What went wrong for USWNT star Rose Lavelle at Manchester City?

Rose Lavelle Manchester City Women 2020Getty

Manchester City faced Arsenal and Manchester United within the space of five days back in February, two games which were crucial to their Women's Super League title challenge. If you were looking through their squad lists for those fixtures in search of potential match-winning talent, you'd be immediately drawn to Rose Lavelle.

A World Cup winner - indeed a goal scorer in the final less than two years ago - and a regular starter for the U.S. women’s national team, there aren’t many players in the world with more talent.

But, as City recorded back-to-back wins, Lavelle was merely a footnote in each game, subbed on for the last few moments with the only task remaining to see the result out.

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Her time in Manchester did produce some memorable moments – her only WSL goal was a glimpse into how fantastic a player she is while her performance against Barcelona in the second leg of City’s UEFA Women’s Champions League quarter-final was perhaps her most impressive.

However, with her departure from the club announced on Monday, the highlights were few and far between for a player who arrived with such a remarkable reputation and a stacked CV.

Rose Lavelle Sam Mewis Janine Beckie Manchester City Women 2020Getty

That she sparkled for her national team in each and every international break throughout the season made her difficult year in England even more puzzling.

Explaining the first half of her season is relatively straightforward, as it was plagued with injuries. The 26-year-old was struggling with an ankle problem when she arrived at the club, delaying her debut until October.

In the month she missed, Keira Walsh, Caroline Weir and Sam Mewis established themselves as head coach Gareth Taylor’s first choice midfield trio. With all three refusing to give him a reason to drop them, Lavelle’s appearances were largely in cup games, off the bench or out of position.

In the Women’s FA Cup final in November, she played out wide, but had the second-fewest touches of any starting player for City. There was even a substitute appearance as a false nine against Chelsea in October, but most of her time on the pitch was spent chasing down possession, rather than providing a spark when City were on the ball.

As she started to get into some rhythm and build up some fitness, sending a message to City with a superb performance for the USWNT against the Netherlands just before Christmas, injuries hit again. Her second start of the WSL season, away at Everton in December, started well, but ended with her on crutches after 45 minutes.

“We were trying to get her into a decent vein of consistency,” Taylor said at the time. “We had to be mindful of Rose’s existing problems. She’s had a few niggles and she was limited in what she could do on USA camp.

“If you compare Rose’s situation with Sam Mewis’, we got Sam a little bit earlier to the club and once she gained a decent level of fitness, she hit the ground running. It’s not ideal but she’s resilient and she’ll bounce back.”

It’s much more difficult to put a finger on what happened after that. In the second half of her season, Lavelle was excelling with her country, named tournament MVP as the U.S. won the SheBelieves Cup in February, but made just one WSL start in 2021.

Competition for places remained fierce and with the number of games on City’s calendar, as the Champions League hit its stride, more opportunities were certainly expected for the American. Instead, as crucial clashes with the teams around them came – Arsenal, Man Utd, Chelsea – she started on the bench.

Taylor was full of praise for the midfielder for her training throughout and predicted that she would have a big part to play as City hunted down success in the business end of the campaign. But for one reason or another, those opportunities to contribute continued to be limited.

Lavelle’s performance against Barcelona was perhaps the closest we got the seeing the very best of one of the best players in the world. Creating chances, making things happen and showcasing that fantastic close control in tight spaces against the team that would eventually be crowned the best in Europe, it was what many expected to see on a regular basis when her move to Manchester was announced.

Instead, as she prepares for a new - and, hopefully, more fruitful - chapter with OL Reign, there will be only fleeting memories of her year overseas.

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