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Trinity Rodman on going pro, and what she’s learned so far with the Washington Spirit

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Rodman talks choosing soccer over basketball, moving across the country, and her insatiable desire to develop her game

Jordan Small / Courtesy of Washington Spirit

Long before she was selected with the no. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NWSL Draft by the Washington Spirit, Trinity Rodman had a decision to make: basketball or soccer? The two-sport athlete was a standout in both, but knew that if she wanted to pursue one professionally, she would have to make a choice.

As it turns out, it was rather easy to do so. “I felt really at home [playing soccer] and kinda safe, like it was where my love was,” said Rodman in an interview with Black and Red United. “If I was upset I wanted to go play soccer, if I was mad I wanted to go play soccer, and if I was happy I wanted to go play soccer.”

Rodman, who excelled at youth national team levels and was headed to collegiate soccer powerhouse UCLA until she visited her brother at Washington State and met their women’s soccer team, never did more than practice on a college level before deciding to turn pro. Though the COVID-19 pandemic kept her from the true college experience of being an athlete on campus, Rodman has no regrets about choosing to enter the 2021 draft. For her – and this is a constant theme – the desire to get better at soccer overrides almost anything else.

“Even just after the [Youth] World Cup qualifying in February (2020) — which was like a year ago, which is crazy to me — and competing, and winning, and scoring goals and all that, I had the feeling of ‘Could I go further?’,” explained Rodman. “I love the feeling of competing at this high level, I love scoring, I love playing this hard all the time and I think my main thing was just that I want this to be my life, and I want to do this every single day. I want to push myself hard every single day and I don’t want to have a day where I’m feeling like ‘Oh I don’t want to play soccer’ or ‘Oh we don’t have training this day’, I wanted to push myself so I could just get better and better.”

That drive is evident in the way Rodman talks about soccer, and, along with her outrageous potential, went far in convincing the Spirit that she was the right selection for them – a club with legitimate trophy-lifting aspirations. The Spirit may have been convinced, but Trinity still wasn’t sold that she would be the second player to hear their name the night of the draft.

“We had conversations with the coaches but I wasn’t entirely sure until literally right before, and I got a little hint. I don’t even remember who I got the text from, my phone was like text after text, but I got a text from someone and it was like ‘Ok I think you might be getting picked by the Washington Spirit’, so I was like ‘Ok let me get my jersey just in case - just in case!’”

She recalls the moment with joy in her voice. “I wasn’t entirely sure but I had obviously a gut feeling throughout that process and just being called for Washington Spirit and having the jersey and just that moment was so special to me — especially with my Mom, like we’re so ready we could’ve left the next day [to come to Washington, D.C.].”

For a California kid who’s never lived on the other, colder and snowier coast that also doesn’t have a staple of Rodman’s – In-N-Out – the enthusiasm spoke volumes. “That’s exactly what I miss: In-N-Out!,” Rodman exclaimed. “I didn’t eat the best before, but I used to probably get In-N-Out twice a week and I’m definitely gonna miss it here!”

Rodman says that though the transition has been different — jokingly asking me of snow, “What is this white powdery stuff on the ground?” — she says she was expecting it to be more of a shock than it has been so far. Part of that she attributes to all of the travel she had to do with the U.S. Youth National Team, but two other people deserve a lot of credit: her Mom, who came to help her move in and get adjusted, and her roommate, goalkeeper Devon Kerr, who she now also calls ‘Mom’.

“I have an amazing roommate and she’s completely taken me under her wing and she’s kinda like my Mom, so I call her ‘Mom’ all the time. She’s so awesome, she sees me as like a twelve-year-old, so it’s perfect!”

It’s a good thing Rodman settled in as quickly as she did. The lengthier preseason may seem like a slog to a veteran, but to a rookie — particularly a teenager leaping from high school and the USYNT — the time has been valuable. “Even just the weeks are feeling like days. We’ve been here for two weeks and I feel like I’ve only been practicing for two days, and I’m like ‘Whoa where did the time go?’,” admits Rodman. “But I am just really trying to learn as fast as possible, and then once I learn it I want to retain all the information and then implement it into my game.”

Jordan Small / Courtesy of Washington Spirit

Of course, no introduction to professional life for any rookie is completely without an infamous ‘welcome to the pros’ moment, and Rodman believes she’s already had hers, courtesy of Spirit defender Paige Nielsen.

