Rose Lavelle Discusses The USWNT And Giving Back To The Next Generation Of Girls In Soccer

Already one of the most promising talents in the United States women’s national team’s perpetually deep talent pool, Rose Lavelle established herself as one of the best players in the world in 2019. The Cincinnati native started six games at the World Cup in France, scored a goal against The Netherlands in the final that put an exclamation point on the team’s Cup-winning run, and took home the Bronze Ball, given to the tournament’s third-best player.

Over the last year, Lavelle’s career took an unexpected twist as she became one of the handful of Americans who left NWSL to go to England, opting to join Manchester City alongside national team teammate Sam Mewis. She’s back in the U.S. now with Tacoma-based side OL Reign, although almost immediately after taking the pitch for her club, obligations for her country came calling — Lavelle suited up for the USWNT in a trio of tune-up games before the roster for the upcoming Summer Olympics was set.

Lavelle ended up making the team, and now, all eyes are on whether the team will be able to win the tournament after the Americans went out in the quarterfinals to Sweden in 2016. But first, Lavelle, through her recent partnership with IcyHot, made a pair of surprise drop-ins with groups that look to empower young girls in the world of soccer — the non-profit Girls Leading Girls and the youth teams that work with ex-Boston College coach and How to Coach Girls author Alison Foley — earlier this month.

“It’s cool now that I’m in the position to be able to give back to girls, give back to the sport in the same way it has given to me,” Lavelle told Uproxx Sports over Zoom.

Following her pair of cameos, we sat down with Lavelle to talk the last year, the USWNT, giving back, IcyHot, and more.

You’re coming off of a busy year with moving over to England before coming back to the U.S. How did making that big of a change help you as a player?

I went to England because I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and be in an environment that was going to make me very uncomfortable, and they definitely did that. I think it’s been probably the best thing I could have done for my career. I was surrounded by world-class players who pushed me every day, and I experienced playing in different positions, which really helped me. It was challenging at the time and I think it took me a little bit of an adjustment period, but I think it definitely helped me become a more well-rounded player and tune up some things that I needed to work on.

So it was great, and I was excited to come back to the NWSL and be able to build on that confidence, and I only was at Reign for a week before I headed into camp, but it was a good first week. Obviously we didn’t get the results, but I think it’s gonna be an exciting team and exciting season and we have some really good players that I’m excited to get to play with.

And then personally, you mentioned going out of your comfort zone. I have to imagine going to a new team in a new league in a new country during a global pandemic had to be had to have been something else, no?

Yeah, it was. Luckily I had my U.S. teammate Sam Mewis there with me, so that definitely made the transition a little bit easier. We could lean on each other and have each other for support, but yeah, it was a wild time, but I’m so grateful for it. I was so grateful for the opportunity and that Man City allowed me to go and play there for a year during such a time of uncertainty. It was such an incredible experience, and yeah, I have like nothing but good things to say about that club.

We hear all the time, “this league is faster than this one, this one is more physical, more technical,” all these sorts of things. What are, in your eyes, the main similarities and differences between the NWSL and FAWSL?

Both of them are challenging and great in different ways. I think the NWSL is more transitional and aggressive, and there’s a lot of risk in the final third. There’s going to be a lot of opportunities and chances. I think the WSL is a little more methodical and technical, you have to break down teams in a different way.

Obviously there’s a huge summer coming up for the national team. The Olympics are right around the corner, y’all have won four in a row, you’re unbeaten in your last 43. What’s just the general vibe around the team right now?

We have to take it one game at a time, we can’t look too far ahead. We obviously have a goal in mind, but I think, yeah, it’s more just taking it one training, one game, one camp at a time, so that we can be fully focused and present in the moment, and I think this past Summer Series was a great preparation for what we could potentially face in Tokyo. It was similar in that we were in Houston, it was hard, like similar climate to what it’ll be in Tokyo, and then the quick turnaround between games, too, was similar, so I think it was a really good preview into into that tournament.

And yeah, I think the vibe is good. Obviously, we’re not going to take anything for granted. I don’t think you can sleep on any team, especially now in soccer. I think every team is that much better and it’s getting more and more competitive and more and more difficult to stay at the top.

It’s been two years since the World Cup — Vlatko [Andonovski] is manager now, the national team is always evolving in that there’s always this pipeline of players coming into the 18. Are there any major ways you’d say that the team has evolved since it’s won the World Cup, or do you think it’s just been steadily going on the same path?

