The Queen of the Queen City returned home

“You would think I would get to this point and I’d feel any different, and I just don’t. Which is nice because I hate change.”

Rose Lavelle sat on the corner of a hotel bed and tried finding different answers to the same questions she’d been asked for the last two hours. Once this interview was finished, another would begin in the connecting room. This has been her life since that goal in that match. 

Lavelle is the Queen City’s Queen. Born in Cincinnati and someone who’s already been a household name locally, her persona catapulted during the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup when she went from scoring two goals in her World Cup debut to scoring the title-clinching goal in the final. In between, she delivered one outstanding performance after another.

One New York Times reporter, Rory Smith, referred to the midfielder as the “most gifted player I’ve seen at this tournament.”

Grant Wahl from Sports Illustrated went on to write, “The creative maestro on this U.S. team was Rose Lavelle. That was the case in the semifinal victory against England, and it was true again (against the Netherlands). Watching the 24-year-old Lavelle, the Women’s World Cup’s breakout star, in full flight on the ball is exhilarating, the kind of jolt that people will always pay real money to witness in person.”

Lavelle left Cincinnati for France earlier this summer hoping to win the U.S. Women’s National Team a second-consecutive World Cup – and record fourth all time. She said she’d do that by any means. 

Photo by Richard Martin, USA Today

Well, Lavelle returned to the city as literally one of the planet’s best players in women’s soccer.

It’s becoming apparent for her now, but things will never be the same for the kid who grew up in Indian Hill and played high school soccer at Mount Notre Dame. She’s no longer just a Cincinnati native as much as a hometown hero, national role model and international star.

On Friday afternoon at Fountain Square in Downtown, thousands turned up to see Lavelle wearing her World Cup medal and hoist the tournament’s trophy above her head. People of all ages screamed and sang her name. Mobs of people surrounded her for a picture or an autograph. When it was over, she even had a police escort through a tunnel of fans. 

Truthfully, it was overwhelming – especially for someone who hates change.

But if this is the change, if this is what the next coming weeks and months and years will be like until the next World Cup cycle, one thing stands out: this won’t change Lavelle.

“I’m having a second wind.”

Perhaps the easiest way to describe Lavelle’s new role-model status is to describe her role at FC Cincinnati’s game on Thursday night against D.C. United.

When the club’s inaugural MLS schedule released in January, the matchup was one of a handful to standout. What could be better than a midsummer match on primetime television against one of the league’s biggest stars in Wayne Rooney?

Answer: Lavelle’s homecoming.

The U.S. international made her first public appearance in her hometown at the match in an atmosphere that was as much about her as it was about the Orange and Blue.

Before the game, she spoke with reporters about the whirlwind of her last few weeks.

The USWNT won the World Cup on July 7 in Lyon, France, when they beat the Netherlands 2-0 in the final. Lavelle’s 69th-minute goal, which saw her slalom through the Dutch midfield before unleashing a driven shot to the bottom right corner, doubled the American lead and clinch a second-straight title.

Following that, Lavelle and her teammates had a victory parade in New York City three days later. There was more than a ton of shredded, recycled paper used for the ticker-tape celebration, according to The Washington Post.

That same day, the world champs flew to Los Angeles to accept a 2019 ESPY as the “Best Team.”

All of this was the leadup to Lavelle’s appearance in Cincinnati. With little time for herself and an abundance for everyone else, it continued at the FCC match when she celebrated being home.

First, she went on ESPN and discussed being home, playing at the World Cup and scoring in the final.

Next, she he joined The Bailey and helped lead chants and signing choruses with the Orange and Blue’s most-rabid fans.

“It’s been a crazy couple weeks, but it’s been fun,” Lavelle told reporters Thursday night. “It’s been so cool to see everyone’s support. I feel like I just have to soak it all in.”

Her best chance to do so came at halftime when FC Cincinnati held a ceremony for her.

As Lavelle walked toward midfield wearing a red, white, and blue “Ignite & Unite” FCC scarf, fans around Nippert Stadium roared and gave their hero a standing ovation. The only cheer that rivaled the moment Thursday night was Emmanuel Ledesma scoring a 54th-minute equalizing goal in the eventual 4-1 loss.

Lavelle’s main event was still a day away, however.

“Anytime someone asks me where my dream vacation is, I say Cincinnati. Everyone thinks I’m crazy, but there’s no place I’d rather be than be home.”

Speaking during the city’s celebration for her on Friday, Lavelle delivered one inside joke about the Queen City after another. First, she started with Skyline – her order is three cheese coneys with onions and mustard – then mentioned Graeter’s and the “Baby Hippo” in Fiona.

But then with stone-cold delivery, she said, “We’re all obsessed with our high schools” and mentioned the Crosstown Shootout as the best rivalry in college basketball.

These are all things Greater Cincinnati residents know and probably put too much pride into. But to hear a World Cup champion remind us felt like a validation of everything this city can be. 

“I think Cincinnati has the best kind of people,” she said. “I think there’s so much pride and love here. Every time I put on the U.S. jersey, I have so much pride playing for the country. But I feel so grateful for you guys and to be able to represent this city. It’s unreal.”

Lavelle is the first Cincinnatian to win a Women’s World Cup and second to play at one. The first was Heather Mitts in 2011. (Before you ask, she went to St. Ursula Academy.)

For an area known for the impressive girls players it produces into professional women’s soccer, Lavelle is the latest example – and role model.

Speaking before Lavelle, City of Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley reminded the crowd of that. The night before, he spent time with her family and her mom told him about a story from Rose’s childhood. One day, she had Rose skip school to watch women’s soccer “because there were so few women that could be role models for girls at the time,” Cranley recalled the story from Janet Lavelle.

“I don’t know about you, but I think in Cincinnati we have a role model now for girls and her name is Rose Lavelle.”

With that, the mayor handed the U.S. international a key to the city and issued a proclamation that July 19, 2019 would forever be remembered as Rose Lavelle Day in Cincinnati.

So, what comes next?

Perhaps that’s the biggest question looming on the horizon for Lavelle.

At 24 years old, she just accomplished the top prize in women’s soccer: a World Cup. Other than winning more World Cups or an Olympic gold medal with the USWNT, the only way she can receive a higher accolade would be if she’s receives a Ballon d’Or as the best women’s soccer player on the planet.

But none of that is her focus right now.

After her brief homecoming, Lavelle is back in Washington D.C. and has rejoined her club, the Washington Spirit, in the NWSL. The Spirit played as recently as Saturday night, falling to the Houston Dash, 2-1 as Lavelle did not play while she continues to rehabilitate her hamstring that made her availability in the World Cup final a question. 

“That’s where my focus is, just getting back with my club and get training,” she said. “They did an awesome job during the World Cup when all the World Cup players were gone, so hopefully I can come in and build on the success they’ve had this season.

“And then once the season is over, I’ll have some time to rest and recoup and set my sights on whatever’s next.”

As for what’s next, Lavelle made her USWNT debut in 2017 and will be a significant leader for the national team moving forward. There is still a legitimate chance she could feature in the American plans for the next three World Cups cycles.

But her impact is more important than a trophy or being the pride of Cincinnati.

Growing up, it was the 1999 USWNT – the 99ers – who inspired Lavelle and a whole generation of players into becoming literal World Cup champions. 

Now, millions of Americans and younger players will look up to the 19ers. They’re the new benchmark.  

And Lavelle is their creative maestro.

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