Mallory Pugh lives up to expectations for the US women’s national team


Early in the second half on Saturday, with United States women’s soccer team Mallory Pugh had already led Nigeria with three goals in Kansas City, and he had collected the ball from Emily Fox near the touchline.

The space and angle was just right to do the run, but if there was any doubt as to whether Bowie should take on defender Nicole Payne, Megan Rapinoe blurred it.

“Go for it! Go for it!” Rapinoe shouted from outside the field as the reserves were warm.

“I was like, ‘You’re right,’” Pugh recalls on Sunday. “That gave me the extra boost I needed. So credit goes to Pinoe, too.”

Boy Pine attacked, crept into the box, then cut left, pulling the upper body with a contact and a penalty kick, which Alex Morgan turned into a hat. 4-0 . victory.

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Last year and possibly the year before, Poe may not have had the confidence and technical polish to create the opportunity. Once an unmissable talent who transcended NCAA football to become a professional and joins the Washington Spirit in 2017, she admits she got lost, culminating in her omission from the 2020-21 Olympic team.

This year, who is still only 24 years old, Pugh has seen a rebirth of sorts with the highest-rated program in the world. Heading into Tuesday’s rematch with Nigeria at the Odi Stadium, she is second in the squad with six goals and leading on seven assists.

If she scores again before April 29, she’ll become the sixth player in American women’s history with 25 goals and 25 assists before reaching the age of 25. The others are in the National Hall of Fame (Mia Hamm, Cindy Barlow Kohn, Kristen Lilly, and Tiffany Milbrett) or bound for it (Morgan ).

Besides producing for the Chicago Red Stars in the Women’s National Football League, the left-footed forward has scored 18 goals and 12 assists in 28 games this year.

“She is now what a lot of people expected of her when she was 16, 17 and 18 years old,” USA coach Vlatko Andonovsky said.

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Pugh is Andonovsky’s top choice on the left wing, ahead of Rapinoe, who at 37 is still impressive but in smaller bites.

More than half of the US team in Washington are between 22 and 26 years old. Of this group, only Pugh went to the World Cup (2019) or the Olympic Games (2016). Her 79 caps are sixth on the current roster; Her 24 goals are behind only Morgan, Rapinoe and Lindsey Horan.

There was a major hiatus in Pew’s career. After becoming the youngest US Olympic goalscorer and emerging on the professional scene, she struggled.

“I feel a little lost,” she said. “It was an evolution in finding my game. I feel like early on, you’ll see little glimpses of it. But now I feel it’s the confidence and clarity that came together to find what I am on the field.”

Injuries played a large role in the stunting of spore growth. Every time she tried to raise her level, a hamstring or hip disease, among other things, was holding her back. Unable to perform at a high level, and not live up to high expectations since her breakthrough as a teen, she was traded twice in the NWSL and fell on the national team depth chart.

“Maal has had some tough times in her career, and as good as it looks now, looking back, it was actually a good time for her — a good moment for her to regroup, reset and grow as a player and as an individual player,” Andonovsky said. “When she came back, she was mentally stronger and she had developed.”

Expectations affected Pugh as well.

“I don’t know if I felt it at the time, but now, there are little things that affected me,” she said of her early jumps to the NFL and the national team. “It would affect anyone at this age. You have all these eyes on you. You started well but expectations are so high all the time.”

The low point was when Andonovsky told her she would not be on the Olympic team in Tokyo.

“That was completely fair,” Pugh said. “This is it [high] level of this team. But they didn’t abandon me either. There was regular communication, which gave me a little bit of confidence because it wasn’t like, “Oh, I’m totally done with the national team.” Everyone realized that I wasn’t doing well. I can get another chance.”

The opportunity came after a strong end to the 2021 NWSL season, with Pugh placing second in OL Reign’s Jess Fishlock’s MVP vote and helping the Red Stars to a championship match. This year, Pugh tied for fourth place in the league in goals (eight) and tied for first place in assists (five).

“Playing with her is probably what I’d rather play against her,” said Fox, of Ashburn, who plays left-back for USA Racing and Louisville for NWSL. “I mean, she was killing her.”

Pugh attributes her transformation in part to her mental trainer, Armando Gonzalez, who was recommended by her fiancé, Atlanta Braves Shortstop Dansby Swanson. For the past two years, I’ve been involved in regular sessions with Gonzalez, usually via video call.

“I felt like my whole identity was covered in football,” she said. “I work with [Gonzalez]It allowed me to take a deep breath and find my way instead of being hard on myself.”

Pugh says her life is now much closer. With a large group of athletes among the approximately 260 invited guests, she and Swanson will marry in Georgia in December, which is fitting for both.

In season, as their sports overlap, they find little gaps in the schedule to see each other. This weekend, their travel calendars align in Seattle.

Next summer, barring an injury or a drop in Pugh’s performance, the pair will be several weeks apart when the World Cup takes place in Australia and New Zealand.

“I didn’t look that far,” she said. “Little by little it helps because I’ve learned that looking too far into the future stresses me out a little. When I focus on what’s in front of me, it’s a different feeling of confidence. Now I understand that I totally understand what I’m doing and how special I am in this field.”