In the spring of 2017, Rose Lavelle emerged as a breath of fresh air for a U.S. women’s national soccer team mired in a sense of staleness.
After a string of breakout performances, a nagging hamstring injury derailed that progress for almost a year. But the Washington Spirit midfielder is finally rounding into shape, and her presence on the field is one reason to watch the struggling NWSL team take on the Portland Thorns on Saturday (8 p.m., ESPNEWS) in the first women’s match at Audi Field.
“I know it hasn’t been the season we anticipated or would’ve liked,” Lavelle said. “But I think it’s still important to go out and give everything.”
Lavelle burst onto the scene for the U.S. during her rookie season with the Boston Breakers, bringing trickery and bravado on the ball in four straight starts — all U.S. victories. Her emergence revitalized a U.S. team that, following a triumphant run to the 2015 World Cup, had crashed out in the quarterfinals at the Rio Olympics a year later and endured lackluster results to open 2017.
It was in the dying moments of a 1-0 win against Norway in June 2017 that Lavelle made a run down the flank and pulled up with a left hamstring strain. Various complications and setbacks ensued, and she would play just 85 minutes for club or country over the next 11 months.
“Those first six months I got to experience what it was like to be a professional on the field,” Lavelle said. “After that, I got to experience what it was like to be a professional off the field.”
Acquired by Washington this past offseason after the Boston franchise folded, Lavelle didn’t debut for her new team until May 23, the ninth game of the season. The 23-year-old’s limited role has played no small part in a woeful campaign for Washington, which sits second-to-last in the NWSL at 2-16-4 with two matches remaining and fired coach Jim Gabarra on Tuesday.
Focusing on rebuilding her form and fitness amid a lost season, Lavelle has started three straight NWSL games going into Washington’s match against Portland (10-6-6).
“I still don’t really feel like myself,” Lavelle said. “It’s getting there obviously, but I think there’s still some missing pieces. … I’m baffled that I was ever able to run for 90 minutes, because man, you’ve got to be in shape and I’m still huffing and puffing out there.”
Earlier this month, Lavelle offered a glimpse of her former self when she made her first start for the U.S. in nearly a year, scoring an exquisite half-volley in a 4-1 win over Brazil. On Wednesday, she earned a call-up to the U.S. team for friendlies against Chile on Aug. 31 and Sept. 4 in the Americans’ final tune-ups before World Cup qualifying in October.
While the past year has been a trying period for Lavelle, she knows there is still time to make her case for a ticket to France next summer as the U.S. looks to defend its World Cup title.
“That’s been a goal of mine since I was little, and it’s weird that it’s finally something that’s realistic,” Lavelle said. “I need to get in shape, obviously, but I’m excited to compete for a spot.”