As the United States Women’s National Team prepares to defend its World Cup crown, TopDrawerSoccer is profiling some of the players heading to their first World Cup, providing a snapshot of their development in club and college soccer.
Watching Rose Lavelle compete for the U.S. Women’s National Team, it’s easy to see what makes her different.
Her close control, technical ability and dribbling prowess in tight spaces are just a few of the characteristics of a player on a squad that can shade towards the athletic talent.
She’s an atypical player in the American soccer landscape, and was like that from the very start.
“Rose was always someone that stood out to us as being different,” Bobby Puppione, who was Lavelle’s club Director at Cincinnati United Premier, told topdrawersoccer.com. “She had qualities that separated her from others with her decision-making, her awareness where she was on the field, where space was, where other players were, where the ball was. She seemed liked she was always a few steps ahead of everyone else as far as being able to make decisions.”
Before joining CUP, Lavelle’s love for the game was forged at SAY Soccer (Soccer Association for Youth in Cincinnati). One of her first coaches was Neil Bradford, an Englishman that moved to Ohio and helped her fall in love with the ball. That initial taste of the game would set the foundation for a player that developed into the energetic sparkplug set to pull on the U.S. jersey in France this month.
Bradford, who passed away in 2016 after battling colon cancer, now serves as an inspiration for Lavelle when she steps on the field. After falling in love with the game at SAY Soccer, she moved to CUP to continue her progression.
And while her ability with the ball continued to help her standout, Puppione recalls a player extremely motived to do everything she can to improve.
“Players can separate themselves by the willingness to do work on their own and do extra, and she definitely did extra on her own with some private trainers,” he said. "We had her train with our boys' teams that were competing for national championships and gave opportunities to develop, but the individual love for working and training on her own was driven by her."
It was during her teenage years, as the college recruiting process began, that Wisconsin head coach Paula Wilkins noticed Lavelle. Fortunate enough to coach her with the Olympic Development Program, Wilkins recalled a trip to Holland as a moment where she saw Lavelle’s ability to separate herself on the field.
“The players on the opposing teams would chase her, and she would slam on the breaks and they would fly by her and she’d have all this open time and space,” Wilkins said. “They couldn’t keep up with her quickness. At that point, she couldn’t really connect the passes, the next thing wouldn’t happen for her. But I saw this dynamic ability to free herself up and create space for herself that was pretty special at the time.”
The Ohio native signed with the Badgers as part of the 2013 recruiting class, and made an immediate impact. In her very first college game, an exhibition versus Marquette, Lavelle scored twice and notched an assist.
“She stepped right into a starting role for us,” Wilkins said. “She was kind of our attacking center mid with a bunch of vision. Her step into the collegiate game was pretty seamless.”
Not only that, Lavelle ensured that she fit into the team, earning the respect of her older teammates on the way to collecting Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 2013.
From there her career began to progress on a year-by-year basis. She never had a season where she posted gaudy numbers. But her calmness under pressure, ability with the ball, always helped her catch the eye to educated observers. During her senior year, when the Badgers traveled to Palo Alto, Wilkins started to think that the next level and the international beckon would be in Rose’s future.
“She was playing against Andi Sullivan and a bunch of very good players from Stanford,” Wilkins said. “She was able to kind of take over that game, and when we won the ball she was able to keep it and do those things under enormous amount of pressure.”
While Wilkins noted that one game, Lavelle sees her career arc as one about incremental improvement, rather than a quick surge in a short window.
“Since I was in third grade I have wanted to be on this team,” she told reporters at USWNT Media Day. “I’ve had a steady progression every year, there wasn’t one year where I felt I stood apart from the others and made me realize could get here, I feel like I just steadily got better and better.”
Still, there was some uncertainty about whether or not Lavelle would make it to the World Cup roster. After being selected No. 1 overall in the 2017 NWSL Draft by the Boston Breakers, she made 10 appearances as a rookie, before being hobbled by a hamstring injury. She moved to the Washington Spirit after the Breakers folded in 2018, appearing in 11 games last season, as injuries continued to slow her down.
Those were obviously difficult times with a World Cup looming.
“It was tough and I felt like my body was failing, which was really weird for me because I’ve been playing soccer so long, taking on such a high load, I was always playing as much as I could and didn’t have any problems,” Lavelle said. “That was the first major injury I had, and it was so strange because I was used to my body being able to handle all that and it wasn’t.”
But the call did come this year, and right after she found out from head coach Jill Ellis, she texted Wilkins to let her know. While all signs were pointing in a positive direction, according to her old coach, Lavelle is always one to stay even-keeled.
“What’s amazing and pretty awesome about Rose, she had no assumption that she was going to be on the team,” Wilkins said. “She was still waiting on that phone call, and so the excitement of that phone call and going to her first World Cup is pretty thrilling for her. It’s one of those things that as every milestone comes along for her, she embraces it, expects nothing and wants to keep working for stuff.”
Both of her former coaches, as they watch her prepare for France, have seen a talented player continue to put in the work to improve and get better.
“[Rose and I] were joking, I think she’s scored more goals per game for the national team than she did at Wisconsin,” Wilkins said. “Her productivity has been higher, and I think that’s a credit to the work she’s done to kind of focus on that area and be more consistent.”
Added Puppione: “Her commitment to the defending side of the game and the ability to regain and win the ball back – she was always a good defender, and not someone that would take that side of the game off – but she’s shown an even greater commitment to the defensive side of the game. You can see her willingness to press at the right moments to go regain the ball, to sit in spaces to intercept, to find ways to make it more difficult for the other teams to break them down.”