Spirit rookie Trinity Rodman playing against the North Carolina Courage
Spirit rookie Trinity Rodman playing against the North Carolina Courage Credit: Andy Mead/ISI Photos

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The spotlight tends to follow Trinity Rodman. With her famous last name and skills on the soccer field, the 18-year-old Washington Spirit rookie receives outsized attention compared to most players her age. After the Spirit’s 3-2 loss to the North Carolina Courage on Saturday in the NWSL Challenge Cup, the focus on Rodman will only grow.

Just five minutes into her debut as a professional, Rodman scored a goal against one of the best teams in the league. Even publications that don’t cover sports regularly wrote about Rodman’s accomplishment. Many of the headlines referenced her famous, Basketball Hall of Famer father.

“She has received a lot of media attention for her talent and for her famous name,” Olympic and World Cup champion Briana Scurry tells City Paper. “I would say, majority of the media attention is originally going to be from her name. But I think over time, her talent will prove worthy of the lion’s share of that attention. And she’s got all the tools there to be a fantastic player. [The attention] can be challenging. She is very grounded, however, wise beyond her years. There’s a lot of maturity there.”

Rodman decided to turn pro after her freshman soccer season at Washington State University was canceled due to the pandemic. When the Spirit drafted Rodman No. 2 overall in the 2021 NWSL Draft in January, she made it clear that she wanted to pave her own path and to be known “as Trinity Rodman and not just Dennis Rodman’s daughter.” And just three months into her professional career, she’s proven ready for the challenge.

Against the Courage, Rodman played for 35 minutes and did what Scurry calls the “dirty work” on both ends of the field that earns praises from coaches. Scurry, who recently became an investor in the Spirit and serves as a mentor to Rodman, first saw those skills displayed in the team’s preseason match against Sky Blue FC at Audi Field on March 28.

“She did the hard work of ball chasing and that is something that attacking players don’t think about and she seems to take a lot of pride in that,” Scurry says. “And so I really appreciate that about her and that really shows where her head’s at, at such a young age, and that’s very encouraging. I think she has fantastic potential. Her ceiling is very high. If we bring her along really well, and she feels good about where she’s at and what she has around her and can just focus on the game, I think she could be a fantastic star not only in the league, but also on the national team stage. I think she’s got what it takes to be able to handle the weight of that star power as long as she’s brought along in the proper way.”

Spirit manager Richie Burke told reporters he sent Rodman in to replace Kumi Yokoyama at forward as a tactical substitution partially aimed at slowing down North Carolina.

“She’s brilliant. She’s a machine as an athlete, just an unbelievable machine,” Burke said. “And you play against her, you train with her, you see how quickly she closes you down. She’s deceptively quick to close you down, but now she’s getting tactically better too. She’s just a handful.”

The third-year Spirit manager has heaped praise on Rodman, calling her “fantastic” and describing her as “hungry for information, very open-minded, sponge-like when you’re offering feedback to her.” Burke said that Rodman has “slipped into the professional game very, very well. Some players take some time adapting to the professional game after playing in college and she hasn’t had to unlearn some of the habits that you have to get into in college play, so her trajectory has been good and her mindset has been fantastic.”

But he is mindful that with all the success, the team needs to make sure that the attention doesn’t overwhelm her. The Spirit’s media and communications team, Burke said, has tried to manage Rodman in a way that the pressure and attention doesn’t have a negative effect on her.

“She’s an 18-year-old kid and [with] the burden of having a father like she’s got and everyone in the media talking about her, my project is to make sure she stays grounded, make sure she continues to grow as a footballer and get better and managing all of the media attention so it doesn’t distract her and detract from how she’s going to play on the field for us,” Burke explained. “We don’t just have a team with one player. We have an 18-year-old kid who’s got a very popular last name who’s becoming better and better every time she plays for us. Managing her and making sure she’s staying on track and on a pathway that is going to benefit her career, but also us as a football club is key. I’ve seen a lot of young players in the game not do well with the burden that people are putting on her right now.”

After the match against the Courage, a reporter asked Rodman whether she had a new favorite goal. She had told SB Nation’s André Carlisle that the goal she scored in last year’s U.S. Youth National Team’s CONCACAF win over Mexico held the No. 1 spot.

Rodman laughed. In a way, she was glad that she had gotten her debut NWSL goal out of the way so quickly.

“This goal was awesome,” she said. “I couldn’t be happier. 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.”