Only Getting Started
Unlike Press and McCaffrey, 17-year-old Mallory Pugh is what could be considered a veteran of the Youth National Team circuit. She was one of the top scorers in her U-17 WNT cycle and was named to the 2014 U-20 Women’s World Cup roster when she was just 16 years old. She is currently the U-20 WNT captain and most recently led the way for the USA at the 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Women’s Championship in Honduras, helping the team win the title and secure a berth to the 2016 U-20 Women’s World Cup. And along the way she earned the Golden Boot and Golden Ball as the top scorer and top player of the tournament.
Despite her young age, Pugh is no stranger to coming up big during important moments. Her experiences have helped her mature faster, handle herself well, and understand the responsibilities that come with playing at the next level. It’s one of the many reasons the 17-year old was chosen to captain a team with several players who are older than her. It’s also not surprising why Pugh received her first invitation to the senior WNT camp just days after winning the CONCACAF title in Honduras.
“I remember I had just gotten back from Honduras and I was at the airport in Denver about to go home, and I checked my email and there it was,” said Pugh. “I was super excited and more nervous than anything. But it was a great opportunity and I was excited.”
A few weeks later, Pugh was off to California to join 26 senior WNT players at the 2016 January Camp. She knew some of the players, as they had been on youth teams together, but in general this was a whole new ball game for the youngster. At first, she will admit, it was rather intimidating. The speed of play was blazing and some of the players were 10 or more years older than her.
“This was different than what I was used to,” admitted Pugh. “I was nervous, oh yeah. I remembered walking into the meal room and just seeing everyone and just thinking, ‘oh my gosh, this is so weird.’ I was just quiet, but then as the week went on, and the soccer came along, everything came together and I loosened up.”
After three weeks of intense training, the U.S. women made the trip to San Diego to face the Republic of Ireland in their first friendly of the year. Pugh was told she would suit up, but she had no idea if she would see the field. Knowing it was her first time at a senior camp, her first time being involved at the senior level, she felt ok okay if she didn’t play. Maybe it wasn’t her time just yet.
But her moment came 58 minutes into the contest.
The referee raised her flag to announce a USA substitution and it was forward Alex Morgan who began jogging off the field. Morgan, who had scored earlier in the match, was celebrating her 100th game with the WNT, while Pugh was about to enter her first, a sweet contrast between two important moments in the career of two players, one reaching the century mark, and the other becoming the youngest player to debut for the U.S. WNT since 2005.
Pugh entered the match, got a touch on the ball and allowed the excitement she was feeling to overpower the nerves. Having her teammates around was important to her. They gave her an extra boost of confidence she didn’t know she needed. A few weeks prior she was guiding the U-20s and now the reigning World Cup champions were guiding her.
Then Pugh etched her name in the record books. In the 83rd minute, Christen Press hit a chipped cross assist that was headed home on a slashing run into the box by the 5-foot-4 Pugh. She became the youngest player to score for the U.S. in the last 16 years and the most recent addition to the first cap, first goal club.
“I don’t really remember how the goal happened,” said Pugh. “It was so fast, but I do remember not even looking to see if it went in. I just heard the crowd go crazy and I ran straight to Press. The fact that she scored on her first cap and I did too… I could just tell when I hugged her that she understood what had happened. She had the biggest smile on her face because she had been there and had done that too.”
It wasn’t just Press who was smiling. Everyone hoped they had witnessed the beginning of a special career.
Ever wondered what a day in the life of a U.S. Women’s National Team player is like? We followed WNT goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris to get an inside look at a day inside WNT training camp, a day that included a weight session and on-field practice.
After a grabbing a quick coffee, the busy day starts early for Harris and the WNT, as they are headed to a weight lifting, the first of two trainings sessions that day.
“The bus ride is always total shenanigans with the people I sit around with. Usually that group is Allie Long, Megan Rapinoe and Ali Krieger. It’s just fun and good vibes heading into our workout.”
First stop of the day: weightlifting. The WNT usually spends about 90 minutes at the gym, and each player has a specialized workout sheet that is tailored to their needs.
“At lifting I usually spend time on my shoulders and continue to strengthen my back; things I need as goalkeeper. Every day I hit the ground, so I have to make sure my arms are strong. Shoulder strength and shoulder stability are key to make sure my arms are moving well and to prevent any injuries.”
As the team exits the gym, several fans await them by the bus and most players, including Harris, stop to sign a few autographs and pose for a few selfies.
“It’s always just really cool to stop and have a chat with the younger generation after or before training sessions. They’re just awesome.”
“Our van leaves the hotel about 45 minutes before the field players whenever we go to the training. I always have a pre-training and pre-game routine of taping my fingers and hands. It’s a personal preference and to be honest, I’ve always done it. Being at training earlier helps us get some good stretching in, stay focused and it allows us to nail down techniques and work individually and collectively as a small group before we jump in with everyone else.”
For afternoon training, Harris, along with Alyssa Naeher and Jane Campbell, as well as goalkeeper coach Graeme Abel, all pile into a team van and head to training earlier than the field players to spend some time working on their technique and specific areas before the rest of the team arrives.
“Alyssa and I have very good communication and no one has a better view or can critique one another better than each other. If we see something we tell each other and help each other out.”
After training, the players all cool down, chat with each other, hydrate and reflect on the session they just completed.
“We tend to immediately grab our protein shakes. We talk about the day, what we saw on the field, what we can fix, what wasn’t good, what was good and we just overall critique the game in every way we can to become better.”
“Once we’re back in the hotel, it’s all about treatment. Like true professionals, we must take care of our bodies and be responsible to get the treatment we need. Our bodies take a beating from all the impact at training so we take care of it to do it all over again the day after.”