Rose Lavelle returns to Women's World Cup a smarter player than her 2019 breakout debut

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United States' Rose Lavelle dribbles during second half of the the Women's World Cup Group E soccer match between the United States and Vietnam at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand, Saturday, July 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

WELLINGTON – Rose Lavelle believes she's developed into a smarter player in the four years since becoming a breakout star for the United States in the 2019 Women's World Cup final against the Netherlands.

The midfielder was 24 and one of the Americans' younger players when she scored in the 69th minute of the title game in Lyon, France. Megan Rapinoe also scored in the 2-0 victory that earned the United States its second straight World Cup trophy, and fourth overall.

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The United States meets the Netherlands again on Thursday, this time in the group stage of the tournament. Both teams have a win in Group E headed into the match in New Zealand's capital of Wellington.

Lavelle, now a veteran on an American team that has 14 players making their World Cup debuts, reflected on the past four years on the eve of the rematch.

“I feel like obviously I have a lot more experience, so I think just my mentality is a bit is a bit different. Four years ago I was obviously one of the younger players on the team, and I think now I find myself in a different position, which I think just kind of gives me a little more confidence," she said. "I feel like I'm a smarter player. I think I've grown in every realm, which is what I would hope."

Lavelle injured her knee in an April exhibition match against Ireland and hadn't played for her club team, OL Reign, in the run-up to the World Cup.

Coach Vlatko Andonovski declared that Lavelle was available before the team's opener against Vietnam, and she came in the game as a substitute in the 61st minute. The United States won 3-0 on a pair of goals from Sophia Smith and another from Lindsey Horan.

Lavelle was subbed in at the same time as Rapinoe, her Reign teammate who injured her calf in a National Women's Soccer League match in June.

The win over Vietnam in Auckland wasn't as lopsided as many expected given the Golden Star Women's Warriors inexperience on the international stage. The Vietnamese were among eight teams making their first World Cup appearance at the tournament co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia.

The Netherlands will no doubt be a bigger challenge than Vietnam.

The two teams also met in the quarterfinals at the Tokyo Olympics, with the Americans advancing on penalties after a 2-2 draw.

Ranked No. 9 in the world, the Netherlands has won just one of its 10 matches against the United States overall. Only one of those meetings came in a World Cup — that 2019 final. The only Dutch victory in the series came in the first meeting in 1991.

The Netherlands opened the World Cup with a 1-0 victory over Portugal, winning it on Stefanie van der Gragt's goal. But the team is missing one of its most dynamic players, forward Vivianne Miedema, who ruptured her ACL while playing for her club team, Arsenal, in December.

“I think every time we play them it's a very physical, intense match. They have a lot of different threats,” Lavelle said. “I think they're technical, good on set pieces, so I think it's going to be a tough game. But I think we're really excited for it.”

Lavelle was introspective when asked Wednesday whether the World Cup championship goal changed her.

“I don't really feel like it did. It was a goal and it was fun,” she said. “But I feel like I'm still just me.”

Andonovski went a little further in what the goal did for Lavelle.

“If I can add on that, maybe Rose's life changed, but she hasn't changed a bit," the coach said. "She's still the same humble and good person.”


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