Making the case: 5 players who deserve US Female Player of the Year nominations

There were many standout performances this year from some of US Soccer’s brightest stars, but only five can be nominated for Player of the Year. Here are the players that deserve that honor for 2023. 

Sweden v USA: Round of 16 - FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023
Sweden v USA: Round of 16 - FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 / Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/GettyImages

For better or worse, 2023 will be an unforgettable year for US Soccer fans. While the team technically ended this World Cup year without a loss, with penalty shootouts counting as ties, it felt like a letdown for fans hoping for them to bring home a fifth star. The good news is, things are looking up. The United States Women’s National Team is evolving, undergoing growth and change that is long overdue. With a new coach on the way, six players with first-time caps this year, and a chance to win gold this upcoming summer, there’s so much to be excited about for 2024. 

But before the federation jumps feet first into 2024, US Soccer will release nominations for the 2023 Female Player of the Year award. In one of the most difficult years in US Soccer history, it’s refreshing to look back and find bright spots amongst the tough times. There were many standout performances this year from some of US Soccer’s brightest stars, but only five can be nominated for Player of the Year. Here are the players that deserve that honor for 2023. 

5. Emily Sonnett 

Sonnett has been getting consistent callups since 2015, but she’s been mostly a substitute on the backline, checking into games when Kelley O’Hara or Abby Dahlkemper needed rest. But this year was Emily Sonnett’s year to shine. She was a standout with her club team, helping push the Reign to a championship final in a new position. She took that experience with her to her second World Cup and was the best player on the field during the United States' final game against Sweden, which was Sonnett’s first World Cup start.

She’s brought experience and strength to the midfield, taking her center back knowledge and applying it to become one of the best defensive midfielders in the country. Not to mention getting a goal in Megan Rapinoe’s send-off match, an assist in her last match of the year, and wearing the captain's armband for the States on Horan's exit, possibly giving a glimpse into the future leadership of this team. Sonnett deserves recognition for all her work during the most impressive year of her career so far. 

4. Naomi Girma

Two-time consecutive NWSL defender of the year. NWSL Shield Winner. Starting every World Cup match for her country. Wise beyond her years. All of these things describe defensive stand-out Naomi Girma. With Becky Sauerbrunn unable to travel to the World Cup due to injury, the pressure of being a backline starting staple fell to Girma, who is only in her sophomore season of playing professionally. But no one would know that from watching her play.

Her calm and cool presence on the backline led the United States to their best year defensively ever. They allowed just two shots on target during the entire World Cup and allowed less than 0.17 goals per match this year. The United States has an impressive defender in their ranks, who is already ready to be a leader on this team for years to come. 

3. Trinity Rodman 

The future is bright for this team, and one of the brightest players who found their stride this year was Trinity Rodman. The only player for the United States to feature in all 18 matches in 2023, Rodman netted five goals for the Stars and Stripes, including her first brace in the World Cup send-off match. It made Rodman the youngest player to score multiple times in a game for the USA since Mallory Swanson did so in 2019.

In addition to scoring bangers, Rodman was unselfish in the final third, leading the United States in assists this year with five. For the Washington Spirit, Rodman played nineteen matches and scored five for her side. Even though they just missed the playoffs this year, it doesn’t look like Rodman is slowing down as she continues to show up beyond her years for club and country. 

2. Lindsey Horan 

In the midst of high-pressure moments, the United States found themselves a captain who could step up to help them. One of the three goal scorers this year with five or more goals, Lindsey Horan captained the United States 10 times in 2023, and for all of the World Cup. She scored the equalizer against the Netherlands, one of the most important and only goals scored during the shortened USWNT run from this World Cup.

Horan reached 31 goals this year and 139 appearances, continuing to build her legacy. Domestically, she helped her club team of Olympiqu Lyyonnis win their 10th Coupe de France Féminine title, and scored her first hat trick for the club this year. All these impressive accomplishments make Horan a strong contender for the 2023 Female Player of the Year. 

1. Sophia Smith

Even with a short time out for injury this year, Sophia Smith continues to get better with every match played. She won her first NWSL Golden Boot award, scoring 11 goals in 17 matches for the Portland Thorns, helping them on their way to another NWSL postseason, even if they didn’t get the trophy in the end. She got two hat tricks in the NWSL season, making her the youngest player to reach thirty goals in the league so far.

For the United States, Smith was also exceptional, scoring three goals this year and logging three assists. She brought her total goals for the States up to fifteen, including a brace in her first World Cup start, a feat only previously achieved by Sam Mewis in 2019. Even with an injury to take her out for a few games, Smith still bagged the Golden Boot, had a remarkable World Cup run despite the result, and continued to inspire fans to believe in the youth of the national team. 

The United States just wrapped up their last games of the year with two wins against China PR. They are currently set to play their first games of the New Year in February during the Concafacc W Gold Cup, with information about any possibly January matches still up in the air.