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Rose Lavelle remains a brilliant force for the USWNT. But now expectations are even higher.

Rose Lavelle, right, turns to watch her header during the SheBelieves Cup match Thursday in Orlando. (Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
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ORLANDO — This was the Rose Lavelle whom U.S. soccer fans had fallen hard for: the slight midfielder pouncing on a loose ball and lashing a low shot through a tangle of red-clad Canadians to crack open a tense match Thursday.

This was also the Rose Lavelle who had charmed the sport worldwide: leaping into the arms of teammate Christen Press, ponytail swinging under a pink headband, beaming ear to ear as teammates crashed the celebration.

“Rose again and again,” Press said two days later, “shows her quality and class.”

Lavelle’s 79th-minute goal not only lifted the U.S. national team to a 1-0 victory on the opening night of the sixth annual SheBelieves Cup. It was also an emphatic reminder of her influence on the world champion squad and a positive development amid six choppy months in her debut season with English club Manchester City.

Injuries seem to be the only thing slowing Lavelle’s career; when she is healthy, she is fabulous. But because of the frequency of her setbacks over 4½ pro seasons, primarily hamstring ailments, the U.S. program will monitor her closely as the Olympics approach this summer.

Typically a starter, Lavelle, 25, came off the bench Thursday in the first of three matches over seven days, a compact schedule mimicking the Olympic group stage. The top-ranked Americans will face Brazil on Sunday afternoon, then Argentina on Wednesday.

In the opener, U.S. Coach Vlatko Andonovski seemed to be managing Lavelle’s minutes. He started newcomer Catarina Macario in her place and called on the Cincinnati native almost midway through the second half.

Andonovski said Saturday that Lavelle will play more against Brazil. Translation: She probably will start.

Despite Lavelle’s injury history, Andonovski said: “We are not worried at all. She is playing hard; she is training hard. We’re excited to have her here, and I think we’re going to see the best of Rose going forward.

“I am not going to worry about something that hasn’t happened. … We saw when she stepped on the field, she was brilliant. She wasn’t hesitant to do anything.”

Since the national team returned in the fall from the pandemic shutdown, Lavelle has appeared in all four matches. In a rematch of the 2019 World Cup final, she scored an exquisite goal against the Netherlands. Last month, she started once and came off the bench once against Colombia.

An appearance Sunday would be Lavelle’s 50th since her U.S. debut at the 2017 SheBelieves Cup.

She said she is not letting previous injuries affect her preparations.

“As athletes, you play your best when you are playing in the present and not concerned about what the implications are in the future or what has happened in the past,” she said. “You go into every game, every tournament with that mind-set of: How can I help now, and what can I do to prepare me for what’s ahead?”

What lies ahead for the national team is the Olympics, the second-biggest competition behind the World Cup. Lavelle’s breakout performance came at the 2019 World Cup in France, a blend of creativity, swift attacks and a goal in the final. She won the Bronze Ball as the tournament’s third-best player.

Because of that display, expectations have risen.

“She has shown up for this team in huge moments, and she is definitely a special player and a player the U.S. national team hasn’t seen often,” Press said. “That means every single game she has to prove herself again and again.”

Lavelle arrived in England late in the summer after two seasons with the Washington Spirit in the National Women’s Soccer League. She joined U.S. teammate Sam Mewis at Manchester City. This winter, defender Abby Dahlkemper also signed.

“One of the reasons I wanted to go to Manchester was because I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and be in an environment that was going to make me uncomfortable every single day,” Lavelle said. “It’s definitely doing that. … I am learning and growing and getting better there.”

She has not played a lot, however: eight appearances, two starts and one goal in 14 league matches. (She also has two goals in two cup matches.) She has dealt with injuries, adapting to City’s system and national team call-ups.

Part of the appeal to playing in England was immersing in the deep-rooted soccer culture.

“In the U.S., there are so many big sports, but to be in a place where soccer is the main event has been really cool,” she said.

Pandemic restrictions have limited her exploration, however.

“I just play soccer, then I go back home and drink a coffee and read a book,” she said. “It’s not a bad life.”

What Lavelle does miss is the family dog in Cincinnati, an English bulldog named Wilma Jean Wrinkles who became a social media star during the World Cup.

“The area I live in [in England], there are sooo many dogs walking around,” she said. “There is actually this dog-walker that me and [Dahlkemper] befriended that just walks by with like four or five dogs on leash. It’s like the best sight ever. I have actually been really happy in that regard. There are puppies; there are bulldogs.”

At the end of the U.S. media session Saturday on Zoom, a team spokesman said Lavelle has crossed paths at the team hotel with a bulldog puppy named Bonnie.

Lavelle smiled — happy with regular canine exposure and perhaps, too, with the start of the Olympic run-up.

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