It was shaping up to be a nail-biter. The United States women’s national team was hanging on to a narrow 1–0 lead off of a Megan Rapinoe penalty in the second half. The Dutch were proving rather impenetrable and every orange wave cresting towards the US goal was a cause for anxiety. And then Rose Lavelle gathered the ball in midfield off of a great Crystal Dunn pick and had the space to run freely at goal. The Dutch backed up cautiously, aware that she’d been picking at the threads weaving through their defense all game long. Lavelle faced up a couple of defenders, shifted the ball to her left foot, and hit it clean. 2–0, just like that.
It was the breathing room the USWNT needed to calm down and see out the rest of that game. “Rose with that excellent goal, it kind of gave us that buffer we needed to ride out the last fifteen minutes or so,” says Becky Sauerbrunn in the mixed zone.
Ride it out they did, all the way to a World Cup championship and a fourth star. Many players ran to Lavelle at the final whistle, making her the focal point of their joy. And why not, as Lavelle played a tireless, well-worked game trying to open up space for her forward. She started on the right, but switched with Mewis on the left for a while, then switched back as the United States probed forward. Often, attacks started from far too deep in midfield as the US tried to thread direct balls into space. Lavelle switched it up with her drive on goal. For her efforts throughout the tournament, she ended up with the Bronze Ball as the third-best player in the World Cup.
“Oh my god,” says Kelley O’Hara after the game. “Freaking lost it. That was insane. That girl is — I knew when she started driving with the ball, I knew it was going in, because that’s just what she does. I feel like she just does things casually that are out of this world.”
Lavelle herself is as dryly humorous as ever coming through the mixed zone. “Wow, all my friends,” she says, stepping up to the gathered throng of reporters. And as usual, she has no special words for her sublime efforts in front of goal, resorting to rote description of what happened. “Sam played me a ball and I had a lot of space so I decided to take it and then I had a shot at the top of the box and thankfully it went in.”
Lavelle has no idea if the Dutch defenders realized she prefers her left foot, although she good-naturedly says she assumes everyone knows that. “I don’t know,” she says when asked if she’s thinking about what she’s doing or if it’s instinct. She repeats herself, bemused at being asked to interrogate and quantify something she just does, something that looks as easy to us as putting on pants, but which is undoubtedly quite difficult for her. “I don’t know, I like my left foot man. So I just got it on my left foot.”
Lavelle won’t take credit for sealing Netherlands’ fate either, demurring in favor of team praise. “The whole experience hasn’t really hit me yet,” she says. “I think I have such amazing players around me, it’s easy to look good when you play with all these incredible players, and I feel so lucky to be a part of this group.”
Still, she’s at least aware that none of this is exactly your average Sunday. She would have to be a robot (are you a robot, Rose Lavelle?) not to let out at least a little bit of the awe that a World Cup would inspire in any 24-year-old first-timer. “It’s wild how far I’ve come,” she says, “And it’s so surreal to know I just won a World Cup with people I grew up idolizing. I can’t put it into words. It’s amazing.”