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That’s a good question. I felt like, before [the pandemic], we were building momentum and feeling really good, obviously there was a bit of a halt that everybody experienced. Yeah, I don’t know, I think that we were trying to just continue to build on it, and I think Vlatko and Milan [Ivanovic] have been incredible and have come in and taught us a lot and we’ve learned a lot from them, it’s been good.

I think we’re looking to build on the World Cup. In the same sense, though, we know that the World Cup was in the past, and what we did in the past was great, but now, it’s kind of about what our next goal is. So I don’t think we have that in mind, nothing gets given and we know that we really have to work and earn the top spot.

You made your national team debut a few years back, you’ve picked up 55 caps in that time. With a team as talented as the U.S., what is more difficult, breaking into the team or keeping a spot in it?

I think keeping a spot. Something interesting was my first camp with a national team was Abby Wambach’s last camp, and something that always stuck out to me … like I will always remember it because having been with this team for the past four years, it’s just so true. She said for the younger players, it’s not that this environment gets any easier, but the people who are here the longest make it look easy. I think you can come in and have a good couple camps, but I think this environment is so intense, so competitive, so hard physically and mentally. And it takes a lot to be able to stay in, be consistently in this group, and I think the veteran players are like such a good example of it. They’ve taught all the players coming up what it takes to be on this team. But yeah, I would say nothing is given and it’s hard to be on the team for as long as some of these players have been on the team.

And then you mentioned players staying on the team. One thing I really love about the national team is how there’s an ecosystem where a young player comes in, learns the ropes, becomes the star of the best team in the world, and then inspire that next generation of 8, 10, 12 year olds who become the next generation and just goes and goes and goes. As someone who’s been in the system, why do you think that’s been the case for several decades?

Honestly, I think it’s because they’re such good role models to look up to. I feel like I’ve said this a million times, but I was so obsessed with the national team when I was a girl and I wanted to be in their shoes one day, and they were just such a good example to me of what I could potentially be and achieve, and it’s cool now that I’m in the position to be able to give back to girls, give back to the sport in the same way it has given to me.

I think it’s one of the reasons I’ve been excited about my partnership with IcyHot, I got to be on two calls this morning with some young female athletes and talk to them about my journey and what I have done to get here, and I think being able to share that and kind of help motivate the younger generation to stay in the sport and, and keep pushing and overcome hurdles has been exciting. I’m like already excited about the partnership because it’s allowed me to do that.

Yeah, and when you have something like what you had earlier with IcyHot, what’s the biggest piece of advice you give to that generation of 8, 10, 12 year old girls about what they need to do to become the next Rose Lavelle?

I think when you’re that age, it’s all about having fun and enjoying it. I think when I was that age and even going up into high school, I just loved it so much and wanted to be playing it all the time. And I think that goes for the parents, too, like allowing your kids to enjoy it for what it is and not putting the pressure on them that they have to perform, or they have to be doing this or they have to be doing that. I just think at that age, enjoy it, have fun, and let this be something that like brings you joy, not something that brings you stress. I think the reason that I still love soccer as much as I do is because my parents were like that, they kind of let me pave my own path, let me do my own thing, and I’m so grateful for that.

And I’m gonna guess that while you’re telling them to have fun, you’re having just the time of your life doing these sorts of things.

Right, it’s so cool that this gets to be my job. I think, obviously, there’s a different element that gets added with being professional and everybody having access to watch my games — obviously, when I was growing up, that wasn’t the case, and so there’s a little bit more added pressure. But at the same time, I think pressure and competition are reasons why I’ve loved playing sports in general — I like to win so, I think it’s been fun.

And then, beyond that, what’s this I hear about you having something going on with IcyHot and Shaq?

I just joined the IcyHot fam and Shaquille O’Neal, their long-standing partner. I’m excited to join forces with them and have the opportunity to talk about IcyHot and their contrast therapy. I think it’s cool because it has been something that I have used for so long. Like, even in high school when I didn’t really know how to best take care of my body, I still had IcyHot that I was like using before practice or before games, have that icy sensation to dull any pain, it was instant pain relief, and then the hot sensation that relaxed it all. So it’s cool that now, I’m like working with a brand that’s been with me my whole playing career.

To go back to France for a second, you have a tournament under your belt. What did you learn about getting into a routine and having yourself physically ready to play from that time where it was, what, seven games in three and a half weeks or whatever it was?

Getting the experience in France I think definitely helps me be more prepared heading into this tournament. But I think that the Olympics is also a whole other beast, given the short timeframe, the quick turnaround, the smaller roster, the heat and humidity is obviously going to play a factor. I’m glad that I have the World Cup under my belt to give me a taste of what it’s like to be in those big pressure moments, and I think that knowledge is like going to be needed in this next big tournament.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.