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National League alums bring skill, personality to USWNT

CHESTER, Pa. — As the countdown to the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup reached 100 days on Wednesday, the U.S. Women’s National Team began another step in the process of preparing for the world stage as it kicked off the 2019 SheBelieves Cup with a 2-2 draw against Japan.

The competition offers U.S. head coach Jill Ellis the opportunity to begin fine-tuning her squad in preparation for this summer’s tournament in France. As is the case in each four-year cycle, that process includes finding the right mix of youth and veterans.  

The latest wave of young players looking to make their first World Cup roster in 2019 features several former US Youth Soccer National League players, including Rose Lavelle and Emily Sonnett, who each featured in the Feb. 27 draw against Japan. Both are aiming to continue to make an impression any time they step on the field.

“They’ve been here for a few years now and bring a whole new creativity with their skillsets,” midfielder Julie Ertz said. “Especially Rose, she has such great skills with her feet. It’s always good to mix the veterans with the new energy. It’s all encompassing and makes the team better.”

Lavelle, who played two years in the National League with CUP Crew Jrs. 94/95 (OH-S), drew the first early roar from the 14,555 in attendance to watch the United States and Japan at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pa. The 23-year-old midfielder ran at the Japanese back line in the fifth minute to start the first dangerous chance of the game for the U.S., and she followed that up by sending a cross off the left post from an ensuing short corner.

Ellis said following the game that Lavelle had a “really solid performance,” and she contributed to the United States breaking down an organized Japanese defense more effectively than in any game she could remember.

Speaking prior to the SheBelieves Cup opener against Japan, Lavelle said the last few years have offered many chances to learn from the veteran players, who have made it easy for her and the others to transition into the team.

“This environment is super competitive, and I feel I’m finally starting to feel more comfortable in my role,” Lavelle said. “It took a while to own my spot, but this past year has been big for me in the confidence factor.”

Lavelle has played in nine of the last 10 games for the U.S., while Sonnett has picked up eight caps in the same period. They lead a group of six National League alumnae — along with Sam Mewis (5), Emily Fox (3), 2015 World Cup Champion Morgan Brian (3) and Danielle Colaprico (2) — who have had multiple appearances since the start of World Cup qualifiers in October 2018.

Sonnett, who won a National League title and earned a top-two finish during her three years in the league with NASA 12 Elite II (GA), said the United States values the challenge of facing three opponents ranked in the Top 10 during the SheBelieves Cup. The games only add to an already productively competitive environment within the team.

“Just being part of the group and being able to compete every day with some of the best in the world, not only is that great for my development, but it’s an honor to be part of the process,” Sonnett said.

While there is competition among the players to be one of 23 chosen to go to France for the World Cup, the team has a chemistry that Lavelle said is “awesome” and continues go get better with each camp. She said when off-field chemistry begins to translate on the field, it adds more joy to the game.  

The bond is especially strong between some of the young players with National League backgrounds.

“Sonnett and Sam [Mewis] are my homies,” Lavelle said while noting those two as the teammates most likely to make her laugh.

Ertz said that the group of players who have transitioned into the team over the last few years certainly bring some personality to the team, in addition to the energy added on the field. According to Sonnett, those two factors may be connected.

“We like to have fun with it. If you’re not having fun, it’s going to be pretty brutal,” Sonnett said. “It is a lengthy process. I like joking around and having the chemistry on and off the field — it’s good for team morale. It builds bonds. Everyone is working as a unit.”

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