At 24, Rose Lavelle announced herself to the world with a stunning goal in the 2019 Women’s World Cup final to help beat the Netherlands and seal another trophy for the United States Women’s National Team. . She lifted the bronze ball later in the day, a nod to her outstanding performances throughout the tournament, and in many ways a star had arrived.
Breakout majors have a way of presenting players’ journeys as linear paths of singular moments, when they’re really just one step on an arduous journey that requires good timing. Lavelle was outstanding in that final – unsurprisingly to anyone who had followed her rise – but she was also still a young player looking for more consistency.
Now, with the World Cup next year, and before that this summer’s qualifying tournament, the CONCACAF W Championship, Lavelle is truly at his peak and playing better than ever. Much of that has to do with a return to the National Women’s Football League, where she is a focal point as a No.10 for OL Reign.
“Rose is obviously a super dynamic player, so we want to give her the freedom to do that,” said OL Reign and her American teammate Megan Rapinoe. “She has to be kind of a reinless player.”
Away from the spotlight in France in 2019, Lavelle only played six games for his then club Washington Spirit due to a combination of injuries and availability issues as the NWSL played most of world Cup. Manchester City quickly took the American star’s place after his breakout summer, but Lavelle’s time in England was largely marred by injuries and head coach Gareth Taylor’s curious propensity to drag her out of her better position, in wide dedicated areas, when she was in good health.
Lavelle left England after one season to return to the NWSL and join Reign, who traded a first-round pick and $200,000 to acquire his NWSL rights in anticipation of his eventual return to the league. His mid-summer arrival coincided with the return of Laura Harvey as Reign’s head coach, as well as loans for Lyon stars Dzsenifer Marozsan and Eugénie Le Sommer – but Reign have been left upset by the potential champions, the Washington Spirit, in the semi-finals.
The Reigns are once again among the favorites this season, Lavelle’s first full season with the club. Since her arrival, she has played the most confident and consistent version of Rose Lavelle yet, for both club and country.
“Freedom” is the key word to unlock the best of Lavelle. At her best, she is a human highlight reel, a player who possesses the kind of creativity and vision on the ball that is historically rare among American players. That special quality has been evident since her senior international debut in 2017 on a freezing March day in New Jersey, when she was named player of the match against England. Lavelle is different from her USWNT peers in the best way, and to reach her potential, she needs an artistic license that allows her to try unconventional ideas.
Harvey’s plan so far in the 2022 season offers Lavelle the opportunity to break out of the traditionally central areas of the No. 10 role and find the game, which includes floating in wider and higher positions. While running through the final third, Lavelle can then combine better with the frontline of the Reign thanks to the overlapping support of full-back Sofia Huerta. The result is that Lavelle not only generates opportunities in higher areas, but also finishes them.
She’s doing it more and more for the U.S. national team, where head coach Vlatko Andonovski’s system encourages Lavelle to trade places with the No. 9. (Lavelle and Catarina Macario have forged a seamless partnership in those roles earlier this year, but Macario tore his ACL last week and will be out for the foreseeable future.)
Lavelle ranks in the top 10 in the NWSL this year (regular season and Challenge Cup combined) for chances created, while his passing percentage in the offensive third is among the top three in the league among players with three or more goals. more, according to ESPN Stats & Information. All of this is to be expected from a world-class number 10, that is Lavelle, and much of it was on display in the scorching summer sun in France three years ago.
Now, at 27, Lavelle is a more complete player in both obvious and more understated ways. Take his May 29 goal against San Diego Wave FC as a prime example. As Huerta stood above a free-kick near the corner, Lavelle made a diagonal run towards the near post after losing his marker and burying a diving header for the game’s only goal.
“I don’t think I’ll ever score a goal like that again,” Lavelle said with his signature laugh. She was humble, of course: after all, she nearly scored with a superb header 10 seconds into the previous game, against Kansas City Current.
With all the attention on his offensive prowess, the most overlooked thing about Lavelle is his defensive ability. Among players with at least three goals, she has the most ball recoveries (94) while her 42 tackles are only exceeded by two players in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
She does all that defensive work in the high areas, quickly converting them into opportunities for her team. Even as a No. 10 whose primary role is creating chances and breaking down defenses, Lavelle carries a significant defensive burden for Reign and the USWNT in their three-man midfield formations.
“Rose Lavelle is the best transitioning defender in the world,” Andonovski said in September. “There isn’t a player who transitions as well as her.”
It was a stunning statement from the USA coach considering the number of great two-way midfielders in the world, from stalwarts like France captain Amandine Henry to USA team-mate Samantha Mewis. It was also an acknowledgment of the progress Lavelle has made since the world first noticed her.
In this form, she is poised to be a greater force for the United States at next summer’s World Cup and a pivotal point in the Americans’ quest to treble as champions. She could also be the piece Reign needs to finally win an elusive NWSL Championship.