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Rodman, Naeher’s bond on full display as duo set USWNT tone for Olympics

USWNT goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher hands a ball off to forward Trinity Rodman during penalty kicks in an April SheBelieves Cup match.
Photo Copyright Aaron Doster for USA TODAY Sports

U.S. women’s national team forward Trinity Rodman and veteran goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher gave media a glimpse of their Olympic attitude Wednesday, speaking to the press about their new identity, the generational shift and more while providing a perhaps unexpected peek into their unique bond. Here were The Equalizer’s five biggest takeaways:

1. The players are fully aware that this year is seen as a telling transition period for the USWNT with one chapter closing and a new generation taking the baton to Paris. The shift was apparent in new head coach Emma Hayes’ roster selection, and Naeher spoke candidly but optimistically about the opportunity she sees in the upcoming Olympic competition in France. Naeher, one of the few veterans remaining on the roster, views this Games as a turning point after a disappointing finish at the most recent World Cup.

“With an Olympics in general, I think it brings a different excitement, it’s a whole different vibe than a World Cup,” Naeher told the media on Wednesday. “For us, it’s an opportunity — we’ve talked this whole year about looking toward the future, turning the page, having this new identity and moving forward and I think that this is the start of that. Obviously, we’ve put the work in the last few months in this transition period .… but now with Emma in here and the full new staff and roster being set, I think now this is the opportunity to officially move in that forward direction and this is the first tournament for that.”

That public progression begins with this weekend’s preparatory friendly against Mexico on Saturday. From there, Costa Rica is up next. Final stop (for now): Paris Games.

2. Naeher herself is excited to be back in net for the team after missing Hayes’ first camp due to injury. With 104 caps under her belt for the national team, Paris will make the keeper a rare three-time Olympian — the only other two on the squad traveling to France later this month that can say the same are captain Lindsey Horan and fellow vet Crystal Dunn. Even with all that experience, Naeher still said there’s a different feeling the time around.

“Obviously disappointed not to have been here a few weeks ago with a little injury but feeling really good to be back in,” Naeher said. “I even said to a couple people the other day, I just feel an energy shift. I feel the joy and excitement from the group and I think that’s really exciting to come back into after being gone from it for a camp.”

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3. Perhaps even more palpable than her excitement was the connection between Naeher and Rodman throughout the press conference itself. The respect the latter has for the veteran goalkeeper was clear, as was their comfortability with one another. Known as an incredibly consistent force in net, Rodman reflected on one of Naeher’s arguably lesser-known qualities: her quiet but crucial leadership on the team. When asked to speak to Naeher’s role in this group, Rodman said, “She’s like my mom here.”

“She’s always leading by example,” Rodman continued. “She leads in action and always steps up in the best moments, so she’s a great leader and I look up to her a lot.” 

Looking to Naeher, she added: “Ugh. That’s all you’re getting,” in true embarrassed child fashion. From the opposite side of the pitch, Naeher has managed to cement an evident connection with one of the team’s star forwards which speaks volumes to her presence. With such a young squad heading to the Olympics, that sort of soft-spoken leadership is an extra bonus.

4. Rodman and the forward line are still solidly in learning mode. Playing alongside Dunn, Jaedyn Shaw, Sophia Smith, Mallory Swanson and alternate Lynn Williams, Rodman spoke about the focus on continuing to build the group’s chemistry over this camp. Smith, Swanson and Rodman — a group that includes two of the top five scorers (and three of the top eight if Rodman is included) in the National Women’s Soccer League right now — were electric as a trio in the team’s second of two friendlies against South Korea earlier this month when Hayes was experimenting with her roster before naming her final selections for Paris, but Rodman said there’s still more progress to be made.

“Now having this unit, we’re going to continue to learn about each other every single training session,” Rodman said. “We’ve done a good job, Emma’s coached us really well. For us, it’s just keeping that connection and building it every single day.”

5. Speaking of Dunn, in case you forgot, she can really do it all. A longtime defender who has played midfield at the club level, Hayes named Dunn as a forward for this coming Olympic Games after testing her fit up front at the team’s May camp and subsequent friendlies against South Korea, where she scored an early goal in the squad’s second victory. Hayes has spoken before about the value of Dunn’s versatility, which is proving to be an asset for other players as well. 

“Now that she’s in the forward line — she’s been on this national team for so long and been a leader for so long — she’s open-minded and so willing to learn in all areas, which the outsiders don’t see as much,” Rodman said of her teammate. “Coming from the backline and even playing midfield at her club, you get the perspective from those positions that she’s played. We have a lot of conversations as forwards, but also she has that point of view as a defender as well so I’m also able to learn off of that.” 

It certainly cannot hurt to have one of the league’s best defenders whispering in the forward line’s ears to give them a two-way POV.

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