SEABROOK – In the 69th minute of the FIFA Women’s World Cup on July 7, midfielder Rose Lavelle made herself into a world superstar after her charging run from midfield led to a left-footed strike that sealed the United States’ fourth title.
Fast-forward to July 24, as the Cincinnati, Ohio native and world champion watched as a loose ball sailed over her head. It landed in front of her teammate Ashley Hatch, who buried a shot into the Sky Blue FC goal to give the Washington Spirit the 1-0 victory on the road. Following the goal, the two hugged in celebration as Lavelle was finally back with her club team.
“It has been a crazy two weeks or however long it has been but we were both really, really excited to get back playing here,” Lavelle said. “The way we play with the U.S. and the way we play here is different so we were really looking forward to that.”
Lavelle joins four other World Cup senior players who have returned to the Spirit roster following their international commitments. With 11 games remaining in the regular season, Washington hopes that the return of their high-caliber players will continue to add a spark on the roster as they compete for a spot in the NWSL playoffs.
Before traveling to Sky Blue, the Spirit (6-4-3) welcomed back Americans Mallory Pugh and Lavelle who were joined by Jamaican striker Cheyna Matthews and the Australian trio of Amy Harrison, Chloe Logarzo and Elise Kellond-Knight.
Before they departed for training camp, Washington had only played two games in the NWSL season. They earned their first victory in their home opener when they defeated Sky Blue FC 2-0, ending a winless drought that lasted 325 days. The Spirit continued to play well, racking up six wins and going on a six-game unbeaten streak.
Young players like Hatch and rookie midfielder Jordan DiBiasi stepped into the attack tied for first and are currently tied with the most goals this season (four). Despite their success, the Spirit needed extra experience as they lost three straight games right after the streak.
However, there still needs to be a delicate balance in reintroducing his experienced players back into the fold, Head Coach Richie Burke said. The first-year coach said he learned the hard way about the process when he allowed Pugh to play a full 90 minutes in her first game back despite still carrying an Achilles injury from the tournament.
Pugh ended up missing a penalty that would have tied the game against Houston Dash on July 20. During the postgame press conference and at the FedExField event, Burke said it was a mistake to keep her out under the circumstance.
“They’re world champions, the two Americans, and they’re world-class players, the rest of them because they have fantastic character and that’s a testimony to what Mallory did this weekend,” Burke said. “And as a coach, we have to be a little bit more mindful of what they’ve been through and make sure there is a balance because it has been an incredible emotional roller coaster for them, physically as well.”
Team captain midfielder Andi Sullivan, who has experienced playing with the United States National Team in all age levels, said it is a grind the first few weeks of playing an international tournament to readjust. While it can become taxing for the returning veterans, it will be their teammates’ jobs to “help set them up to help carry our team.”
“It is not easy,” Sullivan said. “It is a very physical, emotional journey. We want them back as soon as possible but at one time, we were flying as well so it is like preseason all over again in a sense. But they are such quality players and very integral personalities on our team, it is not going to be difficult.”
Moving forward, the schedule is not very forgiving to the third-place squad as they will have to face three of the top four teams in the NWSL (Reign FC, Chicago Red Stars and North Carolina Courage) in consecutive games.
As the spotlight shines at the Maryland SoccerPlex, Lavelle, Pugh and the rest of their international teammates will hope to come together with their younger players to surge Washington forward for the rest of the season.
“We celebrated and now, we are focusing on the NWSL season and I think that is where everyone’s mind is now,” Lavelle said.