“There should be a Dogs of NWSL Instagram account.”
If anyone would know, it’s Rose Lavelle, midfielder for the Boston Breakers. While there are plenty of players, coaches and staff with very good dogs, Lavelle might just be the leading candidate in the NWSL for person most obsessed with their canine companion. Wilma Jean Wrinkles has her own account on Instagram, and Lavelle keeps track of just how much of a good luck charm she is when she watches from the sidelines. “She came to our [Boston] home opener. She had an incredible record when I was at Wisconsin.” While it’s not likely Wilma Jean makes it to another Breakers game this season, she’s undefeated in Boston blue.
“As a Breaker, she’s 1-0,” Lavelle said.
Her latest project to celebrate her bulldog was a video to commemorate Wilma Jean’s birthday. When asked how Wilma is, Lavelle instantaneously shifted from serious soccer mode to gushing dog-mom. “So, so cute,” she said, and repeating again that Wilma had just turned five. “I had that video saved up for a month. I was bored and I was at home.”
The reason why Lavelle was at home, meticulously editing videos of Wilma Jean to the Golden Girls theme song: a left hamstring strain. In June, the No. 1 overall draft pick’s rookie season came to a sudden stop. In the waning minutes of a U.S. women’s national team friendly against Norway, Lavelle pulled up with no warning, no contact, no tackle. Just an unexpected betrayal from her own body that put her on the injury list for the NWSL through August, and ensured she also missed out on a call-up to the roster for Tournament of Nations.
This past weekend, Lavelle had been upgraded to questionable for the Breakers, and during pregame warm-ups was on the field in cleats kicking a ball around with head coach Matt Beard. The rest of the team practiced around them, and the chances that Lavelle would see minutes seemed slim, but at least possible.
By the end of the night, the Breakers had lost the match 1-0 to Sky Blue FC, Lavelle had remained on the bench for all 90 minutes, and Boston was officially eliminated from the NWSL Playoffs race. So there’s no real need to rush her back, beyond getting her some minutes and back with a ball at her feet. While she didn’t outright say it, Lavelle understandably has the U.S. women’s national team friendly against New Zealand on Sept. 19 in her sights. That one’s in Cincinnati, Lavelle’s hometown, and tickets are going fast.
There’s still a couple of weeks before that match to make her NWSL return first. For Lavelle, the last month of the regular season is simply a chance for her and the Breakers to end on a positive note as they look forward to 2018. “I hope we can just finish strong,” she said. “Obviously this season has been a little inconsistent, but I think we’ve definitely had some games that we let get away from us. We’re in the games, but now we just have to work on finishing the games and getting the results. That’s just the plan these last few games: finish strong and finish on a good note, maybe take some of this momentum a couple of months later to next season.”
Her journey into the league wasn’t exactly a standard one for most college draft picks, though normal enough for the top picks — she came into the league with both youth and senior national team experience under her belt. Shortly after arriving in Boston, she signed a deal with New Balance for a multi-year endorsement deal. She’s the brand’s first women’s soccer player. After her performance at the SheBelieves Cup, and earning the first Player of the Month honors for the 2017 season, the hype was looking pretty justified. But at the center, there’s still just Rose Lavelle, a 22-year-old at the beginning of her pro career.
“Definitely playing with the national team ahead of coming into Boston helped,” she said about heading to the NWSL this spring. “I felt like the transition flowed a little more, so really grateful to have had that opportunity to help me prepare for the league. I’ve taken a lot away. A lot of off-field stuff too, just learning from the veterans who have been in this league for a while. Taking care of yourself, taking care of your body.
“Then on the field, speed of play is obviously way faster than college. I can’t get away with as much as I can get away with in college,” she said, laughing. “That’s definitely been an adjustment.”
There’s still some time for Lavelle to show off just what she can get away with in the NWSL — her stats have been stuck at two goals and one assist in eight games since June. And Lavelle is clearly itching to get back onto the field, with watching games from back home or on the bench not doing it for her.
“I loved watching the games, but obviously it was frustrating not being there and being able to help, and try and do my part,” she said on Saturday night. “I’ve had ups and now some downs this year. I’ve learned from both. I obviously don’t wish that this injury happened, but I think I still took a lot away from these part two months and have learned a lot that I don’t think I would have picked up on had I not had this injury. Not that I’m grateful for the injury, but there’s some stuff that came out of it. I learned a lot about myself and what I need to do to take care of myself, and the more mental side of the game too.”
The last time she played for the Breakers was June 3, in a 2-0 loss to the Orlando Pride at Orlando City Stadium. There would be a fitting symmetry for her to take the field again there, in this weekend’s match once again against the Pride at Orlando City Stadium on September 2. That game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. ET, and it could finally promise the return of Rose Lavelle.