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Carli Lloyd tips Naomi Girma to be cornerstone of USWNT defense for years to come

NEW YORK - United States defender Naomi Girma completes her meteoric rise from national team debutant to the Women's World Cup stage next month and many are predicting she will be a key player for the four-times champions for many years.

The 23-year-old center back first played for the senior U.S. team last year and quickly settled in to earn a place in Vlatko Andonovski's World Cup squad.

"She’s threading balls down the middle of the field, skipping, bypassing the midfielders, playing it into the forwards’ feet," retired two-time World Cup winner Carli Lloyd told Reuters

"She’s playing well ahead of her time for the little experience she’s had. It’s really impressive," added Lloyd who is now a Fox Sports analyst.

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Girma has overcome problems on her journey to soccer's biggest stage, forced to withdraw due to injury from her first senior call-up in 2019 and suffering a serious knee problem in 2020.

"For me it feels like a lot of hard work coming together," she told Reuters. "There was like a lot of work that went behind the scenes, because I went out injured and not playing... it was really gratifying and rewarding to feel like it was paying off and putting me in a better position."

Girma will be particularly crucial for the U.S. after veteran Becky Sauerbrunn, long-time bedrock of the defense, announced last week she would miss the World Cup due to injury.

"Her potential is one of the highest bars of potential I've seen in a person in a long time," said Briana Scurry, the goalkeeper in the United States' 1999 World Cup-winning team.

Scurry, the host of the "Counterattack" podcast, told Reuters it is "almost blinding how quickly" Girma has improved and believes the Stanford graduate is a future team captain.

"She can read the play really well so she knows where to be in advance. And that's not something that a younger player normally possesses," said the twice Olympic gold medallist. "I wouldn't be surprised if she were a captain at one point in time."

Girma is also keenly aware of her potential to inspire the next generation, as the daughter of Ethiopian immigrants whose father instilled in her a passion for the game and started a local soccer program where she and her brother could play.

"When I was younger, seeing someone who had a similar background as me, looked like me in any high position — it didn't even have to be soccer-specific — competing at a high level was always so inspiring," she said. "I'm hoping that kids can see me and get that similar feeling and that same excitement."

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(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York, editing by Ed Osmond)

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