There was a first day of school feel, even a brief show-and-tell for Rose Lavelle.
“I did show her a picture of Wrenley today, and she said he’s really cute,” OL Reign defender Kristen McNabb said of her black-spotted puppy helping to form a connection with her newest teammate in Lavelle, who has a dog named Wilma. “We have a really good friendship blossoming.”
Lavelle is hopeful for fast connections on the field, too. The U.S. Women’s National Team midfielder arrived Wednesday from play with Manchester City in England’s Women’s Super League.
Joining the Reign as a U.S. allocated player completes the August 2020 trade with the Washington Spirit, which received a first-round 2022 NWSL College Draft pick and $200,000 from the Reign, the final $100,000 is paid now that Lavelle is back in the NWSL.
Coincidentally, Lavelle’s debut could be against her former club. The Reign (1-0-1) host the Spirit (1-1-1) on Sunday at 4 p.m. at Cheney Field. Reign coach Farid Benstiti said Friday that after two trainings with the team, he completely trusts Lavelle and “will push her as soon as possible to be on the field many times.”
Said Lavelle of her arrival: “I did have a little bit of like first-day-of-school nerves. I’m ready for whatever. I’ll sub in. I’ll start. Whatever they need of me, I’ll be ready.”
Lavelle, 26, needs little introduction. The crafty goal-scorer burst onto the USWNT scene in 2017. She’s made 53 appearances in international competitions, scoring 14 goals with eight assists.
The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup was a breakthrough of sorts. Lavelle had a signature score in the final against Netherlands where she took a simple assist and dribbled directly at goal, slotting a left-footed strike past two defenders to the lower right corner in the 69th minute. The goal capped a 2-0 win for the U.S. Lavelle also brought home the Bronze Ball, which is awarded to the third-best player in the tournament.
In fulfilling a challenge to play in Europe, Lavelle’s stint with Man City wasn’t as expected. An early ankle injury delayed her first appearance until October. The club won the FA Cup, advanced to the Champions League quarterfinals and placed second in the WSL.
But Lavelle only started three matches, scoring five goals across all competitions. She was seemingly caught in a logjam of playmakers in the midfield with Man City coach Gareth Taylor preferring USWNT teammate Sam Mewis with Keira Walsh and Caroline Weir in the midfield.
“I didn’t get a ton of playing time,” Lavelle said. “I was healthy. At the end of the day, I just wasn’t selected for the (game-day) squad, and that’s totally fine. I gained a lot from the experience and I met some really amazing people. Even with kind of bouncing around to different positions and not playing, I feel like I gained so much from it and I still did really, really enjoy my time.”
Benstiti said he watched Man City play multiple times and wants to utilize Lavelle’s creativity more with the Reign. She has the green light, according to Benstiti, and the coach plans to design schemes around Lavelle’s capabilities as he’s done with fellow USWNT teammate Megan Rapinoe.
U.S. Soccer hasn’t placed any time restrictions on Lavelle, either.
“The style of Man City was more slowdown and sometimes accelerations; that’s really different,” Benstiti said. “That’s not easy to play (and) that’s why Rose had to adapt. Me, I think I’m a little different. I will first try to use in the field her power and aptitude first. After that, I will try to adapt something with the team.
“What I want is that some players like Rose or Megan, that are very, very good, I want to keep what they do best. The second option is to let them understand how they can help the team in different kinds of situations.”
Being a NWSL veteran will ease the transition for Lavelle to a new U.S. club. Her rookie season was with the Boston Breakers in 2017. She made 21 appearances across all competitions with the Spirit, scoring a goal in a Challenge Cup quarterfinal win in June 2020.
While Lavelle said she has fond memories of playing for Washington, she’s happy she’s not playing against the Reign anymore.
“I remember playing (midfielder) Jess Fishlock my rookie season with the Breakers and like, she made me look like and absolute idiot,” Lavelle said. “So, I’m excited to be able to play with her and not against her now. She reads the game really well and is such a smart player. It’ll be a fun season.”
Sunday’s match is sold out of the limited capacity seating at Cheney Stadium, which amounts to 2,200 fans. Health and government restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 kept the Reign from hosting spectators for their two home matches last season.
“It makes a big difference,” McNabb said. “Last year, we were used to like dead silence and not having anything. So, when momentum drops and we kind of need that extra push, the fans have been massive. … it’s been a quick introduction for (Rose) and trying to prepare for our game, but she’s fit right into the locker room. She’s going to help us a lot in attacking and we’re excited.”