When Rose Lavelle scored her first World Cup goal earlier this month, her best friend and roommate was not watching from the stands or on TV, but from the bench.
“Mal told me she cried when I scored,” Lavelle recalls with a laugh, referring to Mallory Pugh.
Lavelle and Pugh, teammates with the Washington Spirit and roommates back home in Rockville, are both with the U.S. women’s national team, taking part in their inaugural World Cup in France. Their first taste of competition on the world’s biggest stage could hardly have gone better.
The 24-year-old Lavelle started and scored two goals in the USWNT’s opener against Thailand, while Pugh came off the bench and also scored as the U.S. dominated their opponents in a 13-0 rout that set a tournament record for the highest margin of victory in a game.
Pugh then started in the team’s second match against Chile, while Lavelle returned to the lineup as the U.S. defeated Sweden last week to finish out the group stage winning all three games.
The two goals against Thailand were extra special for Lavelle, who, one year ago, wasn’t even sure she’d be on the World Cup roster following an extended period out with injury.
Knowing what Lavelle has been through, Pugh was emotional when she saw her close friend score just 20 minutes into her first World Cup game.
“I shed a tear—or a few—when she scored,” Pugh admits. “It was so emotional for me because I’ve seen Rose put in so much work and I know that her road here has been kind of rocky and she’s had some injuries.”
Lavelle missed the better part of a year with a recurring hamstring injury, only making her return toward the end of last summer as World Cup qualifying was approaching.
Though her recovery was lengthy and frustrating, Lavelle believes that she is now stronger for having gone through it.
“It was tough but I think for how hard it was there were a lot of silver linings,” Lavelle says.“I think I learned a lot from it and I feel like I’ll be a better player and have a longer career because of it.”
Pugh has been there every step of the way for Lavelle. The duo, along with Andi Sullivan, who also plays for the Spirit and just missed out on the U.S. World Cup roster, share an apartment in Rockville, which has allowed them to become close off the field as well.
“Living with her back in D.C. I’ve seen her put in extra work,” Pugh says. “As a friend I was just so proud of her. Just to see that hard work pay off, it was really cool.”
Lavelle is grateful to have Pugh by her side, as her recovery from injury culminated in a World Cup debut to remember.
“Mal is one of my best friends so it’s been fun to be able to experience this with her,” she says. “It’s been awesome to be able to continue to build our relationship when we’re away from this environment on and off the field, so we’re both excited to be able to have this opportunity.”
Though both players, along with Sullivan, are stars for the Spirit, they have differing roles on the U.S. national team.
Lavelle is the team’s creative hub, playing a vital role as a central attacking midfielder. By contrast, Pugh has settled into a role as a late-game spark, giving her team a much-needed injection of speed off the bench to take advantage of tiring defenses.
Pugh isn’t concerned about playing a role as a substitute. The 21-year-old is the team’s second-youngest player, and she knows her experience in France will help her moving forward when she inevitably steps into a more prominent role.
“My goal is to be the best teammate that I can be and play whatever role that is, if it’s starting it’s starting, if it’s coming off the bench, it’s coming off the bench,” Pugh says. “We all want to win a World Cup and in order to do that all 23 players need to be able to be ready.”
Should the U.S. win the World Cup it would cap off a dream tournament for Pugh and Lavelle and perhaps end the same way it began—with a few tears.
“We were looking at each other and almost started tearing up again,” Pugh says of a moment they shared alone after both scored on their World Cup debuts, “because it was so amazing to play in your first World Cup and have your best friend there, too.”