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.
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.”