She was born in Colorado, where the Rocky Mountains loom large, but there seems to be something that clicks for U.S. WNT forward Mallory Pugh at sea level in the city of San Diego.
On January 21, Pugh put together a memorable performance against EURO runners-up Denmark, earning an assist in the first half and scoring twice – her first career brace – in the second to help the U.S. kick-start 2018 on a high note with a dominant come-from-behind 5-1 win in front of 17,526 fans at SDCCU Stadium.
Both of her goals came after she picked up off passes inside Denmark’s defensive half and Pugh said the team had been working on its high-pressure defense, so being able to put those lessons into action was rewarding.
“We have been working on our defensive shape and I think that from that defensive shape, I had a lot of attacking opportunities, we all did,” she said. “Our game defensively fit right into what they were trying to do, and fortunately I able to win those balls and then was able to execute in the final third.”
Indeed, when the opportunities presented themselves, Pugh, whose soccer growth has been on display for club and country in the last two years, [almost literally] ran away with them.
The match also marked a return to the familiar confines of SDCCU Stadium (previously Qualcomm Stadium), where the USA has played three times in the last two years, facing the Republic of Ireland on Jan. 23, 2016, and Brazil at the Tournament of Nations on July 30, 2017.
For Pugh, who is still just 19-years-old, the stadium and the city hold a special place in her heart and memory, as this was the venue where she made her National Team debut – and scored her first international goal – in that match against Ireland. She became the 19th U.S. WNT player to score in her first cap and the youngest player to debut for the U.S. in the last 11 years.
She was 17 years, 8 months and 25 days old at the time.
Now, two years later, but still a teenager, Pugh has 30 caps, eight goals, and 12 career assists, the most for a WNT player before the age of 20. She also sits in fourth place all-time for most goals scored before the age of 20 for the WNT, with only Cindy Parlow (15), and Mia Hamm (14) and Christie Welsh (11) ahead of her.
Alex Morgan celebrates with Pugh after the two combined to score the game-tying goal against Denmark.
The best part? There’s still a long way to go for Pugh as she continues to progress within the U.S. WNT and the NWSL.
“[Mal] is a player that’s obviously come a long way, but we’re just kind of scratching the surface in terms of her endpoint,” U.S. WNT head coach Jill Ellis said following the game against Denmark. “I think the confidence is there and she’s obviously got great skill set with her technique and athleticism. I think she’s growing in every area of the game and in her sophistication. When you talk about Mal, she’s not just a finisher, she’s also a distributer and that makes her a double threat. I still think there’s even more to get out of her.”
Despite all her early success, the humble Pugh has kept her feet firmly on the ground. She plays with confidence and a bit of swagger, but is also a great teammate and willing to play whatever role is asked. She continues to listen, to learn and to get better.
Following Sunday’s match, Pugh was asked if her own expectations are higher than those coming from outsiders. After breaking into a wide smile, she concluded the interview session with a resounding “yes,” turned, and walked to the bus. Still many miles to go on what so far has been an exciting start to her career.