The U.S. Women’s National Team had just beaten China 3-0 in an exhibition game at DRV PNK Stadium Saturday, and Trinity Rodman, who scored a goal and had two assists, was taking a lap around the field to greet fans when she got word that “Serena” wanted to meet her.
Unbeknownst to Rodman, daughter of NBA legend Dennis Rodman, another sports icon, tennis star Serena Williams, was at the game with her husband, daughter and other friends and family.
“I was going around the stadium and gave one of my jerseys away to a fan, and then I walked across the field, and someone said, `Serena wants to meet you,’ and I was like `Serena who?’ and they said `Serena Williams’ and I was like, `Oh, my god,’” Rodman said.
She approached Williams, who asked if she could have her jersey.
A team official dug in a dirty jersey bag to find another Rodman shirt to give to the tennis star, and Rodman autographed it for her. Other U.S. players also got to meet Williams and gave her their jerseys, as well.
“She was very sweet, very humble, which was refreshing and amazing,” Rodman said. “Obviously, we all look up to her, one of the greatest female athletes in the world, so to meet her in person and see how she was was incredible.”
Rodman still had a giant grin on her face as she told the story to reporters after the game.
Somewhere in England, Emma Hayes surely was smiling, too.
The U.S. team, which Hayes will take over full-time in May 2024, showed glimpses of the aggressive, attack-minded style Hayes and interim coach Twila Kilgore have begun to implement since Hayes was hired last month.
That was vital, as the Americans are coming off their worst World Cup showing in team history after being eliminated in the Round of 16 last summer. The team scored just one goal in it last three World Cup matches before losing in penalties to Sweden.
Sophia Smith, captain Lindsey Horan and Rodman, three of the highest-profile players on the team, provided the goals Saturday and gave the crowd of 8,768 plenty to cheer about.
USA outshot China 20-2, with 11 shots on goal, and dominated possession 64 percent to 36 percent.
Although Kilgore and players said they were disappointed they didn’t finish more of their chances against China, they felt there were plenty of positives to take away.
“We came out and brought that energy and control,” Horan said. “We could have capitalized more, but it was nice having Emma for a few days bringing that energy, her presence, but it’s on us to be better and move forward. I think what we’ve been working on the past few months showed a little bit more (Saturday).
“The placement of a few players helped in that area, it was nice having Rose (Lavelle) back in the game because it brings a little something different in the pocket. You can see things coming up, more opportunities, more football, and that’s what we want here in America.”
The first goal came early for the United States. Defender Naomi Girma, the two-time reigning NWSL Defender of the Year, launched a long, high ball to Rodman, who sprinted up the left flank to the edge of the box and sent a perfect cross to Smith, who found the back of the net from close range.
Smith celebrated the goal with Savannah DeMelo and Rodman, who, in the holiday spirit, held up imaginary mistletoe as the three players air kissed.
Smith, who led the USA in scoring in 2022 and was the 2023 NWSL Golden Boot winner with Portland Thorns FC, has 14 goals in her last 24 appearances with the national team – including three this year.
Smith had other chances to score in the first half, but didn’t finish, including a wide-open shot in the 32nd minute that went wide left.
Horan made it 2-0 in the 52nd minute with a right-footed shot from 35 yards out. Horan collected a pass from Rodman and sent an arching pass toward Jaedyn Shaw, who was waiting at the corner of the box and leaped to make a header, but never made contact as Horan’s shot flew into the top right corner.
Second-half substitute Mia Fishel, who replaced Smith, had a golden chance to make it 3-0, but her shot went wide left.
Rodman delivered the third goal in the 77th minute, tapping in a deflected cross from Shaw.
Kilgore said Rodman is displaying “a different level of focus” and it shows on the field.
“She’s very clear on what she’s identified as areas she wants to work on, areas we’re asking her to work on, just being very detailed in her approach to those things,” Kilgore said. “Picking key moments, recognizing visual cues in the game to start movements a little bit earlier to prepare her body to play forward earlier and finish from higher value areas. She’s obviously a very gifted individual player and she’s looking to play more with her teammates.”
In addition to Rodman, Smith, Girma, and Horan, the starting lineup included Casey Murphy, Abby Dahlkemper, Emily Sonnett, Rose Lavelle, Casey Krueger, Savannah DeMelo, and Emily Fox.
Dahlkemper returned to the team for the first time in 599 days following major back surgery in 2022.
The U.S. and China will meet again Tuesday in Frisco, Texas.