent in this World Cup, and in our group… Obviously, our coaches give us the final analysis. So I think for me, it was just watching to get an impression,” Girma said.
Girma beleives the 2023 World Cup is the most competitive one yet. Despite the increasingly competitive competition, the USWNT remain the favorites to win the World Cup. And with one game under their belt and unparalleled composure, Girma and Thompson will look to help the USWNT build momentum in their journey to an unprecedented three-peat.