Mallory Pugh energized in her return to national team

Mallory Pugh was soccer’s next big thing as a teenager but she has faded from the limelight as she struggled with injuries and consistency.

Now healthy, Pugh has returned to the U.S. national team more determined than ever.

Pugh had a career-high three assists during the United States’ 9-0 victory over Paraguay in Cleveland, her first game with the national team since early 2020. The teams are set for a rematch Tuesday in Cincinnati.

The 23-year-old is making something of a comeback after being left off the roster for the Tokyo Games. Something clearly shifted in Pugh’s mindset while she was away from the team.

“I felt like I needed to see what was important to me and kind of just feel like my old self again and playing free and really with no stress — because I feel like when I first got on the national team, that’s what I did, and it worked out,” she said. “So yeah, to kind of just get back to that. And that’s what I was able to do kind of the past few months.”

A native of Littleton, Colorado, Pugh made her first appearance with the senior national team in 2016 at age 17. She was the youngest woman named to the U.S. team for the 2016 Olympics.

After the Olympics, she enrolled at UCLA but decided to turn professional before her freshman season, something that is still fairly unusual in women’s soccer.

Fellow Colorado native Lindsey Horan turned down North Carolina and instead went to France to play. More recently, Trinity Rodman decided to make herself eligible for the National Women’s Soccer League draft before her first season for Washington State, and Olivia Moultrie joined the Portland Thorns at 15.

Pugh scored six goals her rookie season with the Washington Spirit, then spent a season with Sky Blue (now Gotham) before landing last December with the Chicago Red Stars, her third team in three years.

She has found a groove with Chicago, where she has three goals and three assists this season. She said the Red Stars have been a good fit.

“Over my club career, it’s been a little uneasy. And I finally think I found Chicago to be a place where I can express how I want to play,” she said. “So far, I just love the club. I wanted to be surrounded by players who could push me and, for me, that was being at Chicago.”

Pugh, who was on the U.S. team that won the 2019 World Cup in France, had not been named to a U.S. roster since the 2020 She Believes Cup before the recent friendlies against Paraguay. She had not started for the team since late 2019 until last week.

Her resurgence in the NWSL is one of the reasons she’s back with the national team.

“Very happy with her performance,” U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “This is just one of those games to get her back in, to get her into rhythm with the team, to refresh the principles, and hopefully it’s just the beginning of getting her back to her best.”

Pugh now has 18 goals and 20 assists in 64 career appearances with the national team.

“Obviously, anytime you get invited into a national team camp, it’s always just exciting. I’m excited to be around my friends again, and just see their faces and just share good memories with them,” Pugh said. “And then I think, obviously, on the field stuff is just continuing. My main goal is just continuing the form that I’ve kind of built over the past few months. Really just taking in this camp and every moment.”

___

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