ussoccer.com: What’s the question you are most tired of answering?
Kyle Beckerman: How long have you been growing your dreads? (laughs) The answer is seven or eight years.
ussoccer.com: You’ve been a part of this qualifying campaign from start to finish. What have been your impressions overall?
KB: “First off, it’s been a lot of fun. There have been really enjoyable challenges, from going to Antigua and playing in the monsoon to coming and playing in Salt Lake in front of our home crowd. It’s been a really cool journey and one I’ll never forget.”
ussoccer.com: A new coach and new cycle brings different challenges. Now two years in, how would you say you have been impacted?
KB: “Going through this always teaches you a little bit about the competition we have in this region. This round has shown that the other countries in CONCACAF are getting stronger. For me, I just have more experience now than I did before.
ussoccer.com: Your roles with Real Salt Lake and the National Team are somewhat different. How do you deal with the transition of moving between different environments?
KB: “The biggest thing for me is the similarities that I’m going to bring to Salt Lake and here, and that’s going in every day and training or playing with the same intensity, the same energy, and really bringing it. No matter if you’re the captain, the biggest leader or a newcomer, it goes a long way. That’s what I try to do, especially coming in here. More than anything, it’s working hard and putting it in every day. When you come into the National Team, the quality of play is amazing, and that’s what makes it so much fun.
ussoccer.com: Jurgen always says that’s why you are a guy he wants to call in all the time, saying you bring it every day and are a ‘pure giver’. It’s been the case in the last two years that for as many times as you’ve played, you’ve also come in and not gotten time. How do you manage to continue to bring the same intensity, energy and attitude?
KB: “I’ve realized you can only control what you can control. For me, that means my effort and what I give every day. If I’m not playing, I’m not going to sit there and pout. I’m going to try and go to practice and make it tougher on the guys who are playing so when they get to the game it’s easier for them. If I’m playing, it’s to get ready to make the job of the guys around me easier. It’s not hard – it’s the National Team, and it’s an honor any time you get to be part of the squad. For my mindset, it’s just to be ready no matter what your role is. I want to be ready for whatever comes my way.”
ussoccer.com: That seems like an easy approach, but that also takes a mental strength not every player is able to maintain. Where does that mentality come from for you?
KB: “It comes from my parents and the way they raised me and my brother. Also, being involved in wrestling growing up and doing that and soccer side by side was huge. The discipline that came with wrestling is still something that has stayed with me.”
ussoccer.com: You’ve been known to break out a guitar or ukulele on some of these trips. What attracts you to playing music?
KB: “First off, I like music. I really enjoy listening to it. I look at it almost like a language. It’s cool the more you practice and the more you speak it, you become better and more comfortable. It’s a good hobby to have. It’s similar to golf for me where people play for a really long time and keep getting better and better.”
ussoccer.com: You’ve also been asked a lot if the World Cup is a like a carrot dangling in front of you. Doesn’t the answer seem obvious?
KB: “It does. I get asked ‘when do you think about the World Cup the most, and I say ‘when people ask me about it.’ With our sport, you always have to do the next thing. If you win one game, you have to be ready to win the next. If you get one call up, you have to try to get the next one. A lot of people who don’t follow soccer don’t understand you always have to prove yourself to get called in. You start to think that now the World Cup is getting closer since we’ve qualified, it’s right around the corner. But it’s still quite a long way away, so it’s something you stick in the back of your mind. It’s exciting when you think maybe I could be on that team, but there is so much work to be done still, and that’s what keeps me from thinking about it too much.”
ussoccer.com: Before we sat down, we were talking about World Cup preparation plans and you said ‘I have to get there first.’ Does the fact that you were in the mix last time around and didn’t make it keep you from looking too far ahead?
KB: “I guess it’s because I’ve never been this close to making it. For a while, the National Team was really done for me, and I didn’t think it was going to come back. When Jurgen came and it was a second chance, I wanted to run with it and really take advantage of the opportunity put in front of me. It’s the unknown, so I don’t want to get ahead of myself and say I’m going to be there, but at the same time I also want to have the possibility in the back of my mind. This is what we are all working so hard for.”
The combination of natural born talent, hard work, an excellent support system and the tremendous support given to the U.S. Youth National Team programs has allowed Mallory Pugh to have some unique soccer experiences before the age of 18.
She started in a U-20 Women’s World Cup at 16-years-old, debuted for the full U.S. National Team at 17, scored her first international goal at the senior level in front of more than 23,000 fans and became the youngest U.S. female player ever to play in an Olympic Qualifying match.
Those accomplishments have earned her the acclaim of being one of the top young players in the world.
“I remember coming into January Camp for the WNT following the [World Cup] Qualifying tournament for the U-20s the month before and being nervous,” Pugh said. “But then as the soccer came along and we started playing more and more, that's when things became a lot more comfortable and easy. Now things are great and I'm excited for what's ahead.”
The Highlands Ranch, Colorado native, debuted with the WNT on Jan. 23 in San Diego against the Republic of Ireland. In only 33 minutes of play, Pugh showed she belonged. She scored her first goal 25 minutes into her senior team career, making her the 19th player in team history to score in her first cap and the sixth-youngest player to record a goal in the history of the women's program. Three months later, Pugh has appeared in all 11 games for the USA this year.
But when Pugh isn't on the field, it’s no surprise that she lives life like a regular teenager who is ready (really ready!) to graduate from high school; she is currently fighting a serious case of senioritis. She enjoys going to the mall, hanging out with friends, and hiking, if of course the weather is nice.
Another recent occurrence in her life? Her prom date was late for photos, a big no-no in the unspoken rules of prom etiquette.
Prom pics aside, it’s likely that Pugh will be the subject of many photographs in the coming months as she has quickly become comfortable at the highest levels of the international game and is competing for a spot on the 2016 Olympic Team. She has started seven of the 11 matches she has played so far for head coach Jill Ellis’ squad, scoring twice and adding five assists, which is tied for the most on the team in 2016.
Despite her limited senior team experience, she is fast accumulating fans, who enjoy her dynamic style, her comfort on the ball, surgical distribution of passes and ability to break down teams on the dribble.Read more