In 2022, the highest-paid player in the National Women’s Soccer League (N.W.S.L.) was not the two-time World Cup champion Alex Morgan, or the headline-grabbing Megan Rapinoe, or Brazil’s record-smashing Marta Vieira da Silva. It was a 19-year-old rookie from Newport Beach, California, who had never played in a World Cup. On February 2, 2022, the Washington Spirit signed Trinity Rodman to a $1.1 million contract, breaking the record for the highest-paid player in the league’s history.

The deal followed a season in which Rodman led the Spirit to their first-ever championship. In the 2021 draft, Rodman, then 18, had been selected second overall by the Spirit, making her the youngest player ever drafted to the league. In her debut match against the North Carolina Courage, she scored within five minutes, swiftly earning the distinction of the youngest American goal scorer in N.W.S.L. history. That season she was named Rookie of the Year and the U.S. Soccer Federation’s Young Female Player of the Year.

Trinity with her father, Dennis Rodman, the controversial former N.B.A. star.

Now Rodman is one of 23 players on the United States Women’s National Team playing in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, which began this week in New Zealand and Australia. At 21, she is the second-youngest player on the roster. “I’m just telling myself that it’s the same game,” Rodman says. “Nothing has really changed outside of the fact that it’s a bigger stage, and more competitive … but [it’s] playing the game I fell in love with at four years old.”

Most players could only dream of Rodman’s résumé, but her success also brings the glaring spotlight. Rodman had no shortage of critics when she was initially drafted. Unlike most draft picks, she didn’t play college soccer. (What should have been her freshman-year season at Washington State University was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.) There were concerns about her lack of experience, and how she would stack up against seasoned players. Harshest of all, some wondered if she had been selected for her last name rather than for her talent.

In the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team’s July 9 match against Wales, Rodman scored the only two goals of the game.

Rodman’s father is Dennis Rodman, the N.B.A. Hall of Famer and infamous bad boy of basketball. Widely considered one of the best rebounding forwards in N.B.A. history, Rodman was a key member of Michael Jordan’s legendary 1990s Chicago Bulls squad. Unpredictable on and off the court, Dennis famously headbutted a referee in a 1996 game after receiving an unfavorable call. In recent years, his antics have included befriending the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Un, and making several appearances on Celebrity Apprentice.

“Nothing has really changed outside of the fact that it’s a bigger stage, and more competitive.”

For nostalgic sports fans, there’s some pleasure in looking for similarities between the N.B.A. star and his increasingly accomplished daughter. However, a last name and an aptitude for professional sports may be all Rodman shares with her dad. He “doesn’t play a big role in my life at all and most people don’t know that,” she wrote in an Instagram post in November of 2021. “We don’t see eye to eye on many things.”

“I think he doesn’t think I’m as fragile as I am,” Rodman tells me. “I’ve talked to him about it, too. He knows I put a hard exterior on. But inside, I’m really sensitive. I’m really emotional.”

From left: Rodman; her mother, Michelle Moyer; her half-sister, Alexis; and her brother, DJ.

Family remains deeply important for Rodman. She credits her mother, Michelle Moyer, and siblings—her older brother, DJ Rodman, who plays basketball at the University of Southern California, and her older half-sister, Alexis Rodman—for being her support system. “My family is very close, like as close as it gets,” says Rodman.

While some might assume her athletic capabilities come solely from her father, Rodman credits her mother for her competitive drive and tenacity on the field. “We’re best friends,” Rodman explains. Moyer recently relocated from California to Washington, D.C., and now lives just 10 minutes away from Rodman.

Rodman’s success coincides with the growing recognition of professional women’s soccer. Earlier this year, as a result of a lawsuit filed by the U.S. women’s soccer team, Congress passed the Equal Pay for Team U.S.A. Act, which requires equal compensation for athletes of any gender representing the U.S. in international events. In March, more than 90,000 fans attended the N.W.S.L.’s opening weekend games, setting a record high.

“We don’t see eye to eye on many things,” says Rodman of her relationship with her dad.

To prepare for the World Cup, on July 9 the newly formed U.S. squad took the field for the first time together to play a friendly match against Wales’s team. The game, played during a heat wave in San Jose, California, ended with a score of 2-0. Both goals were scored by Rodman.

Yesterday, the team defeated Vietnam 3–0 in their first match of the World Cup. On July 26, they will challenge the Netherlands.

The most inspiring words of encouragement she’s been given came from the late N.B.A. guard Kobe Bryant, when Rodman was just five years old. “My dad and Kobe used to go to [my soccer] games together all the time, because I played with his daughter [Natalia],” says Rodman. “He came up to me and was like, ‘You’ve got this and I think you have potential, and you can do anything a guy can do, so don’t let anyone tell you any different.’”

“I think about it all the time,” explains Rodman. “I think about it when I go on the field.”

The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup is airing on Fox

Paulina Prosnitz is an Associate Editor at AIR MAIL