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Over and over, the Spirit turns to Trinity Rodman. It’s a winning formula.

Over and over, the Spirit turns to Trinity Rodman. It’s a winning formula.

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 1

There are few things Trinity Rodman finds more exhilarating on the soccer field than when an opponent faces her up, backtracks a couple of paces and invites a one-on-one battle.

“Any time a defender doesn’t want to step out,” the Washington Spirit forward said, “I think it’s a field day for me.”

So when the Spirit navigated the opening stages of its 2-1 win over the Utah Royals on Sunday afternoon at Audi Field and found the visitors deploying a high press, leaving space in the midfield for Rodman to expose on the dribble, it didn’t take long for Washington (2-1-0) to feed her the ball — and go back to the well time and time again.

The result: Rodman provided the pass that led to Andi Sullivan’s penalty kick goal, then picked out Ouleymata Sarr for the Spirit’s second strike. With the assist, Rodman — all of 21 years old — set the club’s career record.

“The game starts, and you see what they’re giving us,” Spirit defender Gabrielle Carle said. “Eventually you play and you find something that works — and for us, that was Trin on the right side.”

While Rodman is celebrated for her electric footwork and rapid pace, her 12th assist for the Spirit — which topped a mark she had shared with Diana Matheson and Crystal Dunn — was a tribute to her dexterous dynamism.

Collecting a clearance on the right flank, some 25 yards from the goal, the fourth-year player took a touch, surveyed her options and spotted Sarr at the far post. With a relaxed swing of her right foot, Rodman sent a bending cross that Sarr nodded home for the 30th-minute tally.

“I’ve played with a lot of different forwards and a lot of different teammates,” Rodman said. “The people that have finished my assists, credit to them.”

Rodman also facilitated Washington’s opening goal, even though it didn’t show up on the stat sheet. Slipping behind the Utah back line, Rodman darted down the right side and squared a pass to Croix Bethune, who baited Utah’s Olivia Griffitts into cleaning her out in the box. With typical penalty taker Ashley Hatch sidelined by a hip injury, Sullivan deposited the spot kick for the 21st-minute lead.

You wouldn’t know it, but Rodman is still adjusting to a retooled Spirit squad. Bethune, a rookie, took the attacking midfield reins after Ashley Sanchez, Rodman’s friend and U.S. teammate, was traded to North Carolina in the offseason. After Carle played left back last season, the Canadian swapped flanks to become Rodman’s right-sided partner. And Rodman has had limited time to fine-tune those connections after missing much of the preseason while helping the Americans win the Concacaf W Gold Cup.

“I feel like since I got back from Gold Cup, it’s just kind of been trying to catch up with everybody and get all the information in as fast as possible and now just putting that into play — and being Trin at the same time,” Rodman said.

Her impact on the attack is striking. The Spirit was outshot 14-2 in a 1-0 loss at the Seattle Reign to open the season as Rodman served a one-game suspension that carried over from last year. But since she returned to the lineup for last weekend’s 2-1 win over Bay FC, the Spirit has notched a pair of victories while enjoying a 30-21 shot advantage (including 17-13 against Utah).

On Sunday, Rodman came close to padding her assist total during a flurry of second-half opportunities. In the 48th minute, her teasing service skipped just beyond Sarr’s extended foot. Moments later, Rodman embarked on a slaloming 70-yard run — flicking her first touch into space, galloping downfield and dancing around Utah rookie Allyson Sentnor — before whipping in another cross that Sarr couldn’t steer on target. Briefly switching to the left side, Rodman then picked out Casey Krueger for a point-blank effort that rang the post.

Although Sentnor halved the deficit for Utah (1-2-0) in the 71st minute, Rodman’s ability to dribble out of danger and draw fouls helped Washington relieve the pressure as the Royals pushed for an equalizer.

Listen for a critique of Rodman’s performance and you won’t hear it from interim coach Adrián González, who hailed her defensive work ethic as well as her attacking impact, or from her teammates. But Rodman, who quietly has gone nine straight games without a goal for club or country, won’t hesitate to pipe up about that “bit of a drought.”

“I haven’t scored for a minute,” she said. “I do want to be cleaner and do a better job at creating those chances for me and putting those away. So I’m not happy about it. But at the same time, we got the win — so I’m happy about that.”

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