Rose Lavelle had not played in a competitive soccer match in more than three months before she entered the pitch Saturday for the U.S. women’s national team. But no one would know it based on her performance in the World Cup-opening win.
The 28-year-old midfielder came on as a substitute in the 61st minute of the 3-0 victory over Vietnam at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. She last had appeared in the USWNT’s April 8 friendly against Ireland, in which she picked up a knee injury, but no rust showed. Indeed, her fresh legs provided a welcome boost to close out the match.
A breakout star at 2019 World Cup, Lavelle starts the 2023 tournament with a minutes limit due to her injury, USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski noted before the win.
“She’s ready to play and we’re not going to force a lot of minutes from the beginning. We’ll ease everything up as we move on,” he said.
While Andonovski initially described Lavelle’s injury as “a little knock” in April, she remained on the sidelines for months. Still, she made the World Cup roster, and ahead of the opening match Andonovski noted that she had been “medically cleared” to play but still was building up her endurance.
A rising star turned seasoned veteran, Lavelle was one of just six players who played at least 1,000 minutes for the USWNT in 2022. If she can play a significant role for the two-time defending champions, even in limited playing time, that would spell trouble for the rest of the World Cup field.
Megan Rapinoe also returned from injury against Vietnam. The 38-year-old forward picked up a calf injury while playing for OL Reign on June 10, and she had not played since then. Much like Lavelle, she had been cleared to play but is still getting back up to speed. Rapinoe came off the bench in the 61st minute as well, relieving Alex Morgan.
Julie Ertz played the full 90 minutes of the opening match, albeit outside of her usual position. Andonovski slotted the veteran midfielder into the lineup at center back, but she looked comfortable in the role. The 31-year-old returned to the USWNT in April after giving birth to her son Madden in August 2022.