Trinity Rodman makes history in NWSL after trailblazing for ECNL
By Jacob Born | ECNLGirls.com
Trinity Rodman had done it all.
She’s won four ECNL National Championships, both playing up and with her own age group. She’s won five ECNL conference titles. She’s won five Surf Cups, one of the premier tournaments on the West Coast. She’s been invited to national camps and competitions for the United States. And she was ranked as the best forward recruit for college soccer.
Last Wednesday, she added another accolade: becoming the youngest player ever selected in the NWSL Draft, going second overall to the Washington Spirit.
Her dream had been realized.
“It was a whirlwind,” Rodman said. “I think I was so anxious, nervous for the beginning part of it and then when I heard my name called I was relieved, just super excited. I can’t even put it into words because I’m realizing my dream at 18 years old. It feels surreal. I’m just so excited and I haven’t been able to stop smiling since draft day.”
But being drafted also came with a choice: go to college or turn pro?
In 2020, Rodman signed her letter of intent to play at Washington State University, where her older brother, DJ Rodman, was on the men’s basketball team. She was ranked No. 1 among all high school forwards and became the Cougars’ highest-ranked recruit ever. Coming off the best season in program history and with Rodman bringing a level of play not seen before, Washington State was primed to be one of the top teams in the country.
And then the pandemic struck. The NCAA women’s soccer season was pushed back to the spring. Players could register for the NWSL Draft while keeping their eligibility, but if they were selected, they had to quickly decide if they would retain their eligibility or enter the professional ranks.
For Rodman, she made a decision few in the league have ever done. She decided to forego college and jump straight from high school and club soccer to the pros.
“It was nothing against college,” Rodman said. “It was just a feeling of, I wasn’t being pushed to the max as much as I wanted to be. I was definitely being pushed, there were some really good players on the WSU team. But after practice, there were times where I was frustrated with myself because I was feeling stuck, knowing we were just training and then we were going to go home and have a few more months break before games started. Just knowing that I wanted to be pushed harder and moved forward, could I be pushed harder playing this college season or could I be pushed harder integrating into the professional level and training with them? And obviously, when thinking about those two, the right thing was to go pro just so I could get better as a player, faster.”
It wasn’t easy to come to that conclusion, but it was one question she’d been thinking about for the past few years.
During her youth career, Rodman played for SoCal Blues in the ECNL, which had a reputation for being one of the best, if not the best, girls team in the country in every age group they played in. Even when Rodman played up a year, the team was one of the best in the country.
When Rodman was playing U-14s, her team made it to the ECNL National Championship game, where SoCal Blues ultimately fell in double overtime to Solar Chelsea (now Solar SC). Everyone moved up to U-15s the next year, and the Blues went on a revenge tour. The team tore through the league, winning 30 straight games and qualifying for the ECNL National Championship. Waiting for them once again was Solar.
After missing the semifinal game with a foot injury, Rodman returned and promptly scored two goals as Blues defeated Solar Chelsea 7-2, completing a perfect 32-0-0 season. It was part of a stretch where Rodman and her team went undefeated for five calendar years.
The hallmark of those teams was that Rodman, while certainly an integral part of that offense, wasn’t the only player contributing. She was surrounded by talented players, ones that pushed her to become a better player.
“It’s crazy to think that at such a young age I was on a team that never really lost much,” Rodman said. “It obviously helps being on a team like that because you think about how good you can possibly be and how much you can improve. At practice, I was always asking Coach Baker what I could do better, even when we were winning. Asking questions like, why was my shot missing or why was I getting the ball stolen from me. Just asking little things on how I can improve and I think the thing is if you are winning and you are being successful, something to always have in your mind is how you can improve because I think that was the biggest thing for me.”
“She played on a very good team,” SoCal Blues coach Greg Baker said. “She was surrounded by some really good talent. She would have been a great player no matter what. But environment has to play a part and for Trinity, she was surrounded by players that were able to challenge her as a youth player. It wasn’t just her deciding to be this great player, she had to be if she wanted to be the best player on the team. That team didn’t change its roster much either, which is also incredible. They were all good very, very young and that continued as they got older.”
Rodman joined SoCal Blues when she was just 10 years old. She started to show promise, and Baker moved her up an age group, a move that was initially met with some skepticism from Rodman’s mother. But she continued to excel, and even just one year into the program, Baker could tell Rodman was special.
“You always knew she had special capabilities,” Baker said. “She was talented early. I asked her to be on the team and her mom actually didn’t think she was good enough, which was great though. But by the next year, we knew she had a different level than most.”
Her success hasn’t just been at the club level, though. Rodman has also shown she belongs on the international stage. She attended the U-17 World Cup in Uruguay in 2018 with the US as one of the youngest players on the roster. As a member of the 2020 U-20 CONCACAF women’s team, Rodman recorded eight goals and added six assists as the team won the whole tournament. Naturally, Rodman scored two goals in the championship contest against Mexico.
Rodman now joins the likes of USWNT standout Mallory Pugh, another ECNL alum, as one of the very few who have skipped college and gone straight to the pros. She also has the recognition of being the youngest player ever selected in the NWSL Draft, making her a role model for future generations.
“I think it’s amazing because I get to show other players that it’s ok to do this and start their professional journey at a younger age,” Rodman said. “I think it’s awesome because my mindset was the faster I get to go professional, the faster I can become a better player and I think that’s a good thing for future young players to think about. Through everything, the one thing I want people to see is my growth and not just how good I am now but how good I can be and how much I can learn. I think that’s a great quality to have as a developing player. I think moving forward, young players should have that mentality, to not be afraid to get better every single time they step out on the field.”
Being so young may make integrating into a locker room with veterans such as Kelly O’Hara, who is 14 years Rodman’s senior, awkward or difficult. But Rodman doesn’t anticipate any problems since they all share similar experiences growing up in soccer.
“This is definitely going to be a huge change and I don’t even know what it’s going to be like,” Rodman said. “First time in the locker room, I’m probably going to feel like a kid. But, I’ve seen their personalities and I’ve talked to a couple of them already. I know how accepting all of them are on the team and I’m excited to show them what my personality is like.”
But for now, Rodman is excited about the future. The Spirit’s camp opens in early February, with the NWSL season kicking off in April.
When she was drafted, Rodman saw her dream come true. Now, it’s time for the work to begin.
“I just want everyone to know how excited I am to become a better player and integrate into the professional level,” Rodman said. “I know they already have hard workers, driven, enthusiastic positive people. And I want them to look at me and say, ‘Trinity never gives up. She will always stick up for this team and never give up.’”