CARSON, Calif. — The question was put to Megan Rapinoe on Friday night, after the U.S. women’s national team had qualified for the 2020 Olympics with a 4-0 win over Mexico: As someone who has been voted the world player of the year, do you think Rose Lavelle could win the award someday?
“I mean, I think so, for sure,” Rapinoe replied. “She’s 24 now. She’s obviously proven herself at the very top level this last summer [at the Women's World Cup] … Her upside is huge. She really has it all. She has a knack for a goal. And she just has that something special, something different, that you can’t teach. That little bit of flair. So hopefully she will. I think she has it.”
Perhaps no individual USWNT storyline in the coming years will be more fascinating to watch than whether Lavelle will build on her breakout year in 2019—Women's World Cup bronze ball, world Best XI, a gorgeous goal in the World Cup final—and become the next American to win the world player of the year award after Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, Abby Wambach and Mia Hamm.
Lavelle scored the first goal on Friday in the fifth minute on a streaking run through the middle and left-footed blast that was eerily similar to the one she scored against the Netherlands in the World Cup final last July. It was sublime stuff, the kind of move few players can pull off—a move that’s becoming one of her signatures.
Lavelle’s teammate, Sam Mewis (who had two goals of her own vs. Mexico), couldn’t get over how much Lavelle’s strike was like her goal for the history books in Lyon.
“She’s such a unique player in the way that she creates space for herself and can kind of wiggle out of tight situations,” Mewis said afterward. “And then just to see her create space to shoot with her left foot, I had a flashback to the World Cup. I’m so proud of her.”
There were other moments as well on Friday when Lavelle dribbled out of trouble in tight space and created something when there appeared to be nothing. She’s like an eel sometimes. You think she’s trapped, and somehow she slithers out of trouble. The ball just goes along for the ride.
“She’s a special player,” U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “I enjoy coaching her. I enjoy watching her do things. Some of the things that she comes up with sometimes, it surprises me too. I’m just glad that most of the time they’re good for the team. Obviously she scores some valuable goals. She’s got so much potential I think she’s just going to get better and better.”
When she’s at her very best—as she was for much of the first half on Friday—Lavelle might well be the most influential player in the world today. But she’s not there yet over 90 minutes, game after game after game. If you want to be the best player in the world, you have to do it regularly too at the club level (which hasn’t happened yet) and you can’t more or less disappear for a half, as she did for much of the second 45 on Friday.
Lavelle knows that. And it’s something she’s working on.
“I felt really good in the first half,” she said. “I think now the next step for me is I need to maintain that the whole game. I feel like I dropped off a little in the second half. I think that’s the next evolution of my game: Staying consistent the whole 90 minutes.”
Lavelle turns 25 in May. She is still young, of course, but words like “potential” and “upside” rarely get used for players 25 and older for a reason. Now that she knows she will be competing in another world championship this summer at the Olympics, Lavelle has another opportunity with the world watching, the chance to show that she’s the best in the game, anywhere.
She’s that good.