Eighteen-year-old Mallory Pugh, the youngest player in the U.S. Women’s National Team player pool, started 12 games for Jill Ellis’s squad in 2016 and is the captain of the U-20 WNT. Pugh had a fantastic year in 2016, and has blossomed into a fan favorite and one of the top attacking players for the United States.
Here are five things to know about the Colorado native:
In December of 2015 at the CONCACAF U-20 Women’s Qualifying Tournament, Pugh scored seven goals in five games, which included a brace in three of them, and recorded four assists to help the USA win the tournament title and qualify for the U-20 Women’s World Cup. Her performance not only earned her the Golden Boot as the top scorer of the tournament and the Golden Ball as the best player, but it also earned her a call-up to the full WNT, a dream come true for the then 17-year-old. In fact, Pugh got the call from Ellis when she was still at the airport making her way back to Colorado following the tournament win in Honduras.
Pugh captained the USA to the 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Women's Qualifying Tournament title last December in Honduras.
Pugh joined the senior squad in Carson, California that January, and grinded out three weeks of intense training before traveling to San Diego for the USA’s inaugural match of 2016 against the Republic of Ireland on Jan. 23. Coming in for Alex Morgan in the 58th minute, Pugh made her U.S. WNT debut at 17 years, 8 months and 25 days, and thus became the youngest player to debut in the last 11 years of the WNT program. She also became the 19th player to score in her first cap when she added the fifth and final goal of the game in the 83rd minute, a header off an assist from Christen Press.
Following that match, things continued to evolve for Pugh as her versatility and confidence began to grow. Pugh earned her second cap with the WNT on Feb. 10, coming in for Crystal Dunn in the second half of the USA’s Olympic Qualifying opening match against Costa Rica. With her appearance, she became the youngest player in WNT history to play in an Olympic Qualifying match at 17 years, 9 months and 12 days old. On Feb. 15, she earned her first start for the USA, playing 66 minutes against Puerto Rico and contributing with an assist, the first one of her international career.
Of the 21 games the USA has played so far in 2016 – she missed the last two September friendlies because it conflicted with U-20 training camp – Pugh has played in 17 of them and started 12. She has scored four goals and has seven assists, a number that ties her with Tobin Heath for second-best on the team.
When Pugh was named to the 18-player U.S. Women’s Soccer Olympic Roster on July 12, less than six months after making her WNT debut, she became the second youngest women’s soccer Olympian in U.S. history, and the only amateur player on the roster. Pugh played in three of the four games the USA played in Brazil, starting two. Against Colombia on Aug. 9 in Manaus, Pugh, who came in as sub in the 33rd minute, became the youngest player in U.S. history to score at an Olympic Games when she tallied in the 60th minute of the match.
Crystal Dunn set up the goal with a blistering run down the left flank of Colombia’s defense before sending a low cross through the goal mouth that arrived at the feet of Pugh on the back right post. Pugh attempted a first-time shot but it hit teammate Christen Press and came right back to her. Pugh then dribbled laterally past three defenders to the center of the box and snapped a left-footed shot through a crowd of Colombia players into the back of the net. WATCH: Pugh’s Olympic goal.
Pugh scored her first Olympic goal against Colombia on Aug. 9, becoming the youngest player in U.S. history to tally at an Olympic Games.
From Rookie to Captain
Although she is one of the less experienced players in the full National Team environment, Pugh is the leader and a veteran with the U-20s. She was a starter at the age of 16 in the 2014 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup and is the captain for this cycle.
“I think being in the last U-20 World Cup helped me in the sense that I know what the expectations are and what I can do to help and hopefully lead my teammates through that. Obviously, I was young a player back then and I looked up to the captains and they helped, so hopefully I can do the same.”
U-20 WNT Veteran
Despite only being 18-years-old, the 2016 U-20 Women’s World Cup will be the second one at the level for Pugh. As a 16-year-old, Pugh was the youngest player on the U.S. roster that fell short in a penalty shootout against Korea DPR in the quarterfinals of the 2014 U-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada. Pugh started all four games for the USA. Now in her second cycle with the U-20s, Pugh is the most capped player at this age group. Even more incredible is that Pugh is eligible for the 2018 U-20 World Cup, which would make her the first player in U.S. history to compete at three U-20 World Cups if she were to make that roster two years from now.
Besides her soccer acumen, Pugh is a fun personality off the field. She likes to joke around, wants to learn how to surf and loves to sing. In fact, Pugh seems to be a very talented singer and is able to master various genres, as seen below.
2016 was a whirlwind for Pugh, but she is certainly excited to have much more soccer to look forward to in her future.
"This has been an incredible year. There have been lots of us and downs but it’s been worth it. I’m excited for whatever comes next.”