For an undeniable star of the international game, Rose Lavelle is, almost inconceivably, still an unproven entity at the club level.
Lavelle has won a Bronze Ball at a World Cup, scored in a World Cup final, and been named on last year’s FIFA FIFPro Women's World 11. She is routinely described as one of the game's best players.
And yet, she has also played a grand total of 31 career games at club level over four seasons.
Injuries, international duty and a pandemic have all conspired to make her time in NWSL frustratingly disjointed. Even after four seasons in the league, Lavelle still has more international caps to her name than club appearances.
Now, Lavelle’s time in NWSL has come to an end, at least temporarily.
On Tuesday, she signed with Manchester City for the 2020-21 FA Women’s Super League campaign. Now healthy, confident, and in a league set to play a full season, Lavelle appears poised to finally translate her success on the international level to the club game.
Lavelle’s rookie season with the Boston Breakers in 2017 was arguably the most impactful of her four-year run in NWSL, even though it was derailed at the midpoint by a hamstring injury. That injury would linger for the better part of a year before she finally returned to the fold in 2018 with the Washington Spirit.
During her time with the Spirit, Lavelle became a global star. Unfortunately for Richie Burke & Co., the playmaker’s rise to prominence took place almost exclusively in a U.S. jersey.
Last year was a perfect encapsulation of this phenomenon. Lavelle played a starring role as the U.S. won the 2019 World Cup but upon her return to NWSL, she struggled with multiple injuries and played just five matches as the Spirit fell just short of the playoffs.
Finally, after an injury-free offseason, 2020 appeared to be the year Lavelle was going to put it all together for the Spirit, at least until the Olympics took her away in July. But the pandemic put a halt to that notion.
Instead, the Spirit got a tantalizing glimpse of what could have been during the NWSL Challenge Cup. Lavelle was dominant at times during her team’s four-game run in the tournament, which ended last month as the NWSL continues to map out a still-undermined path forward in 2020.
Man City will have seen that player, and the one who has scored 12 goals and added seven assists in 45 appearances with the USWNT, and felt like they have added the missing piece to a side that has finished runners-up in the FA Women’s Super League for three seasons running.
Lavelle appears to have the perfect players around her to thrive at City. Keira Walsh and international team-mate Sam Mewis can do most of the defensive work in midfield, freeing Lavelle to roam forward and create.
The presence of Mewis should also help Lavelle off the field, as both players adapt to life in a new country. The two USWNT stars have played together for years and are now set to embark on the same journey together after Mewis joined City from the NC Courage last week.
Lavelle could return to NWSL in 2021 but if she does so, it will not be with the Spirit. OL Reign acquired Lavelle’s rights on Sunday, with the Spirit getting a draft pick and at least $100,000 (£75,000) of allocation money in exchange.
It was a nice return for a player who has failed to come close to reaching her potential in D.C. — oftentimes through no fault of her own.
However, if Lavelle shines at Man City and subsequently returns to the NWSL with a vengeance, it will be another blow for a Spirit side who saw a world-class talent blossom just outside of their reach.