U.S. Women’s National Team rising star Mallory Pugh was officially introduced as a member of the Washington Spirit on Tuesday at the Maryland SoccerPlex. Pugh, a 19-year-old from Colorado, will be the only USWNT player on the 2017 Spirit roster.
The announcement that Pugh would be coming to the Spirit came on Saturday, May 13, after Pugh publicly released her decision to leave UCLA and the ensuing weeks of speculation regarding where the U-20 and Olympic star would end up.
“Actually, I went to training in the morning and then made the announcement,” Pugh said in her introductory press conference. “There was a bunch of emotions going on. There was nerves, excitement, everything. I was just getting flooded with texts and people just supporting me which is just heartfelt.”
Pugh decided to play professionally after completing just under two of UCLA’s academic quarters, where due to the U-20 World Cup, she never actually suited up for the Bruins. The decision to leave came just months after rumors of her skipping college altogether to go play for the Portland Thorns.
“Obviously last year there were rumors that I was going to go to the NWSL straight out of high school. For me, I felt again like in life, you just need to experience stuff,” Pugh said. “At this point in my life, I wanted to kind of step out of my comfort zone and push myself to another level. I had a lot of conversations with some of my close coaches, my parents, my friends and ultimately it was kind of my decision and I think I’m happy with my decision. I think coming here, everything was just welcoming and it feels good.”
Ever since Pugh announced her intentions to play professionally, rumors quickly spread that Pugh was unlikely to play in Washington, the team that would have her rights if she came into the league via the Distribution List. Most of the talk centered on the idea that she would seek a trade to Portland or would take her talents to Europe. When news broke late last week that she was headed to Washington, many were shocked.
“The talk that you heard and the reports that were out there were prior to us having the chance to present what our club had to offer and get a chance to make a connection with her and find out what she wanted in turning pro,” head coach and general manager Jim Gabarra said during the press conference. “Once that information was out there, she took her time and made the decision that was best for her.”
Pugh’s decision to stay in the United States ultimately came down to the opportunity to help her grow as an athlete and to help the USWNT.
“For me, at this point in my life, I think staying here in the NWSL, this league is going to grow so much, and I think staying here is going to help my growth,” Pugh said. “I think it’s going to better because I can help the Washington Spirit wins games and then I can help the national team hopefully win games too.”
While Pugh is a rising star on the international stage, Gabarra wants people to remember that she still is just 19-years-old. Even if she does not thrive in the league right away, the team won’t worry.
“It’s important that we not have too high expectations for Mallory,” Gabarra said. “This is a long process whether it’s a 19-year-old or a 30-year-old international that hasn’t played in our league. It takes almost a year of games to really feel comfortable and to figure it out. It’s important that we let Mal enjoy the process and really be free to just learn and develop and not to say she’s coming in here to lift this team up.”
Pugh will most likely make her debut this Saturday, May 20th, when the Spirit welcome FC Kansas City to the Maryland SoccerPlex. Kickoff for the match is set for 7 p.m. ET.