Rose Lavelle has feelings about soccer. Like the time the United States women’s team lost to Germany in the 2003 World Cup and Rose crawled up into her bunk bed and cried all night. Or the time she broke her leg and hid it from her mother for days because she didn’t want to stop playing. At USWNT media day on Friday, held at Twitter’s NYC headquarters, Lavelle was matter-of-fact about being emotionally invested in the sport she loves.
“I feel like everybody does that,” Lavelle said of her tendency to downplay her hurts. “Not everyone’s completely honest with their injuries because it sucks not being able to do what you love.”
Lavelle had no choice but to be honest about her injuries as she picked up a recurring hamstring tweak that kept her playing time sparse for the past couple of years. She’s still doing physical therapy to manage its aftereffects; she said the World Cup roster call came just as she was starting a PT session. “That whole hamstring saga,” she called it at media day.
“It felt like it was like my body was failing me,” she said, “Which was really weird for me, because I’ve been playing soccer for so long and taking on such a high load. I always was playing as much as I could and didn’t have any problems, so 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 of that and it wasn’t.”
“That injury honestly scarred me,” she added, and little wonder for someone who seems to find such intense emotional connection within the sport. On the field, when totally healthy, Lavelle looks almost like a champion fighter, ducking and weaving, her dazzling footwork spinning opponents in the wrong direction while she’s gone like an arrow to a target. She seems to play with real verve, like the game brings her joy and that joy manifests itself in the way she cuts back and nutmegs and spins her way through players.
“I think I’m playing my best when I’m having fun and feel so happy and content,” she said, “Because I feel like since my injury, it’s been such a long process. But the past two, three months, I feel like I’m finally back to the point where I’m really enjoying myself and having fun.”
It showed on the field in the past couple of games for the United States. There was this goal against New Zealand, a deceptively simple-looking volley from a Lindsey Horan cross.
You can see the sheer exuberance all over her face, and perhaps a little bit of relief. I’m back, here’s the proof. Lavelle didn’t have a similar moment against Mexico, but she did demonstrate her ability to draw defenders into her trap and promptly bamboozle them, breaking the pressure with a simple ball into space. Lavelle can see the seams in the game and pick them apart, although she says she doesn’t focus particularly on the analytics of it.
“I don’t know, I just play,” she said, laughing when asked about the data-driven approach now becoming more prominent in the women’s game. She said that what she wants to do is put more shots on goal, and you could see the desire there against Mexico, as she dragged the ball to her left foot and put it on frame a few times. “Yeah, right to the goalie,” she scoffed in the mixed zone after the game. That seems quintessential Lavelle, never taking herself too seriously (“It’s me,” she sing-song-ed when introduced by a USWNT handler at media day), and yet incredibly serious about the game. She might find joy in it, but she’s also someone who climbed her way into the top 1% of the 1%, and that’s not anything for the faint of heart or weak of will.
You can see it in the social media that surrounds any WNT camp: Lavelle, in a small posse with players like Emily Sonnett and Lindsey Horan, goofing off for instagram and playfully harassing other players. The pranks and the trolling haven’t gone too far yet, according to Lavelle. Nothing like Kelley O’Hara once destroying a door frame by doing pullups on it during the 2006 U20 World Cup. But there is still a learning curve in terms of being a professional and an adult, and in those areas Lavelle said she was still learning from older players on the team like Becky Sauerbrunn. “There was one time in a meeting I had my phone was on. I didn’t realize it and I was playing a video the whole time, and [Becky] was like, don’t do that. She was like, if Jill sees that she’s gonna be upset,” Lavelle said.
She also said her father has been talking to her about her financial future - as an allocated USWNT player, given what we know about the current CBA she probably makes in the neighborhood of $100k/year, and that’s not including lucrative sponsorships, like the multi-year deal she signed with New Balance in 2017. “My dad’s got me. He’s been on me about that,” Lavelle said.
Lavelle’s family is another key to her personality. There’s frequent social media posts from her whenever she’s home in Cincinnati, heavily featuring the family bulldog, Wilma Jean Wrinkles. Lavelle said her mother has threatened to disconnect the pet cam that can be remotely triggered to dispense a treat for Wilma if Lavelle doesn’t cool it on that feature. She also advocates strongly for hometown chili chain Skyline.
“They have a lot of different options. You can get a three-way, four-way, five-way, which is like the spaghetti with the cheese and chili. I get the cheese coney with the hot dog, chili, cheese. It’s so good.” Lavelle can eat four coneys before she starts to regret things, a number she had no problem summoning, as though she’s already tested the boundaries of her coney consumption.
A hot-dog connoisseur, a sports crier (she said she also needs some alone time whenever Xavier loses), a reputation for hijinks. Some weeks ago, on a Reign FC conference call, Megan Rapinoe said that Lavelle was probably the USWNT player most likely to get into trouble in foreign country, that she had the potential to just get on the wrong train and wind up in Istanbul.
“Wooowww,” Lavelle said slowly when told about Rapinoe’s comment. But she admitted she couldn’t defend herself against the allegation. “I feel like that would definitely be me. I would freak out,” she said, laughing. Once again, at herself, a good-natured self-ribbing. In person, ready with a quip and a gentle roast. On the field, an imp with the ball the at her feet, like a quick needle in and out before you know you’ve been stuck with the pointy end. On the whole, Rose Lavelle , the style and substance of a 10 and an affection for small chili-cheese dogs, a player with a keen sense of the developing play and a human with a sense of the absurd. Hopefully, this summer will give her no reasons to climb into bed and ask for some time alone, just the sheer exultation of a game well-played.