Rose Lavelle’s earliest memory watching the Women’s World Cup wasn’t a fond one. The United States lost 3-0 to Germany in the semifinals of the 2003 tournament on home soil, and Lavelle, then 8 years old, spent the rest of the night crying in her bunk bed.
Now, years later, the Cincinnati native is hoping to be a part of creating more special memories for fans watching the U.S. women’s national team.
Lavelle, a 24-year-old midfielder, made her FIFA Women’s World Cup debut this month in France when Team USA began group play against Thailand.
“It’s a little surreal,” Lavelle said during a recent visit to Cincinnati before departing for France. “It’s something I always envisioned myself doing, but for it to actually come to fruition is a dream come true.”
A 2013 graduate of Mount Notre Dame, Lavelle was a long-term member of the U.S. Youth National Teams, but during her junior season at Wisconsin, she earned her first call-up to the senior team. She’s made 27 appearances since then, scoring seven goals and assisting four others.
Lavelle was the No. 1 overall pick at the 2017 NWSL college draft, joining the Boston Breakers. Lavelle played for the Dayton Dutch Lions in the summer of 2014 and 2016. She now plays for the Washington Spirit in addition to her national team duties.
“It’s such a special feeling, and wearing that jersey kind of represents all the jerseys I’ve worn leading up to that point because without those jerseys I wouldn’t be wearing the jersey I am now,” Lavelle said. “Any time you can represent the country doing something you love, it’s such an honor and I feel so grateful.”
»LOOKING BACK: Lavelle splits time between Dutch Lions, Team USA
Playing for Team USA comes with an added sense of responsibility. The Americans enter the World Cup as the defending champions. They beat Japan 5-2 in the 2015 final in Canada and have won three titles in four finals appearances since the first FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991, but the competition continues to improve each year.
Lavelle said she and her teammates don’t mind that there is some pressure to win.
“Pressure is a privilege,” Lavelle said. “We set ourselves up to have this target on our back because this team has been so successful for so many years, and there are so many countries in contention to win this thing so it’s going to be super competitive and there is going to be no easy path. Any way we look at it, we’re going to have to put our head down and beat some really great teams but I think this is going to be the most rewarding because it’s going to be probably the hardest World Cup.”
The toughest competition in the group stage likely will come from Sweden, and the U.S. will need no extra motivation for that one.
Sweden knocked the U.S. out of the 2016 Olympics in a quarterfinal match that went to penalty kicks, keeping the Americans from the finals for the first time ever in an Olympics. It also marked the first time the U.S. women’s national team didn’t make the semifinals of a major tournament.
“It will kind of be a little bit of redemption, but I think all of them will be fun,” Lavelle said. “I think this World Cup will be the most competitive yet. There’s a lot of teams that have really come a long way and I think it will be super competitive and fun to watch.”
Lavelle feels the support of her city any time she steps on a big stage, and she enjoys representing Cincinnati as much as her country.
“It’s so awesome,” Lavelle said. “It’s why I love this city so much, because I know I always have such a huge support system back here, through the highs and lows in my career and my life in general. It’s so nice to have that comfort when I’m overseas in a different country. It will be nice.”
“You guys have no idea how obsessed I am with Cincinnati,” Lavelle added. “Everyone knows it about me. I will live here forever if I can. I love this city, it’s the city that has built me into the person I am today and the player I am today … I’m so proud to be able to go represent it on the world stage.”
Lavelle is the second Cincinnatian to play at a World Cup, following in the footsteps of St. Ursula Academy graduate Heather Mitts, who became the first in 2011. That year, the U.S. lost to Japan on penalties in the final.
If the Americans win the World Cup, Lavelle said it would be another feather in the cap for the Cincinnati soccer scene.
“I think it’d kind of be a tribute to soccer in this city,” she said. “I think it’s been a very underrated soccer city for a long time now. It’s awesome we have FC Cincinnati now because people across the country, across the world, are seeing that now. I think it’s always been here, but it’s been kind of nice to have this platform and showcase it now.”