USWNT‘s Tobin Heath may have declared Manchester United “the American team” upon her arrival at the club alongside fellow World Cup winner Christen Press but her Manchester City rivals Rose Lavelle and Sam Mewis will undoubtedly be looking to change that narrative when the two sides meet on Saturday.
From the moment the signings were announced and the four descended on Manchester, eyes have been turned to the Nov. 14 Women’s Super League clash.
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“I hope we can bring an American rivalry to Manchester,” Heath told ESPN in as early as September when asked about the derby.
“We compete against each other all the time so that’s going to bring a little more excitement.”
That excitement of household names coming to the league was felt immediately as was their impact on the pitch.
Sales of jerseys with the names of Heath and Press outsold any of United’s men’s players for the first three days after their signing while Mewis and Lavelle both have FA Cup medals after featuring in the side that beat Everton 3-1 in Wembley in October.
Mewis’ goal on the day made her just the third American to score in an FA Cup final after Carli Lloyd and Christian Pulisic.
Of the four, Mewis has the strongest scoring record thus far with two goals but Heath and Press are just behind her with one each. The United duo’s goals came on the same day in a 4-2 win over West Ham in October.
While Mewis has slipped into the City squad with relative ease, Lavelle is still establishing herself in the side and has yet to find her name on the scoresheet.
“Sometimes when you bring players from another country who are used to playing in a different league you’re never sure how that is going to pan out,” City manager Gareth Taylor said at a news conference on Thursday.
“Sometimes players need a little bit longer. Sam has hit the ground running really quickly. Rose potentially is going to need a bit longer but that’s normal because she was a little bit behind Sam in terms of her fitness so it takes a while to build up.
“When you play it is always about your form. We can see all our players are really good and sometimes they have good form and lulls in that period so I think it’s just a case of supporting them as much as we can and making sure we give them a platform to perform.”
A good performance from Mewis and Lavelle as well as their City teammates will be required as they go into the game as underdogs after a flying start to the season for their Manchester rivals.
United are top of the table unbeaten so far despite it being just their second year in the WSL and their third year in existence as a team. A 1-0 win over Arsenal last weekend marked the first time they had beaten one of the WSL’s traditional top three — City and Chelsea make up the other two.
“I think we are always about winning the next game and our next game is our toughest test in terms of Man City,” United manager Casey Stoney told MUTV. “Arsenal was our toughest test. We won that so we tick that box and now we go onto Man City and it is a really big test for us in terms of our squad and our capabilities but one that I’m more than confident our squad can take on.
“I think Man City have got momentum at the moment. I think they’re a very good side and they’re coming off the back of an FA Cup win. They’re confident.
“They’ve got world class players. They’ve been going a lot longer than us and are more established. They’ve won trophies. It’s a great opportunity for us to go up against them and gauge where we are at.”
Despite being the more established side, City have had a mixed season. Despite the FA Cup win, the side are fifth in the WSL and have struggled to take their chances when they have arisen.
“If everyone wants to put them as favourites that’s fine. We concentrate on what we can do, the intensity of our play and we want to get three points,” City forward Ellen White told a news conference ahead of the game.
“We’ve come off the back of a good week and we’ve got momentum going forward.”
Whatever the result, both sets of players are relishing the opportunity to face off against the other.
“It’s really exciting,” Mewis said. “I know the derby has a lot of historical significance and I’m really excited to be part of it and see the rivalry and competition.
“It will be great [to play against Heath and Press]. I’m excited to see them and it’s always great to play against them — it’s great competition and that’s a good way to challenge yourself.
“There’ll be no trash talk. It will be fun to see them and catch-up after the game.”