The last time the U.S. Women’s National Team played a match in Colorado, it resulted in a thrilling 5-3 win over Australia on April 4, 2019. The match featured not only the birth of Megan Rapinoe’s iconic “Pose” but also featured a pair of second-half goals from Colorado native Mallory Pugh.
“That was a great game!” Pugh said reflecting back on the match at DSGP. “It was so fun. I think my favorite goal that I’ve scored was that game.” Which goal was Pugh referring to? It could have been either! She scored that night on her first touch of the game from the top right corner of the six-yard box and then again for the last goal of the game, chipping the goalkeeper from the top of the penalty area.
Three years later, the USWNT is back in Denver, this time taking on Colombia in the first of two friendly matches before the team departs for World Cup and Olympic Qualifying at the 2022 Concacaf W Championship. The roster for these matches features four Colorado natives in Pugh (Highlands Ranch), Lindsey Horan (Golden), and childhood teammates Sophia Smith (Windsor) and Jaelin Howell (Windsor).
During a midweek media availability at the Denver Broncos’ training facility, Pugh, Smith and Howell expressed the excitement of being home and playing in front of family and friends. Smith was especially looking forward to what will likely be her first international cap in Colorado. Howell also has yet to play for the USA in front of a Colorado crowd.
“It feels great, I haven’t played for the National Team in Denver yet, back home, so I think it’s going to be surreal,” said Smith. “It’s just nice to be close to home and to be able to have lots of family come to the game. I think I got around 20-something tickets for family and close friends.” She added that her list of supporters will include former coaches and mentors as well.
“I dreamed of this moment,” Smith continued. “Of being able to represent my country in the state I grew up in, I mean, it’s a dream come true. To be able to share this experience with them, it’s going to mean everything and hopefully it will be one of my favorite games I’ve ever played.”
Howell, who also hails from Windsor and has been playing soccer with Smith since elementary school, was named to the roster for the Colombian friendlies, but will not be traveling to Mexico for the Concacaf W Championship. Still, she is looking forward to contributing however she can as the USWNT prepares for a big month.
“If I get to play, I’ve just got to go in there like it’s just another game,” said Howell. “I’m more excited because it’s in front of a home crowd and my family and I’m just going to soak it in and do my best.”
While they will have numerous family and friends in the stands, the bond of being from Colorado, even when the team in different stats or different countries, is something that the Coloradans share.
“It’s awesome,” said Smith. “It’s like having family on the team. Jaelin and I grew up together, I’ve known Mal for a long time, Lindsey and I are super close, so it’s really fun. And for all of us to get to do this together and come home and play in front of our family, it’ll be a night that we all remember for a long time.”
Every family dynamic has a leader and the Colorado squad has found that leadership and guidance in Horan. The midfielder has had 25 goals and 34 assists over 109 appearances with the USWNT and was a part of the World Cup win in 2019. She has just returned from winning the UEFA Women’s Champions league with Olympique Lyon. Now, Pugh, Smith and Howell all look up to her.
“Lindsey’s the type of friend that it doesn’t matter if we go months without seeing each other, it’s the same exact thing once we come back together,” said Smith. “So it’s great to be back with Lindsey and get to spend a month with her – hopefully we don’t get tired of each other!”
Pugh, a 2019 World Cup champion in her own right, also values her relationship with Horan, one that has seen more time on the field together than the others. “I look up to her in so many different ways. She’s one of my best friends and I think that there’s no one more deserving than her for what she’s accomplished so far.”
While jokingly giving credit to training at the higher altitude as a reason so many Coloradans make it into the WNT and WYNT programs, Pugh said she couldn’t put her finger on it. But she knows that every one of them, herself included, “just wants to make Colorado proud.”
Howell gave credit to the top clubs and excellent coaches in Colorado who play a huge part in helping players grow their games, but Smith also said it’s the representation that makes a big impact as well.
“You always want have dreams and see people who are doing what you want to do,” said Smith. “So, us just being here and [younger players] being able to see that ‘they’re from Colorado, they’re just like me, I can do that one day too,’ I think is huge.”
A capacity crowd at DSGP will give the Colorado players, and all their teammates, yet another chance to be those great role models, to inspire and to make all Colorado fans proud.