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Women's World Cup 2019

Women’s World Cup: Rose Lavelle, a rising star in Team USA’s constellation

Lionel Bonaventure, AFP | USA's Rose Lavelle celebrates a goal against Thailand in Reims, France, on June 11, 2019.

Rose Lavelle hasn’t drawn as much of the spotlight as her superstar elders on Team USA, but the skilled midfielder has been indispensable on football’s biggest stage in France. At 24, she’ll experience her first World Cup final on Sunday in Lyon.

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Bursts of speed, dribbles, nutmegs, powerful strikes. Lavelle’s play made their England opponents dizzy as Team USA won against one of the favourites in the semi-final on Tuesday. In the space of a single half, the Ohio-born midfielder, who would play 65 minutes on the night, deployed her impressive palette of technical skills.

From the start of this World Cup hosted by France, Lavelle has been one of the revelations of the tournament. She scored a brace in her first match, Team USA’s 13-0 masterclass against Thailand. The US side is a constellation of stars, but the pocket-sized Lavelle (who stands at 1.62m or 5’4”) has managed to shine alongside Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd. “She’s a joy,” US coach Jill Ellis told a press conference before their Round 16 Match against Spain. “The way she approaches the game, how she plays on the field, who she is off the field,” the country's coach explained.

Three years ago, Ellis chose to believe in the diminutive midfielder. Lavelle had been among the best players at the college level, but her injuries were frequent and her results inconsistent. As Ellis told Bleacher Report, she called Lavelle’s coach at the University of Wisconsin and asked to talk to the player directly. “I said, ‘Rose, you have some unbelievably special qualities. But how much do you really want this?’” In a few words, Ellis told the young footballer that she would need to make sacrifices and better manage her training and physical conditioning. Not willing to let a golden opportunity slip by, Lavelle complied, changing her diet and adopting the habits of a professional.

That work paid off.

On March 4, 2017, Lavelle finally made her national team debut, against England in the SheBelieves Cup, an invitational tournament held annually in the US.

After the game, she put her shirt in an air-mail envelope addressed to Roger and Averil Bradford, in Gloucestershire, United Kingdom. The Bradfords’ son Neil was Lavelle’s first coach, when she was a teenager in Cincinnati. Neil Bradford died a year before Lavelle’s international debut, of cancer at the age of 44. His rising protégée speaks appreciatively of how much she owes him. “I had hoped he would be able to be alive for when I got my first cap,” she told the BBC. “He is a constant reminder of why I do what I do. He is the reason I got to this level. He is the reason I started to go out into the backyard and play around with the ball.”

The young international might no longer have her English mentor on the sidelines, but she does have her best friend’s support close at hand, within the US team. Indeed, Lavelle and US striker Mallory Pugh are not only teammates on the national squad, they also both play for the team Washington Spirit. Inseparable on and off the pitch, the pair share an apartment in Rockville, Maryland.

Pugh couldn’t help but shed a year on the bench during the World Cup opener against Thailand when Lavelle scored her first goal. “It was so emotional for me because I’ve seen Rose put in so much work and I know that her road here has been kind of rocky and she’s had some injuries,” Pugh told the Washington City Paper.

Be they of joy or disappointment, the tears are sure to flow again Sunday in Lyon as the friends experience together their first World Cup final against the Netherlands.

This article has been adapted from the original in French.

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