Washington Spirit wingback Kelley O’Hara knew immediately the hype around Trinity Rodman was real.
“I still remember the first practice with her back in preseason,” O’Hara said. “And I just remember being like, ‘This girl is gonna be really good.’”
There were several months between that first look and Saturday’s NWSL championship game, during which Rodman’s cross in extra time found O’Hara, who scored to give the Washington Spirit its first league title, but O’Hara’s initial instinct was accurate.
At just 19 years old, Rodman is already great. Her dominant display against the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday will raise questions about how high her ceiling really is.
Rodman blew away all expectations in her rookie season. Coming into the NWSL as a talented but untested teenager, Rodman finished the season as the Rookie of the Year, first team all-NWSL, and a player earmarked as a future star of the U.S. national team.
“The journey’s been long. It’s not what I expected from my first season,” Rodman said after Saturday’s victory. “But the team I was with has been amazing. I’ve looked up to every single person, even the rookies. I’ve gotten closer with every single person on my team and I honestly wouldn’t be in the mindset I’m in now if they weren’t behind me.”
Rodman’s performance in the title game showcased why she is so special. There were moments of audacious skill, blinding speed, mental maturity, exceptional vision, and a spectacular strike in the second half from distance that banged off the post.
“She had that one at the beginning of the second half that might still be rattling the goal,” Spirit acting head coach Kris Ward said of Rodman’s near goal
Though she narrowly missed her chance to score in the title game, Rodman still managed to be decisive five minutes after the start of extra time.
As Rodman said after the game, “I was doing a lot of one-v-ones and sometimes it wasn’t working too well because they had cover behind, so once I beat that first player I was kind of stuck.”
Making a quick adjustment, Rodman cut inside and found the streaking O’Hara at the back post with a cross from long distance. Goal. The Spirit led 2-1 and would not relinquish that advantage until the final whistle blew.
“You think about how young she is, and the ceiling she has, it’s actually incredible,” Red Stars coach Rory Dames said of Rodman after the game. “The front line of the U.S. is in good hands with some of the players that are in this league. No doubt about it.”
Rodman was called in for the U.S. national team’s friendlies in Australia this month but declined for unspecified reasons, depriving fans of the chance to see her make a highly anticipated USWNT debut.
But that national team breakthrough is a matter of when, not if. In the meantime, Rodman and her Spirit teammates have fans dreaming of becoming a league powerhouse for years to come. Of the 11 players the Spirit started in the title game, all but two are 27 or younger. One of those two is Aubrey Bledsoe, who was named NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year this year and, at 30, has plenty of good years ahead.
“We do have a very young team which is awesome,” O’Hara said. “I think it’s just the beginning for this club.”
Though the Spirit has a host of young talent, it’s clear Rodman has the talents and skills to become a special player in the league. Time will tell if she fulfills expectations and stamps her name among the world’s best, but for now, it’ll just be fun to see what she does next.
“She’s obviously done amazing this season and I couldn’t be more proud of her,” O’Hara said. “I know that she has a lot ahead of her and I’m excited to watch her shine.”