Rodman’s NWSL debut showed that the future is bright for both player and club
A couple of months ago, Washington Spirit rookie Trinity Rodman said that the favorite goal she’s ever scored came in the waning minutes of last year’s U.S. Youth National Team’s CONCACAF title-clinching victory over Mexico. The goal was special to Rodman because, despite the 4-1 score line (Rodman scored a brace), it was a physically demanding match. In fact, to score it she had to fight off two defenders during her forty-yard dribble into the box which was capped off by a hop to maintain her balance and shoot into the far side netting.
Just five minutes into her professional debut this weekend, she scored a new favorite.
Natalie Jacobs delivered a perfect ball over the top from the Spirit’s own half, Rodman guided it toward the ground and into her stride with her thigh before side-footing past the keeper. “This goal was awesome…I couldn’t be happier,” said Rodman. “Obviously the loss isn’t a good thing, but getting in there and getting that goal, obviously this has topped the Mexico goal, and I hope they keep topping it.”
It was a brilliant bit of bang-bang skill that got the Spirit back into the game and, more broadly, served as an emphatic announcement of Rodman’s NWSL arrival. While the skill to control the ball was excellent, it was Rodman’s spotting the run and timing it just right that helped create the goal before the ball ever left Jacobs’ boot.
“As soon as the ball was kind of on the right side of the field, I looked around and I was like, ‘Whoa, there’s not really that many people out here!’, and I just tried to stay onside and [keep] my run in line,” explained Rodman. “Then, as soon as I saw [Jacobs] look up I was like, ‘Okay, I’m ready,’ and there was only two players next to me, there was one behind me and one in front, and I kind of just went in that gap.”
Rodman’s instincts as a forward weren’t the only attributes of her game on display. According to Richie Burke, Rodman — who replaced the Spirit’s first goalscorer, Kumi Yokoyama — was a tactical substitution that had more to do with slowing down North Carolina’s rampaging midfield box. “Today, one of the big [instructions] was ‘Listen Trin, out of possession, drop in and pick up one of the deep players in their box and help Sanchez out a little bit.’ And she did it great, she took to it really, really well. If we keep adding little pieces like that into her game, and she takes it onboard that quickly and does that well in games…then you know, we’re in really good shape.”
The long preseason was helpful for Rodman, as it gave her a chance to spotlight specific areas to improve her overall game before the descent of television cameras and hundreds of thousands of eyes. Cautious not to overload herself with a lengthy to-do list on top of adjusting to life on a new coast and living, training and performing as a professional footballer, Rodman focused on improving her off ball movement and knowing her options on the ball before receiving a pass.
Both stood out during the match: Her pressing without the ball helped the Spirit better cope with the Courage, and she was able to keep the ball moving while only misplacing three of her twelve passes. All of this meant that the goal wasn’t the only highlight or notable piece of action from the rookie’ debut.
Later in the match, Rodman nearly pulled off a stunning move, showing significant pace to run by a defender plus the ability to control the ball at a high rate of speed.
However, discomfort with her left foot saw her chop the ball back onto her right and into the path of a defender she’d already beaten. Another time she dawdled a smidge too much and was dispossessed by Debinha. She also played some sharp passes to Ashley Sanchez and nearly collected an assist before the former UCLA star’s shot spun wide. There was also a nifty attempted backheel lay off to Ashley Hatch that never materialized due to an offside flag.
All in all it was a remarkable debut against one of the NWSL’s best teams — and a team that was playing well enough to lead the Spirit 3-1 before Rodman stepped on the pitch — but she wouldn’t have it any other way. ”I think a lot of people probably would want to start off with maybe an easier team, but for me I think it was nice to go into such a hard game”, said Rodman. “And I think it really helped me, because I think I started off really strong because I had to think so fast, and I had to move so quickly. So it was awesome playing against them.”
“Obviously I was sitting on the bench like super eager to get in, and once I had my chance, my mentality was just so driven, and I was so ready to run,” she says. “I was just very excited, and I’m kind of glad I got that out of the way, I [can] feel kind of at ease going into the next game, and not be as nervous.”
It was not only a tough opponent, but a tough game situation to enter, and Rodman still stood out, provided tactical reinforcement, oh and scored a new favorite goal. With Rodman bypassing college to turn pro, it was difficult to determine when the number 2 pick would be ready to shine in the NWSL. Rodman needed just five minutes on the pitch to provide a hint, thirty more to issue a complete answer.