It did not take long for Richie Burke to realise that he had something special with Trinity Rodman.
The Washington Spirit coach gave the 18-year-old her professional debut off the bench against the North Carolina Courage on April 10. Within five minutes, Rodman got on the end of a long, lofted pass, took a perfect first touch and finished to score her first goal.
In the Spirit’s next game, Rodman earned her first start and was the best player on the pitch, grabbing a late game-winning assist against Racing Louisville.
After just two games, Burke had already noticed the questions from reporters increasing.
“I'm going to have a hard time shielding her from you guys,” he said with a laugh.
The more Rodman plays, the harder Burke’s task is becoming.
Rodman became the youngest player ever drafted into the NWSL after she opted to skip college and go straight to the pros at the start of 2021, with the Spirit picking her up second overall in January.
Though much was expected of the U.S. youth international – and daughter of former NBA star Dennis Rodman – her rapid emergence as one of the top players in the league has been an unforeseen development, to most observers at least.
“I'm not surprised how well she's done,” Burke said. “I’m not surprised that she's taken to professional football the way she has.
“She's 18 years of age. She's a prodigious talent. She's unbelievably athletic, she's got a fantastic attitude."
Rodman has mostly been deployed as a wide forward for the Spirit, though she can also play through the middle. But when isolating an opponent’s full-back, Rodman has caused havoc with her quick feet, speed and vision.
The teenager leads the NWSL in chances created from open play, is second in dribbles completed, third in touches in the opposition’s box and fourth in total shots, in addition to her goal and assist.
All this from the league’s youngest player.
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“I forget how old she is until somebody says that she’s 18,” Spirit co-captain Tori Huster said. “I’m like, there’s no way she’s 18. Someone lied about her age!”
Rodman credits her new team-mates for helping her get up to speed at the professional level. Though only four games into her senior career, Rodman has already noticed the mental side of her game improving, particularly when she is not on the ball.
“It's definitely a lot faster, girls are a lot stronger, a lot more intelligent at this level and I think just getting advice from my team-mates in scrimmages and practices [has helped],” Rodman said.
“Coming in at 18 years old, you're used to giving the ball up and just jogging,” she added.
“But I've improved a lot in the sense of giving the ball up and finding another space to show. I think just knowing that I can be as just as effective off the ball as I can on the ball is a huge part [of my success].”
There are two questions that are now most pressing when it comes to Rodman.
Firstly, can she keep it up through a full season? The NWSL Challenge Cup ends this week, and the 24-game regular season commences soon after. The former is a four-game, pseudo-preseason tournament. The latter is a six-month grind.
More tantalisingly though, is the question of how good Rodman can be.
She has the physical tools to be a USWNT player sooner than later, and as Burke says, the mental side of her game is in the right place as well.
“She takes on board things tactically very very well,” the Spirit coach said. “She's always asking questions and she's always going to try and get that last little bit of knowledge of what we're looking for.
"She's always looking at video, so while that continues I think we're in a really good place with her.”
Huster, meanwhile, is not shy about drawing a comparison between her teenage team-mate and one of the game’s genuine superstars.
“She plays years ahead of 18 and I think there are a lot of special things you’ll see from her,” Huster said.
“She’s really fun to play with too. Similar to a Sam Kerr, she’s very instinctual, she knows where to be at all times going forward into the attack. I'm looking forward to the good things to come from her and I'm definitely glad she’s on our team.”
Rodman would seem to have all the tools one needs to follow in Kerr's footsteps and become one of the world's top players in short order.
Therefore for Burke, his biggest challenge may yet prove to be keeping his young star as much of a secret as he possibly can.
“My job is to be the gatekeeper, and I'm intending to do that because she does her talking and she does her stuff on the field,” he said.
“I feel like I'm the gatekeeper of our place, and she's one that I have to be monitoring that gate, to make sure we only get a certain amount of access, because the expectation level continues to grow for young players like this and, it's easy for them to get caught in the crossfire.
“She gets the support of the staff and the senior players, they're great with her. And while we can continue to do that, then I think we've got a real prodigious talent.”