‘Pedal to the metal’: Trinity Rodman embraces a new era with Emma Hayes

<span><een klas=Trinity Rodman during a USWNT photo shoot. “I have the experience, but I’m also a young player still trying to figure out my identity,” said the Washington Spirit forward.Photo: Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty ImagesPhoto: Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images span>” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/.e1Wsc51fr9i.l736wC.5A–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763 /5bcff4b2999b688b58584a8a4f1018ad” data-src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/.e1Wsc51fr9i.l736wC.5A–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenf s.com/en /theguardian_763/5bcff4b2999b688b58584a8a4f1018ad”/>

The U.S. Women’s National Team will have an exciting summer no matter what happens at the Paris Olympics. This weekend, Emma Hayes will take charge of the four-time Olympic gold medalists and four-time World Cup champions for the first time. Hayes has had a squad of 27 (including four training players) of the country’s best footballers with her this week and with time running out, she will rely on those talent pools to quickly adapt to her tactics as they prepare on an Olympic run.

High on the list of names that could prove vital to Hayes’ plans is Washington Spirit’s Trinity Rodman. Speaking to Moving the Goalposts the day after scoring a first-half double against Angel City, the 22-year-old feels the US have recovered from their World Cup disappointment. “It was a very difficult year for Spirit [who missed out on the playoffs] and the national team. I think ‘learning experience’ is the best way to describe 2023.”

Related: From tactics to a hugely talented teenager: Emma Hayes’ USWNT in-tray

Hayes has spoken about the exciting young generation in the American ranks, but has emphasized that experience is also needed. One positive from last summer’s World Cup, where the defending champions were knocked out in the last 16 by Sweden, is that many of those younger players, including Rodman, now understand what is required on the biggest stage.

Rodman says: “For us younger players at the World Cup who played a lot, like me and Soph [Smith]And [Emily] Fox and Naomi [Girma] … it tested us a lot. As a team you are [have] I have to quickly find out what is going wrong and we did not do that at the World Cup. So for me, I don’t look back on it in a bad way anymore. I think I’ve been closer to losing and being sent home. But now I enjoy watching it, just because it was a great learning experience.”

There are elements of playing at a World Cup that are impossible to train for. According to Rodman, a large part of it takes place on a mental level. “It was amazing to experience the feelings of it all,” she says. “Because honestly, I think it’s the biggest [part] are the mental and emotional parts of such high competition. Obviously we’re used to the physicality and the pressure on our bodies and the toll it has. But I think the mental side of a World Cup is something you can’t prepare for if you’ve never been there.”

In the months following the tournament in Australia and New Zealand, the team worked with interim manager Twila Kilgore, who remains part of Hayes’ coaching staff, to evolve and recover their lost identity. In a triumph of the spirit, as much as everything else, the team lifted back-to-back trophies in the W Gold Cup and SheBelieves Cup, all the while beginning to resemble that old tenacious, never-say-die USWNT.

Rodman’s favorite moment in those tournaments? The match against Colombia, in which the US recovered from a historic defeat against Mexico by beating the World Cup quarter-finalists Las Cafeteras 3-0 in a very entertaining, if sometimes difficult physical battle. Rodman could be seen flying down the wing, nutmegging the defenders’ legs and at one point he was caught on camera telling the opposition to “back up”.

“It was just a wild game,” she says. “But again a learning experience for me. I will always remain a spirited player. I have a lot of heart on the field. But I think in such a situation you can control your emotions and come out on top and dominate the game… That game was a mental test, and they tried to get into our heads, which they did. But we still came out on top.”

Rodman says that when she heard about Hayes’ appointment, she called a few fellow actors to question them. Their excitement was obvious. “I just knew about her achievements and how great she was, and hearing through other people how successful and how good she is just as a person… So I was really happy. I think the growth of the game and also the fact that there are more women in this sport is really cool.

“I’m very open-minded and excited about the future and what’s going to happen with her because we haven’t even scratched the surface yet, I don’t think, and if she comes in I think it’s going to be a pedal to the metal for sure .”

In 2021, Rodman was the youngest NWSL draft pick in history when she turned pro at age 18 with Washington Spirit. It took her five minutes to score a goal in her professional debut. At the end of a championship season in which Rodman scored eight goals and provided seven assists in all competitions, the emerging talent was named Rookie of the Year.

Now four years into her professional career with the Spirit (and with 36 USWNT caps), Rodman is balancing the role as a developing leader with her play as a young soccer player. Despite the experience she brings to the Spirit, Rodman only turned 22 last week: “It’s definitely a balance of [the type of] leadership of, I have the experience, but I’m also a young player still trying to figure out my identity. I try to learn and improve every match.”

As we reach the middle third of the season, Rodman is hitting his stride. She has three goals and four assists in ten games, with an impact on both sides of the ball, all over the court, that should be considered early as a league MVP finalist.

Although last season ended in heartbreak — Rodman was ejected on a closely contested Decision Day in which Spirit failed to make the playoffs — Washington is off to a strong start in 2024. After eleven games, they sit third in the league with eight wins and three losses. Rodman attributes their success to building a strong new foundation while integrating several new faces into their squad and working with interim manager Adrián González.

“I think it’s fluctuated quite a bit over the years in the way we play, in our identity,” Rodman says. “And I think this year we’re really honing in on who we are as a team. This year we want to be a dangerous team. Something that Adrián often says is just a way of defending is having the ball. And I think that’s something that we’ve tried to do; control the play with the ball and then be dangerous in our attack.

This summer they will be joined by former Barcelona manager Jonatan Giráldez, who has just ended his tenure in Catalonia with a second consecutive Champions League title. Washington Spirit’s burgeoning new identity is something Rodman expects to grow once Giráldez arrives: “The playing style is different from what I’ve played in the past, which I love. I think it’s also just exchange within positions. What really made us successful this year is the ability to jump in and out of spaces.

“There is an exchange between me, Croix [Bethune]Ouleye [Sarr], [Ashley] Hatch, even when our outside defenders get high and we get inside, I think it’s huge and just trying to get everyone on the ball. The majority of our goals involved either everyone hitting the ball or a team building effort. It’s not just one person doing something great.”

There won’t be much time left for Paris, but the signature Spanish style that Giráldez will bring could help prepare Spirit’s players for international football, or help catch the eye of Hayes. While making rounds with the media this past week, Hayes expressed the need to expose the U.S. player pool to a greater variety of tactical styles as they compete in an evolving global landscape. At the time of writing, there are seven Spirit players – including Rodman – in camp with the USWNT, including three training players.

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