“When we were doing little small side scrimmages, before I was like ‘Oh yeah, I got the speed, I don’t need to worry about it, I’ll be faster’, but then as soon as I played with her and I got the ball wide she just rocked me off the ball and stole it and I was like ‘Oh ok, yeah maybe I should try something else this isn’t gonna work!’”

Nielsen, known for flexing her biceps when in view of any working camera, was a surprise to Rodman even before coming up against her in a small-side scrimmage. “She’s so strong and athletic, it kinda tripped me out!,” said Rodman. However, Nielsen is also helping to guide and prepare the rookie to be able to take on and beat other NWSL defenders. “It’s awesome to see how she defends and how intelligent she is,” Rodman noted. “I’m also learning so much from her defense because I’m learning that I need to be extremely diverse with the way I play: I need to dribble some, I need to play-make with the midfielders some, I need to shoot, I need to cross. I need to do everything.”

Of course, Paige’s lessons don’t stop on the pitch, they extend to (where else?) the weight room.

“We were in the weight room and we were doing some core exercises the other day, and I’m new to everything, and she’s like ‘Oh yeah I was doing that five months ago’ because I was shaking while I was doing it! She’s like ‘Make sure you keep your hips straight and don’t shake them’ and I was like ‘I’m tryiiiiing!‘,” Rodman exclaims, lengthening the word to mock herself. “She’s definitely a beast in the weight room, but it was awesome to get the reassurance that I’m not way behind and that she kinda went through the same thing.”

Another player Rodman is sticking close to and learning from is midfielder Andi Sullivan. Rodman has already picked up on Sullivan’s intensity and drive to “perfect every single touch she has.” She’s also found good advice in second-year players Ashley Sanchez, whose quickness on the ball Rodman describes as “mindboggling.”

Rodman tells of a time she was talking to Sanchez about things she can do to mesh more with the team, and the former UCLA star had some terrific advice. “She was like ‘I think the biggest thing for me is that you need to be extremely open and don’t be scared, because you got picked for a reason. So don’t feel like you need to not be yourself on the ball.’“ This is the kind of advice you’d expect from someone who nutmegged Julie Ertz forty-seven minutes into her first match as a pro.

Away from the Spirit, Rodman’s list of players she and wants to emulate are current USWNT and Manchester United stars Tobin Heath and Christen Press.

Rodman lights up when talking about Heath’s dribbling prowess, “I think what makes her so different and diverse from other players is that she can take fifty touches at her feet and still have the ball. She’ll be dribbling in the six-yard box with five defenders around her and she’ll still manage to have the ball at her feet,” she says with a reenacted amazement. “I think that’s a huge part of being a forward is to find other things rather than just speed and finishing that you can do to bring some things to the game where the defenders don’t know what you’re about to do.”

Like any follower of the USWNT, Rodman is a fan of all of the skills that make Christen Press dangerous in and around the penalty area. “Her ability to be outside of the box and look to shoot first and then look to do a cross — I think she has a lot of goals on the top of the 18 and she has a lot of bent balls, just her ability to get her head up as soon as possible and look to make a decision, and if it’s not on she has another decision ready to be made right after – just the fast thinking in game situations, she’s really good at that.”

Of course, those are more long-term dreams into what Rodman wants to eventually develop into. Right now she knows her job is to soak up as much as possible, and refine her game for the professional level. With the team now down in Florida preparing for a full season, as well as April’s Challenge Cup, Rodman has a checklist of things she wants to work on, but is taking it a step at a time.

“I’m kinda just doing one at a time right now, but I’ve noticed that in club soccer and a little bit in college, you think that you’re playing fast but as soon as you get here you’re like ‘Whoa I need to look up way faster and I need to get the ball off my feet’,” said Rodman. “I’ve noticed that I need to work on that for sure, just looking up checking my shoulder every five seconds, knowing what I’m going to do with the ball before I get it, I think that’s a huge part of my game that definitely needs to improve, just the ability to think before I get it.”

She wants to keep things simple so she can develop her game piece by piece, and given the Spirit squad is now a good mix of exciting young players, stalwart leaders, USWNT veterans and talented internationals, Rodman will has the time to make the most of that approach.

Her competitiveness and insatiable desire to learn and improve is helping her meet the mountainous challenges in front of such a young player making the instant transition to professional athlete. “I love soccer so much more than anything else, it gives me even more motivation knowing that I’m doing what I love to do and I can get better along the way,” said Rodman. “Once I get better at something, I get happier and happier and it makes me want to play soccer even more.”