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What makes Trinity Rodman so good? Let NWSL players explain

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From Trinity Rodman’s first preseason practice with the Washington Spirit in February, her teammates noticed there was something different about the forward from Newport Beach, Calif. The youngest player ever drafted into the professional soccer league at 18 years old, Rodman garnered their attention for reasons other than the reputation that preceded her NWSL debut.

“When we drafted Trinity, I’d heard that she was an insane athlete, but thought she’d be more of a pick for the future,” Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe said. “When I saw her play during preseason, she was even faster than expected, but her strength was what amazed me.”

“I still remember the first practice that week that I had with her back in preseason and I just remember being like, ‘This girl is really good,’” said defender Kelley O’Hara. “Like I just got that feeling from her.”

It wasn’t until the Spirit started their Challenge Cup schedule and were playing against other opponents on a full field that the rookie’s talent crystallized for her teammates.

“It was, like, next-level Trinity,” said Spirit co-captain Tori Huster.

Just minutes into her NWSL debut on April 10, in the second half against the North Carolina Courage, Rodman expertly controlled a long ball at the top of the box and slid it past the keeper for her first professional goal. The league, and U.S. women’s national team coach Vlatko Andonovski, took notice.

Before that goal, Rodman was perhaps best known in the public sphere as being the daughter of NBA legend Dennis Rodman. After it, she began to forge her own path, confounding some of the best defenders in the world with her speed, playmaking and finishing ability and producing arguably the greatest rookie season in NWSL history.

“We have many great athletes in this league, but what separates Trinity is not only her athleticism but her technical ability,” said Courage defender Carson Pickett, who was playing left fullback for Rodman’s first goal. “She’s dangerous with and without the ball and is efficient with her chances.”

Finishing the season with seven goals and six assists, Rodman led all rookies in scoring despite trailing them in both age and college soccer experience. The 19-year-old was committed to play soccer at Washington State in 2020, but opted to turn pro out of high school when COVID-19 pushed the season back to the spring.

At the beginning of the Spirit’s season, Rodman mentioned O’Hara as one of her biggest mentors on the team. It was fitting, then, that Rodman assisted on O’Hara’s game-winning goal in the NWSL championship game to close out the Spirit’s 2-1 win over the Chicago Red Stars and bring home the first title in franchise history.

After the game, the two stars sat side-by-side at the podium to speak with the media.

“The more I got to play with [Trinity] and just see — she says amateur, but she is so mature for her age — the player that she is impressed me all season,” O’Hara said as Rodman looked on.

“She does have that killer instinct, that never-say-die attitude, and the fact that I know she’s in front of me and I get to play with her gives me a lot of confidence on the field. She’s obviously done amazing this season, and it being a rookie season, I couldn’t be more proud. And I know that she has a lot ahead of her and I’m excited to watch her shine.”

The final against the Red Stars encompassed everything that made Rodman the 2021 Rookie of the Year. She set the bar for the Spirit’s energy in the second half, leading by example when Washington needed to step up its game. In the 61st minute, she carried the ball out of pressure in the midfield, found space just outside of Chicago’s box and shook the goalpost with the best shot the Spirit had taken up to that point in the game.

“That’s actually where they came into the game,” former Red Stars coach Rory Dames said after the final. “I don’t think they were ever really in the game prior to that where I felt they were dangerous, but that kind of rattled the group and they got us on the back foot.”

From then on, Rodman didn’t let up. She stole more balls in the midfield, fired shots on target and set up scoring opportunities. Even Chicago’s experienced backline, led by Sarah Gorden and Tierna Davidson, couldn’t figure out how to stop her.

“Trin has picked up the speed of play so quickly and to her advantage,” Huster said. “Her technical abilities really showcase during games as well as her ability to use her athleticism to her advantage in defending. Her willingness to press, sometimes all on her own, are an incredible asset to have. I think her decision-making at this level continues to improve and has certainly been a reason for her success this season.”

The Spirit found out early in Rodman’s rookie season that she has the motor to run endline to endline without hesitation. Interim head coach Kris Ward consciously planned formations to encourage her to stay in the attacking third and not spend entire games running around.

As the season progressed, Rodman became a smarter playmaker who could speed up and slow down the play, recognize open spaces and combine with teammates.

“She’s so good at relieving the pressure on us by herself sometimes, with her ability to break out into the other team’s half and hold up possession and then just gives all the rest of our players in it [time] to join but also to take a breath while they’re joining,” Ward said.

Bledsoe cited Rodman’s perfect through-ball to Ashley Hatch for the game-winning goal in the Spirit’s 1-0 win over Racing Louisville FC in October as evidence that she’s more than a scorer.

“Rookies don’t do that, but Trinity does,” Bledsoe said.

The combination of Rodman’s technical, defensive and playmaking skills have landed her high on Andonovski’s watch list for the USWNT. After she represented her country with the U17 and U20 squads, Andonovski called the 2020 U.S. Young Female Soccer Player of the Year into camp for the senior team’s November friendlies in Australia. Rodman declined for undisclosed reasons, but she’ll likely remain in consideration for the 2023 World Cup roster.

Whatever her future on the national team holds, Rodman has all the tools to write her own script.

Jessa Braun is an editorial intern for Just Women’s Sports. She is also the Head of North American Content for the Women’s Sports Alliance. You can find her on Twitter @jessabraun.