Her teammates aren’t just her besties, but also the people she looks up to.
National soccer star Rose Lavelle is joining the video call to encourage young soccer players, and as she turns on her Zoom camera she seems more excited than the teen girls she’s surprising. The screen is filled with the enthusiastic faces of the next generation of female soccer players, and Lavelle, visiting them through a partnership with IcyHot, is clearly thrilled when one calls her and the other players on the U.S. National Team role models.
“I’m always so flattered when people say they look up to our team,” she says, smiling. “There’s so many amazing people, I still look up to them and I’m friends with them. You couldn’t pick better role models, I have to say.” But as impressed as the girls — athletes in the soccer leadership program Girls Leading Girls — are by the team’s accomplishment on the field, they also have other achievements in mind.
When the girls get to ask Lavelle a question, the first thing that comes up is equal pay. “The entire U.S. Women’s National Team is definitely a huge role model for me,” says the teen who unmutes first, as her teammates snap their fingers in applause. “Not only in the fact that you’re such amazing soccer players, but also the advocacy and fighting for equal pay is really important to me, and I think that’s really inspiring.”
“Thank you so much,” Lavelle answers, smiling and putting a hand to her heart.
Lavelle loves that equal pay was the first thing the girls brought up. “It's so cool,” she tells me later. “It shows that what we do on the field is obviously important and they look up to that, but also what we do off the field is just as important.”
It's all about, can you help the team succeed?
For the past several years, the U.S. Women’s National Team, for which Lavelle plays as a midfielder, has been engaged in a drawn-out, public battle over equal pay with the U.S. Soccer Federation, the organization that controls the national teams. The players have alleged that U.S. Soccer has engaged in systematic pay discrimination, while the federation, in turn, claims different pay structures for the men’s and women’s teams mean that pay is actually equal.
Back in 2019, when the women took home their fourth World Cup trophy, many observed that the women’s team had earned less prize money — $4 million — for winning the tournament, than the U.S. men had made — $9 million — for placing 15th in their most recent World Cup. (World Cup prizes are awarded by the International Federation of Association Football, aka FIFA, and not U.S. Soccer.) It heightened the awareness around the team’s equal pay fight, which first started in 2016 as a complaint to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In 2019, the women filed an official lawsuit, which is ongoing.
“For [equal pay] to be one of the first things out of their mouth, that that's what inspires them and why they look up to us — I think it shows us even more why we have to keep pushing and keep fighting for it,” says Lavelle. “It's always about making it better for the next group that comes in. And then, then when they come in, it's about them making it better for the next group that comes after that.”
Whether she’s talking about the equal pay fight, the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, or even the 2019 World Cup, Lavelle keeps coming back to that team-first, goal-oriented mentality. “It's all about, can you help the team succeed?” she says. “Whatever my role is, whether it's starting, coming off the bench, not playing — whatever it is, you commit to it 100% and you do whatever you can to make sure that the team is successful.”
In the years since her 2017 debut with the U.S. Women’s National Team, she says that her teammates have “become some of my best friends — and not just my best friends, but people that I look up to.”
“We've all been there, and seen each other struggle and at our lowest points. And we've also seen each other at our highest points too,” she says of her teammates. “When you share the ups and downs with a group like that, you have kind of no choice but to come together and love each other even more.”
During her time at the 2019 World Cup, Lavelle says she learned a lot of important lessons from her veteran teammates. They helped her tune out the noise — like media speculation and headlines — and instead focus on the game. “The great thing was that we just kind of had our bubble, and we stayed in our bubble — we're very close-knit,” she says. “I think [my teammates] did such a good job of just kind of distancing themselves from [pressure] and not getting caught up in all the noise and just staying focused on our goal.”
I feel so much more prepared, heading into a major tournament.
Lavelle ended the tournament one of the standout stars of the World Cup, scoring the last goal in the final match to help clinch the United States’ 2-0 victory over the Netherlands. She earned that year’s Bronze Ball award, recognizing her as one of the most valuable players of the tournament. (Teammate Megan Rapinoe took the Golden Ball.)
Lavelle is using her experience at the World Cup as a template for how to think about Tokyo. “If I make the Olympics,” she says, “I feel so much more prepared, heading into a major tournament.”
When I ask about how her teammates have impacted the way she’s preparing for the Tokyo Olympics, she’s cautious. “I still have to make the team, so that’s my first order of business,” she clarifies. It’s a pretty foregone conclusion — six days after we talk, the roster is announced, with Lavelle included — but she doesn’t want to make assumptions. Still, she’s excited. “It's the pinnacle of sports, it's such an incredible moment for athletes,” she says. “So obviously it'd be amazing to be a part of it.”
But while she’s obviously focused on competition and the gold, there are other benefits to attending the globe’s biggest international sporting event. Just like pretty much everyone in the world, she’s a fan of champion gymnast Simone Biles, who will also be competing in Tokyo. “She is really, really good and just dominates and it's so fun to watch,” Lavelle says of Biles. “I don't know if we'll cross paths [in Tokyo], but if we do, I'll be really happy.”