Eighteen-year-old Mallory Pugh, the youngest player in the U.S. Women’s National Team player pool, started 12 games for Jill Ellis’s squad in 2016 and is the captain of the U-20 WNT. Pugh had a fantastic year in 2016, and has blossomed into a fan favorite and one of the top attacking players for the United States.
Here are five things to know about the Colorado native:
In December of 2015 at the CONCACAF U-20 Women’s Qualifying Tournament, Pugh scored seven goals in five games, which included a brace in three of them, and recorded four assists to help the USA win the tournament title and qualify for the U-20 Women’s World Cup. Her performance not only earned her the Golden Boot as the top scorer of the tournament and the Golden Ball as the best player, but it also earned her a call-up to the full WNT, a dream come true for the then 17-year-old. In fact, Pugh got the call from Ellis when she was still at the airport making her way back to Colorado following the tournament win in Honduras.
Pugh captained the USA to the 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Women's Qualifying Tournament title last December in Honduras.
Pugh joined the senior squad in Carson, California that January, and grinded out three weeks of intense training before traveling to San Diego for the USA’s inaugural match of 2016 against the Republic of Ireland on Jan. 23. Coming in for Alex Morgan in the 58th minute, Pugh made her U.S. WNT debut at 17 years, 8 months and 25 days, and thus became the youngest player to debut in the last 11 years of the WNT program. She also became the 19th player to score in her first cap when she added the fifth and final goal of the game in the 83rd minute, a header off an assist from Christen Press.
Following that match, things continued to evolve for Pugh as her versatility and confidence began to grow. Pugh earned her second cap with the WNT on Feb. 10, coming in for Crystal Dunn in the second half of the USA’s Olympic Qualifying opening match against Costa Rica. With her appearance, she became the youngest player in WNT history to play in an Olympic Qualifying match at 17 years, 9 months and 12 days old. On Feb. 15, she earned her first start for the USA, playing 66 minutes against Puerto Rico and contributing with an assist, the first one of her international career.
Of the 21 games the USA has played so far in 2016 – she missed the last two September friendlies because it conflicted with U-20 training camp – Pugh has played in 17 of them and started 12. She has scored four goals and has seven assists, a number that ties her with Tobin Heath for second-best on the team.
When Pugh was named to the 18-player U.S. Women’s Soccer Olympic Roster on July 12, less than six months after making her WNT debut, she became the second youngest women’s soccer Olympian in U.S. history, and the only amateur player on the roster. Pugh played in three of the four games the USA played in Brazil, starting two. Against Colombia on Aug. 9 in Manaus, Pugh, who came in as sub in the 33rd minute, became the youngest player in U.S. history to score at an Olympic Games when she tallied in the 60th minute of the match.
Crystal Dunn set up the goal with a blistering run down the left flank of Colombia’s defense before sending a low cross through the goal mouth that arrived at the feet of Pugh on the back right post. Pugh attempted a first-time shot but it hit teammate Christen Press and came right back to her. Pugh then dribbled laterally past three defenders to the center of the box and snapped a left-footed shot through a crowd of Colombia players into the back of the net. WATCH: Pugh’s Olympic goal.
Pugh scored her first Olympic goal against Colombia on Aug. 9, becoming the youngest player in U.S. history to tally at an Olympic Games.
From Rookie to Captain
Although she is one of the less experienced players in the full National Team environment, Pugh is the leader and a veteran with the U-20s. She was a starter at the age of 16 in the 2014 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup and is the captain for this cycle.
“I think being in the last U-20 World Cup helped me in the sense that I know what the expectations are and what I can do to help and hopefully lead my teammates through that. Obviously, I was young a player back then and I looked up to the captains and they helped, so hopefully I can do the same.”
U-20 WNT Veteran
Despite only being 18-years-old, the 2016 U-20 Women’s World Cup will be the second one at the level for Pugh. As a 16-year-old, Pugh was the youngest player on the U.S. roster that fell short in a penalty shootout against Korea DPR in the quarterfinals of the 2014 U-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada. Pugh started all four games for the USA. Now in her second cycle with the U-20s, Pugh is the most capped player at this age group. Even more incredible is that Pugh is eligible for the 2018 U-20 World Cup, which would make her the first player in U.S. history to compete at three U-20 World Cups if she were to make that roster two years from now.
Besides her soccer acumen, Pugh is a fun personality off the field. She likes to joke around, wants to learn how to surf and loves to sing. In fact, Pugh seems to be a very talented singer and is able to master various genres, as seen below.
