Youth soccer teammates take different paths to the big time

Two girls facing each other in bright green soccer uniforms
Trinity Rodman (left) and Reilyn Turner (right) were youth soccer teammates.

Trinity Rodman and Reilyn Turner have fathers who were professional athletes, but it was their strong-willed, independent mothers who raised them. They grew up near each other in Orange County, and dominated youth soccer fields as teammates for nine years on the So Cal Blues. Under head coach Greg Baker, they won four national championships in the Elite Clubs National League.

“They pushed each other head-to-head in practice,” Baker recalled. “Off the field, I know they spent a lot of time together.”

Now, at age 19, both are multimillionaires.

But how Rodman and Turner, who remain close friends, became sports celebrities and the diverse faces of competing global brands – Rodman for Adidas, Turner for Nike – is also a story of divergent paths and of risky choices that ended up paying off.

After club play and soccer success at Laguna Beach High School, Turner took the more conventional route made available to elite-level youth players. She committed to UCLA, prioritizing a college degree over the pressure to fast track her education and turn professional early. Her timing, and the media spotlight of Los Angeles, turned out to be perfect to capitalize on a new Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) policy that the NCAA announced on June 30, 2021.

Turner was named Pac-12 Freshman Player of the Year in 2021. In her sophomore year, she became the first male or female college athlete to sign a NIL deal with Nike, the athletic apparel goliath. Now, she’s enjoying the best of both worlds: college life and a chance to be paid for her prominence as an athlete.

“I’m the last person people expected to see be approached with a deal of this enormity,” Turner said in a recent interview. “When my mom told me which brand was interested in me, I thought she was joking. With Nike, you think Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, the likes. To be put in that bracket, it feels unreal.”

Rodman’s path has been less traditional. She initially committed to UCLA, where she could have played four more years alongside Turner, but decommitted and went to Washington State instead. The delay in college sports caused by the COVID-19 pandemic influenced her decision to leave school during her freshman year and declare for the National Women’s Soccer League draft. At 18 years old, she was selected number two overall by the Washington Spirit.

In a breakout first season, Rodman won the NWSL’s 2021 Rookie of the Year award, and her team captured the league championship. The Spirit rewarded her by reworking Rodman’s contract in February 2022. She signed a four-year deal worth $1.1 million, becoming the highest-paid player in NWSL history.

“Getting drafted number two, having seven goals, having seven assists, being an impactful player throughout every single game my rookie season was a dream come true to me,” said the daughter of Dennis Rodman, whose basketball career with the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls, among other teams, earned him induction to the NBA Hall of Fame.

To those familiar with Trinity Rodman’s unique talent, however, her rookie season was not a surprise.

“Anyone who has seen Trinity play sees she just has this motor that never turns off,” said Baker, her club coach. “It’s unlike anything we had ever seen.”

In the early days, Baker assigned Rodman and Turner advanced drills to work on, separate from the youth team. Turner, spider-like in her approach, was the perfect target forward. She spun webs around defenses, notorious for her 360-degree turns and sliding feet-chest-knee-or-headfirst across goal lines to finish crosses lofted in from teammates. And no one could keep pace with Rodman on the dribble-drive, reminiscent of her father’s high-energy style of play on the basketball court. In practice, Rodman turned defenders into cones, performing huge cuts and fake shots. In games, she’d wind her leg back and fire the ball with a force that no goalkeeper could stop.

The hardest part of the game for Rodman in her youth seemed to be getting to and from club practices. A former teammate, Megan Chelf, recalled one practice several years ago.

“Trin drove herself to practice using her mom’s car at fifteen,” Chelf said. “She was barely old enough to have her driver’s permit. There was always this sense among the team that she could get away with things that most other people couldn’t.”

Other times Rodman depended on rides from teammates who lived nearby. That’s not to say she had a troubled home life, but rather that her mom, Michelle Moyer-Rodman, struggled to make ends meet. Sometimes coordinating a ride to practice, an activity that typecast soccer moms thrive on, slipped through the cracks in Moyer-Rodman’s schedule.

Financial resources were not accessible to Trinity Rodman in the way they were to many other girls on the team. Perhaps that helped fuel her competitive fire.

“I can remember watching Trin as a little girl, crying about why other girls weren’t trying as hard,” her mother said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C. “She sprinted up and down the soccer field, and I think she just got used to other girls not trying. She was comfortable doing the work all by herself.”

Moyer-Rodman divorced Dennis Rodman in 2004, two years after Trinity was born, and became a single parent to Trinity and her older brother, DJ. The three share a tight bond. Rodman calls her mom her role model.

“My mom has been the only constant,” she said “She is my rock. My mom may not have played in the NBA, but she is where I get my strength and work ethic from.”

Rodman’s relationship with her dad is more distant. As she explained in a recent Instagram post featuring a photo of a hug with her dad after a Spirit game: “My dad doesn’t play a big role in my life at all, and most people don’t know that. We don’t see eye to eye on many things. I have gone months if not years without his presence or communication. Being in the spotlight has been hard for us, him and me. Our relationship is far from perfect, but he is my dad, and he is human.”

Turner, too, is the daughter of a former professional athlete. Her father, Nate Turner, played for the NFL’s San Diego Chargers, before the team moved to Los Angeles. She, too, considers her mother, Felicia Madrigal, a role model.

Madrigal raised Reiyln and her sister, Blake, by herself while running a successful clothing apparel store in Laguna Beach.

“I come from a legacy of strong women,” Reilyn Turner said. “I learned from my mom at an early age that to get what you want, you have to put in the work.”

Shortly after the NCAA announced its new NIL guidelines, Turner signed on with Los Angeles-based sports agent Spencer Wadsworth.

“Almost immediately, Spencer informed me of the potential of a deal with Nike,” she said.

Nike went in a direction that surprised many. Historically, women and people of color have been crowded out of major marketing opportunities. Turner, whose mother is Mexican American and father is Black, did not have an extensive following on social media. She estimated having roughly 2,500 followers on Instagram at the time she signed her seven-year deal in November of 2021.

Turner recently led a conversation with a girls’ leadership group in Los Angeles about the importance of staying in sports and living a healthy lifestyle, and she is in the process of identifying nonprofit organizations to promote this summer. “I want to create a more level playing field for young girls who look like me,” she said. “I hope that partnering with Nike will allow me to reach individuals that do not have the same starting line as others.”

She also recently partnered with H&R Block and has been doing social media promotions for the company.

In March, Rodman signed a sponsorship deal with Adidas. She also released a children’s book titled “Wake up and Kick It.” Her goal is to “encourage kids from all walks of life to see the incredible possibilities in each and every day.”

Despite living across the country from each other now, Rodman and Turner keep in close contact. They check each other’s box scores and tag each other on social media. The pair kindled a unique chemistry as teammates on the field and best friends off it.

Could the future include an on-pitch reunion?

Turner, now a junior, gushed about the prospect of taking the soccer pitch again with Rodman. “I want to play for the Washington Spirit,” she said, “and be reunited with Trin.”


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