Colorado Soccer Phenom Making Mark on Women’s Soccer
Fluid and fast on the field, Colorado native Mallory Pugh is a tenacious force and one of the most exciting young soccer talents in the world today. The 19-year-old is setting her sights high and already increasing interest in U.S. women’s soccer. In May 2017, the Highlands Ranch native who attended Mountain Vista High School joined the Washington Spirit, a National Women’s Soccer League professional team. She will also be traveling the world with the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team.
Pugh is the real deal. She’s among the rare class of elite athletes able to make the “prep-to-pro” jump from high school to professional sports. Pugh bypassed college soccer. She delayed attending the University of California, Los Angeles until January 2017 due to commitments for the 2016 Rio Olympics and the FIFA Under–20 Women’s World Cup. Then in April, she announced she would not start her freshman soccer season but leave to pursue her professional career.
It’s been just a few months since Pugh’s gone pro and already she’s demonstrated that she’s got the speed, confidence and maturity to play alongside the country’s and world’s top players who are at least five to 10 years her senior. Pugh is a fan favorite – her unpredictable flash and striking veracity turns chances into celebration and victory.
In this recent Q&A with Pugh, she talks about her time on the field, her development as a professional player and gives advice to parents and kids playing sports.
How did your time playing on a Real Colorado competitive team prepare you for playing for the Under-20 World Cup, Rio Olympics, Washington Spirit, and of course, National Team matches?
Pugh: My time with Real Colorado truly shaped my development as a player. Jared Spires was my first Real Colorado coach, and I credit him, along with the rest of my club and high school coaches, with helping me hone the skills I needed in order to play at the highest level possible. Real has a large competitive league. Almost every weekend, I was playing against some of the best players in the country. Of course, the Mountain Vista High School state championship match pitted me and my teammates against the top players in the state. Those games definitely prepared me for events like the Olympics.
Why did you decide to leave UCLA to play professionally? Do you plan to return to college someday?
Pugh: It was definitely a decision that I struggled with. I felt torn between staying and playing at what I consider to be the best college in California or going professional. Ultimately, I decided that it was time for me to challenge myself in a more competitive way. I needed to step out of my comfort zone, polish my skills more and push myself to be the best soccer player possible. I’m grateful for my time at UCLA. I improved as a player and grew as a person while there. I definitely plan to earn a college degree someday, and maybe I’ll be able to do that at UCLA.
How do you view your role on the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team?
Pugh: My goal is always to be a positive force on the field, off the field, for my teammates and fans. During my earlier years playing club and high school soccer, I assumed more of a leadership role. Now, my job is to absorb all that I can, learn from mentors and contribute in ways that help my team win games.
What are your thoughts on the development and direction of U.S. women’s soccer?
Pugh: It’s skyrocketing, and I love it! It’s great to see women’s soccer booming in popularity all over the world. The other day I tuned into ESPN and watched the women’s team from the Netherlands defeat Denmark in the final Women’s Euro match. Just a few years ago, networks didn’t televise women’s soccer. I feel like there’s a growing energy surrounding women’s soccer in the U.S. and abroad, and it’s exciting to be a part of that movement.
How do you stay in prime soccer shape?
Pugh: With Spirit, I’m practicing for 90 minutes every day and playing a game every weekend. There’s a mix of conditioning, strength training, running and drills. But I also balance this activity with time off. When I returned to Washington, D.C. after the Tournament of Nations, I took off a few days to recover. I could tell my body needed a break. It’s important to tune in to how your body is feeling to help prevent injury or burnout.
Nutrition plays a huge role in performance. I make sure to get a good balance of protein and carbohydrates. But I also think it’s important not to deprive yourself. On my off days, you might find me enjoying a hamburger and ice cream. Ice cream is one of my favorite treats.
What advice do you have for parents whose kids are playing sports and for the kids themselves?
Pugh: Parents, be supportive! This is so important. My parents have always had my back no matter what decision I made, whether it was to go to UCLA, leave UCLA, or move east and join Spirit. They never forced me to play soccer or to play at a high level. They respected the fact that soccer was something I had to do. Now, they would probably step in if they ever saw that I wasn’t having fun on the field.
My advice to kids is to stick with it if it’s something you love and are passionate about doing. When it stops being fun, it’s time to reassess your choices.
Your youth is constantly mentioned in news stories. How do you handle the pressure of being one of the youngest players on your professional National and Olympic teams?
Pugh: Honestly, I don’t pay any attention to the hype surrounding my age. As people like to say, age is just a number. I try to ignore the comments and the pressure. I stay close to my teammates. We’re sort of in our own little bubble. Sometimes a teammate might joke about my youth, but it’s done in a fun, friendly manner that makes all of us laugh.
What was it like to be the youngest American soccer player to score a goal at the Olympics?
Pugh: I had no idea that I had set some kind of a record until the game was long over. I was back at my hotel room when someone told me about it. At the time of the goal, I was just really happy. Plus, I kind of got knocked a bit when I took the shot, so I was a little mad about that.
What do you do to unwind and have fun?
Pugh: I do what most teenagers do: I hang out with friends and go to the movies. I Snapchat a lot with my friends in Colorado. I’m hoping to be able to visit them during the off-season. When I’m in Colorado, I love spending time outdoors and camping. I’ve also discovered that I really like reading. It’s a great escape to get into a good story line.
You’ve played soccer in many countries. What was your favorite place to visit and why?
Pugh: When I played with the Women’s Youth National Soccer Team, we often went to smaller cities – not places that most tourists would go. I really enjoyed my time in Staffordshire, England, playing at St. George’s Park National Football Center. Because the area wasn’t touristy, we were able to get a good feel for how the locals live. I also really liked Jamaica because we were right on the beach and there was a yummy ice cream stand near our hotel!
Who is your soccer role model and why?
Pugh: Mia Hamm is certainly someone I look up to. I love the way she played and her fierce mentality really showed on the field. She’s well known for being a great person off the field, as well. I admire that. Another player I have a lot of respect for is Brazilian professional soccer player Ronaldinho. I’ve spent a lot of time watching You Tube videos of him. I love his Brazilian style of play.
Mallory Pugh’s Trajectory
1998 | Born April 29
2002 | At age 4, Pugh began playing organized youth soccer with Real Colorado in Centennial and continued with them until she was 18.
2011 | Pugh was selected for the Under-14 National Team training camp.
2012 | As a high school freshman, Pugh was named to the All-Colorado team and helped Mountain Vista High School take the Class 5A state title.
2014 | At age 16, Pugh was the youngest player on the U.S. Under-20 Women’s World Cup Team.
2015 | Named the 2014-15 Gatorade National Girls Soccer Player of the Year and 2015 U.S. Soccer Young Female Athlete of the Year. During an Under-20 Women’s World Cup Qualifying Tournament in Honduras, Pugh scored seven goals in five games, earning her the Golden Boot as the tournaments’ top scorer and the Golden Ball award as its best player.
2016 | Named team captain of the 2016 FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup in Papua, New Guinea. At age 18, in a game against Colombia in the Rio Olympics, Pugh became the youngest U.S. women’s soccer player in history to score a goal at the Olympics.
2017 | In April, Pugh announced she would forego her college career with UCLA and turn professional. In May, she signed with the Washington Spirit. As of September 15 2017, Pugh earned 27 caps (games played) and scored 6 goals with the United States Women’s National Team.
2019 | Pugh hopes to play in FIFA ’s Women’s World Cup, France
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