2016 was a whirlwind for Pugh, but she is certainly excited to have much more soccer to look forward to in her future.
"This has been an incredible year. There have been lots of us and downs but it’s been worth it. I’m excited for whatever comes next.”
PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Nov. 21, 2016) – The U.S. Under-20 Women’s National Team played a talented and physical Ghana team to a 1-1 draw in its Group C finale at the 2016 FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup.
The one point from the tie, combined with France’s 2-0 victory against New Zealand in the other Group C match, earned the USA first place in the group, but not until numerous tiebreakers had been exhausted.
The USA (1-0-2, 5 pts) finished tied with France (1-0-2, 5 pts) on points, goal difference (+2) and goals scored (4), while the teams drew their match, 1-1. After the points earned from the group games, the teams went five tie-breakers deep before it came to “greater number of points obtained in the fair play conduct based on yellow and red cards received in all group matches.”
As the USA did not receive a yellow card during group play, and France received one, issued to Estelle Cascarino in the 48th minute of today’s win against New Zealand, the Americans topped the group. New Zealand (1-2-0, 3 points) finished third and Ghana (0-1-2, 2 points) finished fourth in what was surely the most competitive group of the tournament as all of the three other groups featured dominating results. Group C featured four draws and no wins by more than two goals.
In the quarterfinals, the U.S. will face the second-place finisher from Group D on Friday, Nov. 25, at 1 a.m. ET on FS1 and NBC Universo.
A wind-aided own goal that dipped viciously over U.S. goalkeeper Casey Murphy that hit her and bounced into the net gave Ghana the game’s first goal in the 20th minute. Ghana played the first half with the wind at their backs and when midfielder Ernestina Abambila sent a looping shot on target from more than 40 yards out, it pin-balled between the post and Murphy’s hands before bouncing over the line.
The young Americans came into the match knowing a win or a draw would qualify the team for the quarterfinal stage, and with France leading New Zealand across town, the U.S. was in need of a goal in order to win the group.
The USA’s response to giving up a goal was immediate and world class as Mallory Pugh wasted no time getting the equalizer, scoring two minutes later. She took a nice pass from Katie Cousins that got her behind the defense and then beat several Ghana defenders as she cut inside before firing a low right-footed shot across her body and into the lower left corner to even the score.
Going with the wind in the second half, the U.S. backline did well to limit Ghana’s chances, most of which came from distance, to preserve the draw.
Goal Scoring Rundown:
GHA – Own Goal (Casey Murphy), 20th minute: The U.S. attempted to clear out of its defensive zone, and did, but the ball fell to Ernestina Abambila more than 40 yards from the net. She connected well with the bouncing ball to send a high, arching shot toward the goal. The ball bounced off the post before deflecting off Casey Murphy’s outstretched hands and underneath the crossbar to give Ghana the lead. USA 0, GHA 1 (SEE GOAL)
USA – Mallory Pugh (Katie Cousins), 22nd minute: From midfield, Katie Cousins fed Mallory Pugh with a leading pass down the left flank. Pugh received the ball and began a run diagonally toward goal, requiring her to cut through the Ghana defense. Pugh took a sharp turn parallel to goal near the edge of the 18-yard box before firing a low right-footed shot across her body and inside the near post to equalize the score. USA 1, GHA 1 (SEE GOAL) FINAL
- The USA made all three of its substitutes in the second half as head coach Michelle French brought on midfielder Parker Roberts in the 75th minute, forward Ally Watt in the 81st and defender Natalie Jacobs in the 89th.
- Mallory Pugh scored her second goal of the tournament and 19th in 26 caps for the U-20s with her 22nd minute tally.
- This was the third meeting between the USA and Ghana in the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. The U.S. previously played to a 1-1 draw with Ghana in 2010 and defeated the African side 4-0 in 2012.
Five years might not seem like a long time in the grand scheme of things, but when you’re not yet 20-years-old, it’s a solid quarter of your life.
That’s how long Ellie Jean has been waiting to play in a World Cup, dating back to when she first started getting called into U.S. Under-17 WNT training camps and the prospect of representing her country on the word’s stage came into focus. And really, she’s been waiting most of her life, ever since she started playing the game on the spongy fields of Coventry, Connecticut when she was five years old.
Jean, a lithe outside back who covers vast swaths of the field like the former cross country champion she is, was a key player on the U.S. team that was hoping to earn a berth to the 2014 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.
