Rose Lavelle Might Be The USWNT’s Most Important Player After Sweden Display

Three years ago, the USWNT suffered its worst defeat ever. OK, it wasn’t USMNT vs. Trinidad and Tobago bad, but it was, by the high standards of the American women, a major disappointment when Sweden knocked the U.S. out of the 2016 Olympic quarterfinals.

Never before had the USWNT failed to finish in the top three of a major international tournament. The fallout was disastrous, with all-time great goalkeeper Hope Solo essentially kicked off the team for calling Sweden cowards. Jill Ellis kept her job (she did win the 2015 Women’s World Cup after all), but it was clear the U.S. was missing something. No longer could the U.S. dominate the world on power and pace alone.

The U.S. struggled to break down Sweden in that loss on penalty kicks three years ago. While Solo complained about negative tactics, the best teams must overcome packed-in defenses if they want to be the best. 

Enter Rose Lavelle.

Lavelle, a 24-year-old midfielder, was not on the USWNT for the 2016 Games. She was part of the Americans’ victory tour after the 2015 world championship, but not brought along to Rio de Janeiro. 

Now Lavelle is an attacking dynamo, someone who provides the U.S. with the creative vision to put a defense on its heels.

Lavelle was vital to the USWNT’s 2-0 win over Sweden on Thursday.

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The U.S. claimed top spot in Group F with its third straight win. Lindsey Horan scored the earliest goal of this tournament in the third minute and Tobin Heath was the nasty Tobin Heath we all know and love, forcing an own goal in the 50th minute.

But the win was all about Rose Lavelle.

While the Swedes were probably perfectly fine with the loss — they now go to what looks like the easier side of the bracket — the women in yellow on the pitch put forth their best effort. Four Women’s World Cup debutants meant it wasn’t the strongest Sweden lineup, but they gave the U.S. a stout test, certainly more than Thailand and Chile provided. (The Americans looked shaky defensively when Sweden went forward.) 

Sweden stayed compact defensively, refusing to let the U.S. speed through its back line. The midfield was combative and the forwards didn’t give the American defenders time to sit on the ball for hours at a time, as Thailand and Chile often did.

But Lavelle’s composure on the ball, her quickness of feet and her deft interchanges were a major reason why the U.S. was able to maintain its pressure on Sweden and score two goals.

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In her 63 minutes on the pitch, Lavelle demanded the ball in midfield. She positively looked to move the ball forward or switched the field of play when necessary. She didn’t back down from physical challenges and helped out defensively. 

She was exactly what the U.S. needed three years ago in Brazil, even if her efforts didn’t lead directly to any of the U.S. goals on Thursday.

Rose Lavelle scored twice in the wild 13-0 win over Thailand to open the Women’s World Cup before being rested in the Chile game. That Lavelle was rested with the likes of Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Heath shows how important she is to Ellis’ plans. 

Lavelle’s performance against Sweden was more proof that she is a rare breed for the USWNT: a creative midfielder whose positivity can help break down even the most defensive-minded teams.

Lavelle is a unique player in the U.S. midfield. While the likes of Julie Ertz and Horan are mammoth for the team in terms of what they bring defensively and with their goal-scoring abilities, they don’t have the ingenuity and inspiration to find that killer pass or that street-ball mentality to dribble past a defender to spark an attack. 

Lavelle might just be the United States’ most important player.

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