PARIS — A few minutes after the U.S. national team opened the Women’s World Cup with a festival of goals, Rose Lavelle and Mallory Pugh took a moment away from the rest of the squad to grasp what they had experienced.
“We were looking at each other and almost started tearing up again,” Pugh said, “because it was so amazing to play in your first World Cup and have your best friend there, too.”
They are teammates not just for this French odyssey but with the Washington Spirit, the National Women’s Soccer League organization based outside the nation’s capital. They share an apartment in Rockville, Md., with another player and are roommates on the Paris leg of the group stage.
On Tuesday, during the record-setting 13-0 rout of Thailand, their youthful ascent through the elite U.S. system reached global heights: Lavelle started, scored twice and added an assist; Pugh entered in the second half and posted one of each as the Americans took charge of Group F heading into Sunday’s match against Chile at Parc des Princes.
“Mal told me she cried when I scored,” said Lavelle, 24. “And when she scored I was so happy for her, too.”
Pugh, 21, confirmed “a tear or a few. It was so emotional because I’ve seen Rose put in so much work, and I know her road here has been kind of rocky [because of injuries]. I was just so proud of her. It was super emotional, and to score in her first World Cup game, it was really special for me to see her do that.”
Lavelle, a technical and cerebral midfielder, scored the second and seventh U.S. goals and assisted on Samantha Mewis’s second goal before departing in the 57th minute. Pugh, a swift attacker, logged the last 21 minutes, set up Megan Rapinoe’s goal and scored herself in the 85th.
Two days later, they watched Spirit teammate Chloe Logarzo score the equalizer in Australia’s 3-2 comeback victory against Brazil. Washington’s Amy Harrison (Australia) and Cheyna Matthews (Jamaica) were also selected to World Cup squads.
This isn’t the first world tournament together for Lavelle and Pugh; they were teammates at the 2014 Under-20 World Cup in Canada.
“It has been fun to be able to experience it with her with the national team [the past two years] and then go back to the Spirit and have someone who knows what you are going through and you can talk to,” Lavelle said. “It’s been awesome to be able to continue to build our relationship when we are away from this [national team] environment, on and off the field.”
They have been Spirit teammates since the start of the 2018 season, when Lavelle arrived from the disbanded Boston Breakers.
The third resident of their apartment is midfielder Andi Sullivan, 23, who was on Coach Jill Ellis’s shortlist but did not make the World Cup roster. She is in the mix for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Lavelle and Pugh took different paths to pro careers: Lavelle, a Cincinnati native, played four years at Wisconsin; Pugh, from the Denver suburb of Highlands Ranch, was the first female player to skip NCAA soccer and sign with the NWSL in spring 2017. (She attended UCLA for a semester but did not play because of U-20 national team commitments.)
Their trajectories with the senior national team have also contrasted. Pugh was fast-tracked, making the 2016 Olympic team in Rio de Janeiro and, at 18, becoming the youngest U.S. player to score at a Summer Games.
Lavelle took a slower road, not debuting for Ellis until two years ago. Amid protracted hamstring ailments, she was uncertain until early this year whether she would be in proper fitness and form for the World Cup.
Her health was under constant observation by the medical staffs with the Spirit and national team.
“It came quickly, the World Cup,” Lavelle said. “It felt like something so far off and then, all of a sudden, the months went by really fast. It didn’t really give me a second to take it in and realize what was happening. Once I got to the game [Tuesday], it was like, ‘Here we go.’ "
Mixing clever technical skills and a sound finishing touch, Lavelle scored from distance in the first half, then accepted Mewis’s cross for an easy finish from the heart of the penalty area early in the second.
Pugh has been the golden prospect in the U.S. system for years. Already, she has made 54 appearances (36 starts) and posted 17 goals and 17 assists. Cracking the starting lineup consistently, however, is a challenge because the experienced front line of Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath is probably the best in the world.
In the hours before the World Cup opener, Pugh said that “for a quick second, I was like, ‘This is amazing,’ but then I was like, ‘We’ve got a game to play.’ I turned that off and just went into this zone.
"Walking into the locker room was surreal for me. I’m here. I’ve made it. But the job is not done yet.”