The USA dominated the 2013 CONCACAF U-17 Championship, out-scoring its opposition 24-1, but a penalty kick shootout loss in the semifinal to Mexico ended the USA’s World Cup dreams.
Jean and her teammates would defeat eventual U-17 Women’s World Cup champion Japan during the NTC Invitational in Carson, Calif., three months later to gain some redemption and show how talented that group was, but the cycle ended after that tournament without a World Cup appearance.
“After we lost with the 17s, it was really difficult for me, and difficult for a lot of us,” said Jean. “It was the first time any of us had failed on that kind of big stage. We’d lost games before of course, but this was different. We had all worked really hard, and you always think if you do that hard work you usually achieve your goals, but when we didn’t qualify, I realized that isn’t always the case.”
Jean said she took some time off from soccer, and questioned if she wanted to put herself in that position again, with the possibility of such huge disappointment.
The answer was a resounding, yes, with a twist. She was looking at it backwards. She wanted to put herself in a position that had the possibility of amazing success, while also realizing that the true reward was in the journey, not necessarily the final destination.
“It was a turning point for me,” she said. “It was about growing up and realizing what being an elite soccer player was going to be like. There were going to be ups and downs, wins and defeats, amazing highs and crushing losses. To realize that and understand that was the kind of life I wanted to lead was a big point in my life.
“I knew deep down that I wanted to always pursue great things, but I was hurt. Is it worth it if there’s a chance I won’t get to my end goal? Am I doing everything I can? Maybe I can’t be as great as I want to be? I was doubting myself a bit, but I tried to keep those thoughts out of my mind, tried to keep working hard, be a positive person, get in the training sessions and try to get called into the next camp, whatever age group or wherever it was, that my basic goal at that point.”
From the U-17s, she matriculated to the U.S. U-18 WNT during 2014, playing with a group in which most players would soon be going off to college. But when the new U-20 cycle started, she found herself out of the mix. Instead, she got called into the U.S. U-19 WNT events.
“I was always really positive about it and I think (U-19 WNT head coach) Jitka (Klimkova) really helped,” Jean said. “She was just so encouraging and talking about the U-20s and trying to get us there. She gave me motivation to keep me thinking that I was not missing out, and my family and my support system back home were also really important to keeping me on the right track.”
She admitted it was hard seeing other U-19s getting called into U-20 events, but she kept a positive attitude and kept working. She played in one U-20 camp in 2015, but did not play in the CONCACAF qualifying tournament at the end of the year as she was helping Penn State win an NCAA title, an experience she says impacted her greatly when she finally did get the U-20 nod at the beginning of 2016.
“I think my freshman college season helped me a lot,” Jean said. “It kept my mind off the National Team a bit and I feel like I grew up. I left home. I had a lot of fun with my teammates and (Penn State head coach Erica Dambach) is really an amazing coach. She helped me get adjusted to the college game and helped me with my mentality which translated to the international game. Of course, winning the national championship was a big deal and that can’t help but give you confidence.”
Jean was a bit injured at the end of the college season and was not ready for the USA’s January 2016 training camp. She finally got the call for the February trip to Spain and was off and running.
“Ellie has matured in a number of ways at outside back,” said U.S. U-20 head coach Michelle French. “Her understanding of the game defensively has increased tremendously both with her experience at the college level by simply becoming more tactically aware of the responsibilities of the position. She has an incredible engine to get up and down the line. For her to bring that type of athletic presence to the outside back position on both sides of the ball is a huge asset to our team.”
Jean found out that she had made the World Cup Team during a meeting with French at a training camp in North Carolina. She admits that her heart was pounding a bit walking into the room.
“It was really nerve-wracking,” said Jean. “And she told me, ‘I want you to know that you made the World Cup roster.’ I felt a lot of relief when I heard that because I was no longer competing for a spot, now I was on the team, and it was about continuing to get better and grow as a group towards a common goal. I bet a lot girls cried, even though they might not say they did, but I did. I called my mom and I was crying, but It was a really happy moment for me.”
Now, on the cusp of competing in the U-20 Women’s World Cup, the highest level of competition for players her age, Jean heads into the tournament with more perspective than she had as a younger teenager.
“I’m excited and a bit nervous too, as everyone is, but overall I’m just really excited to take on this challenge with this group of players,” Jean said. “I think we can do great in this tournament and I just want to go out there and have a lot of fun, that’s really important, and represent my country by competing really, really hard. You have to have the confidence to leave everything on the field and we are going to do that.”