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.
Away from the pitch, Pugh is looking forward to graduating – she has committed to attend UCLA in the fall – and turns 18 today.
“I don't really have any plans,” Pugh said. “I'll probably go to dinner with my friends. I never really have plans on my birthday. I don’t know why. I just wake up that day and I'm like, oh I guess it's my birthday.”
While the sometimes soft-spoken Pugh isn’t preparing to celebrate her personal milestone, she looks forward to the liberties that come with being 18.
“I'm super excited to be able to vote,” Pugh stated. “It's cool for me because right now I'm in U.S. Government class and we just finished these projects on the candidates and their platforms, so I feel that I've learned so much about what is happening and know more and feel more prepared.”
When Pugh isn’t playing soccer, she says her life is “pretty chill.” A good thing, as that’s perhaps just what she needs in order to recover physically and mentally when she returns home from the competitive environment that comes with playing on the number-one ranked team in the world.
“It’s intense,” Pugh said. “It isn't easy to handle school and soccer when you're playing in the youth teams, but with the Women's National Team it reaches a whole other level. When I'm in camp, I'll do a lot of homework, especially things I can do online. When I get back I'll go and talk to my teachers and make up whatever I may have missed.”
“My teachers have been incredible and my friends have helped me a lot too. When I'm not in camp, a week for me is going to school and soccer, and then just hanging out with my friends, going shopping or going to get lunch, either Fridays or Saturdays. On Sundays I’ll just hang out with my family and just lay low.”
As the school year dwindles down, Pugh, like many other teen in the United States, spent the last few weeks preparing for prom. When the night finally arrived, she had a lot of fun, despite her date’s tardiness.
USWNT starlet Mallory Pugh (far left) takes a photo with her friends ahead of Senior Prom.
As a summer that could be filled with more amazing experiences approaches, she is focused on wrapping up her classes, taking AP (Advanced Placement) exams and finalizing a big senior project: how fashion correlates with your personality.
Pugh is ecstatic and ready to make the move to Los Angeles in a few months to begin life as a college student. This of course means she will be starting another new chapter, and leaving her youth club, Real Colorado, behind, but she will be eternally grateful to the club and her coaches that helped her grow into the player she has become.
“I'm excited to be at UCLA, on a beautiful campus and have the college experience,” Pugh said. “But I've been with my club team since I was five years old, so it will be bittersweet. I know I'll still talk to all of my friends though. It would be too sad if we don't.”
Mallory Pugh got her start on the soccer fields of Colorado at the tender age of five.
As far as new experiences go, the next one for Pugh will be a doozy as the WNT travels to Commerce City, Colorado on June 2 to kick-off a two-game series against 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup runner-up Japan (7 p.m. MT; FS1). Pugh may get the chance to play in her home state in front of many friends and family.
“I'm enjoying this right now, and I can't wait to see my family and friends in the stands in Colorado and having them see what the National Team is all about,” she said. “I think that's what I'm most excited about, having these two things that matter so much to me come together in my home state.”
With only a few games left before the 2016 Olympic Games, Pugh is also coming to terms with the possibility that she could make the Olympic roster, something she says she always dreamed of, but admittedly, didn't think would be an option this early in her career.
“I remember looking back, after my freshman year in high school and it was after the Olympics and thinking, wow that could be really cool,” Pugh recalled. “If I were to make the team this year it would be a huge accomplishment for me because over the years that has been one of my goals, even if 2016 wasn't when I originally thought it'd happen. Now that I know there is a chance, it would be so special.”
And surely a picture standing on an Olympic podium with your teammates would make up for any missing prom photos.
On Feb. 9, 2013, the U.S. Women’s National Team kicked off the new year with a 4-1 victory against Scotland in Jacksonville, Florida. Christen Press, then 24-years-old, was responsible for two goals that day, scoring in the 13th minute and adding another in the 32nd to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead at halftime.
The early goal was Press’ first for the USA, coming in a match that was also her first cap.
Becky Sauerbrunn hugs Christen Press in the aftermath of Press scoring on her WNT debut.
Earning that first cap is special for any player, but a debut and a goal in the same game? That’s a rare feat. In the 30+ year history of the U.S. WNT 21 players have scored in their first caps.
NOTHING TO LOSE
Press’ path to that first game three years ago was an interesting one. In early 2012, she made the decision to move to Sweden after U.S.-based Women’s Professional Soccer folded. Press thought leaving the country might negatively impact her hopeful National Team career, but little did she know, it was only just beginning.
“I think just because I always thought that the National Teams would be watching the American league, I thought that going abroad was kind of like saying goodbye to my dream of playing for the National Team,” recalled Press. “I left around this time, in February, and I thought I would not get a call, I sort of thought that I would fall out of U.S. Soccer’s radar.”
As it turns out, head coach Pia Sundhage kept tabs on players in Europe, especially in her native land of Sweden. Press got off to a hot start with her new club, and it wasn’t long before she was on her way back home.
Press returned to the U.S. and joined the WNT in Florida in April during the final stretch of what had been an intense fitness camp. She kept to herself and tried to quickly learn as much as possible despite only being there for five days.
“I had nothing to lose,” she said. “It was my first camp, it was warm and I was so happy. I don’t think I spoke to anybody. I was not nervous, I was just happy to be in Florida and my dream was coming true. I’m always quiet when I don’t know my surroundings, so I just kept to myself trying to learn the rules, how to behave; it was all so quick.”
That short stint turned out to be the only one for Press before she was named an Olympic alternate in 2012. The following February, Tom Sermanni took over as WNT head coach, and it was then Press learned she would start against Scotland. Her chance had arrived.
“I went on the field, the crowd was so much bigger than I’d ever played in front of, and for me it was so much bigger than life,” said Press. “But I kept telling myself, ‘I’m not nervous, I’m confident, I’m a good player and I believe in myself.’”
Years and multiple goals later, plus one Women’s World Cup title to her name, the dream is alive and well for Press.
Press celebrates scoring her first World Cup goal against Australia in the USA's opening match of the 2015 Women's World Cup