The 21-year-old playmaker stole the show in the U.S. national team’s 4-0 win over Russia.
On a night the U.S. national team pumped four goals past Russia, the scoring itself was an afterthought. These tallies will largely be forgotten, the inevitable byproduct of yet another blowout over an overmatched visitor.
Rose Lavelle made sure of that. The 21-year-old may not have scored, but she’s all fans will remember from this one.
While Lavelle showed flashes of brilliance in her first two caps, she seemed restrained in the SheBelieves Cup defeats to England and France last month. Being thrown into the fire against two of the world’s top teams was a tall task, and a wide role had the natural playmaker learning on the fly.
Handing Lavelle her third cap Thursday, U.S. coach Jill Ellis removed the shackles. And the Boston Breakers rookie delivered with aplomb.
Sweet baby is no longer a nickname. It’s an exclamation!
— U.S. Soccer WNT (@ussoccer_wnt) April 7, 2017
Lavelle’s only appearance on the score sheet was an 18th-minute assist for Allie Long off a corner kick. Yet she gave the Toyota Stadium faithful a moment they won’t soon forget four minutes later.
Running down an overcooked ball down the right flank, Lavelle took a deft touch around one Russian defender before nutmegging another — all while walking a tightrope along the end line.
The play didn’t come off, ending in a blocked shot from Crystal Dunn. That hardly mattered. It was the most breathtaking sequence on a night of audacious plays from Lavelle, who lined up as a right winger but was given free reign to drift centrally.
“I like being on the inside,” Lavelle told FS1 postgame. “But anywhere I can get on the field and touch the ball is fine.”
Lavelle’s control on the ball makes her a matchup nightmare, even if she doesn’t have the sheer pace of a Mallory Pugh. There were glimpses of her creative vision. That left foot could be a weapon on set pieces for years to come, as well.
While she laughed about her lack of a final touch postgame, this team has no shortage of potent finishers. But a pure creator? That area is less certain — and Lavelle sure looked the part Thursday.
Here are two more thoughts on the Americans’ 4-0 win over Russia in Frisco, Texas:
The 3-4-1-2 remains — sort of
After using an aggressive 3-4-1-2 formation for the U.S. team’s past seven matches, Ellis returned to a 4-4-2 alignment against Russia. It was hardly a surprising development, considering the way France exposed the three-woman back line so viciously in its 3-0 win over the U.S. last month.
Defensively, the U.S. maintained the shape of a 4-4-2. But in possession, the formation seemingly morphed into the 3-4-1-2. Right back Kelley O’Hara pushed into midfield as Lavelle transitioned from a winger to a No. 10 role, sitting underneath forwards Dunn and Carli Lloyd.
It’s an intriguing wrinkle. The adjustment allows Ellis’ side to attack with numbers while remaining defensively sturdy. Communication is critical in such a setup, though, and there’s also vulnerability on the counter. But after 90 minutes, it looks like a welcome evolution from the SheBelieves Cup setback.
“The team hit a reset button going into this camp,” said Dunn, who scored twice Thursday. “We said what’s in the past is in the past. We can’t focus too much on the results in the SheBelieves tournament, but we’ve got to get better. We’ve got to regroup, we’ve got to refocus, and tonight I feel like the team really came together.”
Long battles for midfield role
After a string of starts at center back — including a rough outing in the loss to France — Long returned to her preferred central midfield role Thursday. With Morgan Brian and Lindsey Horan sidelined, it was a key opportunity for Long and partner Samantha Mewis to make their cases.
How did Long respond? A pair of headed goals put her attacking instincts on full display. Long also offered her usual range of passing to keep Russia moving.
But there were some moments she’ll want back. Long was caught in possession on a couple occasions, and she hit the post from point-blank range after a brilliant first-half movement from Lavelle and Pugh.
The most notable blemish, of course, was the missed second-half penalty. Long then scored her second goal four minutes later.
If nothing else, the 29-year-old knows how to roll with the punches.