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NWSL Week 2 in review: Boston looks good and Rose Lavelle has a lot to do with it

It’s rare that a rookie comes in and immediately lives up to the hype, but so far, Rose Lavelle’s done just that.

Soccer: Women's National Team Friendly-Russia vs USA Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Usually, it is hard to tell right away the impact a rookie will have on a team. Whatever superstar stuff they've done on the college level tends to get washed away pretty easily once they start their pro career. And when you ask coaches, or sometimes the players themselves, about these high expectations not delivered on right away, the answer is often the same: It’s about an adjustment — or lack thereof — to the physical game and speed of play in the NWSL.

More experienced players who’ve spent time in various leagues overseas or put in time with their respective national teams before coming to the NWSL have pointed to similar reasons for not immediately — or ever — becoming the solution or savior they were promised to be.

Sometimes, it never happens. Tiffany McCarty, the No. 2 pick in the 2013 college draft, bounced around several teams without ever really becoming the impact player she was projected to be. Now, McCarty is playing in Norway. The top pick in that year’s draft, Zakiya Bywaters, struggled with injuries through three seasons in Chicago, and currently doesn’t play in the league. Maya Hayes, the No. 6 pick in the 2014 draft, has spent her entire career with Sky Blue and, while she’s seen consistent minutes, they’ve mostly been in a utility role. The No. 7 pick in that draft, Amanda Frisbie, has had similar trouble, and is now in Boston, her fourth team in as many seasons.

Usually, it does work out, it just takes a little time. It takes a few games, or a few months, to adjust, and by June or July these new kids are playing like seasoned veterans. Raquel Rodriguez, who landed with Sky Blue as the second overall pick in the 2016 college draft, was named Rookie of the Year last season, but it took several games before she started to look comfortable in league play.

Sometimes, it takes a season.

Crystal Dunn, the No. 1 pick in the 2014 college draft, had a pretty unremarkable rookie campaign, finishing out her first year with the Washington Spirit without scoring a single goal. A year later, Dunn scored a league-high 15 goals en route to winning the Golden Boot and MVP awards, as well being named Player of the Week a record six times. And yes, the circumstances surrounding Dunn’s breakout season were in some ways unique — a “something to prove” mentality she’d started playing with after being left off the USWNT’s World Cup roster was often cited as a big reason why she suddenly became the league’s best player.

But Dunn also isn’t alone in the shows-improvement department. Really, it’s a perfectly normal and expected thing. The professional game is a vastly different one from the college game, and adjusting to it does, and should, take time. Kealia Ohai, who went to Houston as the second pick in the 2014 draft, had her breakout season last year, her third in the league. Lynn Williams, the No. 6 pick in 2015, had a big sophomore campaign, winning the MVP and Golden Boot awards and playing a major role in Western NY’s title run. But in her rookie year, Williams scored just four goals as a member of a kind-of-forgettable Flash team.

Occasionally, though, a rookie will come in and deliver on the promise right away. Arin Gilliland, Danielle Colaprico, and Sofia Huerta, the Red Stars’ eighth, ninth, and 11th picks in the 2015 draft, all made immediate impacts upon arriving in Chicago, helping the Red Stars make the playoffs in a season where the World Cup left most rosters looking more than a little rough. Emily Sonnett, last year’s top pick, had a similarity effortless entry into the league, sliding immediately into Portland’s back line in her first professional season.

Sonnett, though, had one advantage that many of the other top prospects didn’t: By the time she started playing professionally, she’d already spent some time with the USWNT. That’s a similar situation to the one that this year’s top pick, Rose Lavelle, found herself in when the 2017 season kicked off two weeks ago. Lavelle’s recently started to break into the USWNT picture, making her first appearance for the team in March, a month before the NWSL season started.

As the No. 1 pick, Lavelle ended up in Boston, and the Breakers definitely needed her. Boston is the only one of the NWSL’s original eight teams to never make the playoffs, and they’ve spent the past two seasons in last place. And it would be understandable if Lavelle didn’t, or couldn’t, live up to the hype, or at least not right away — the Breakers are still the Breakers, after all. But through two games, Lavelle has not only delivered, she’s made Boston, as a team, look better than they have in a very long time, too.

The Breakers beat Sky Blue 1-0 on Sunday night, their first win since … I legitimately have no idea. Do you remember the last time Boston won a game? Has Boston ever won a game? Survey says: Yes! Aug. 28, 2016. And while this season is still early, the way Boston played on Sunday was a massive improvement over anything they’ve managed to do in a while.

There were glimpses of what Lavelle and the newly cohesive Breakers were capable of in a 2-0 loss to last week — most notably for Lavelle, a sequence in which she dribbled clear across the field and through several FC Kansas City players (and a few of her own teammates), before forcing Nicole Barnhart to make a save. The shot wasn’t even a particularly good or dangerous one, but that solo buildup showed a kind of confidence most first-year players just aren't playing with, and that no one on the Breakers, like, ran into each other while it was happening is a welcome change, too.

This week, Lavelle registered the assist on the game’s only goal, playing a perfect ball to a wide open Natasha Dowie, who was able to convert without much trouble.

Lavelle nearly added a second assist with a similar ball to fellow rookie Midge Purce, but Purce hit the crossbar.

Perhaps what’s most impressive about Lavelle’s game, though, is not what’s on the stat sheet. Her vision, knowing where teammates are and what runs they’re making, or when she can and should take it herself, isn’t one of someone who’s spent a grand total of two games in the pro ranks — it’s one of a veteran player. And it’s made everyone around her look better, too.

Dowie, who led the Breakers in scoring last year, has looked more confident so far this season, perhaps because she knows she’s got some help and a player who’s actually capable of recognizing the runs she’s trying to make playing alongside her. As a whole, Sky Blue was a disaster defensively on Sunday, but Boston was able to not only recognize that, but also take advantage of it. That recognition, and the cohesiveness with which the Breakers played is a huge change from last season (and the one before, and the one before that).

Of course, it’s only Week 2. Chances are, Boston’s not going to get to play a team that’s rolled out some kind of drunken Three Stooges routine as a back line every week. And since it’s only Week 2, there’s still plenty of time for Lavelle — and Boston — to settle into whatever kind of malaise eventually infects the Breakers every year. Right now, though, Boston looks not just like a team, but one that knows what it’s doing. That’s a welcome change after so many years of struggle.

Sometimes, it takes a few months, or a few seasons, for rookies to become the player they were drafted to be. Sometimes, though, you just get Rose Lavelle.

Scores

Saturday

Chicago Red Stars 1 - 0 FC Kansas City
Orlando Pride 1 - 1 Washington Spirit
North Carolina Courage 1 - 0 Portland Thorns FC
Seattle Reign FC 5 - 1 Houston Dash

Sunday

Boston Breakers 1 - 0 Sky Blue FC