Lauletta: Thoughts on Pugh signing with U.S. Soccer/Spirit

Dan Lauletta May 13, 2017 80
It was announced during the Lifetime Game of the Week that Mallory Pugh has signed with the Spirit. (photo by Allison Lee)

It was announced during the Lifetime Game of the Week that Mallory Pugh has signed with the Spirit. (photo by Allison Lee)

When Mallory Pugh left UCLA to pursue a professional career, four teams immediately became part of the discussion. The Thorns, because they’re the Thorns and they almost landed her early in 2016; the two French giants, Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain, because they like to collect high-profile players; and the Spirit. Why the Spirit? Because they held the top pick in the DRO (Distribution Ranking Order) after a pair of November trades. But the last seven months have been dotted with players leaving Washington–not going there–and Grant Wahl’s initial report about Pugh turning pro suggested she did not want to play at the SoccerPlex.

But now, less than four full weeks later, here we are with Mallory Pugh about to join the Washington Spirit. Part of me is proud that when the team began its march up the DRO list by trading popular defender Ali Krieger, I was one of the few who attempted to take a big-picture approach.

At the same time I must admit that I never thought we would see the day when the Spirit won out and attained Pugh’s services. Here are a few more thoughts:

This is a good day for just about everyone

No one player makes or breaks a league, but one player or moment can set the directional chart for a league for many years to come. Pugh may or may not be that player, but it is a good look all around the world that she will play in NWSL when some of the top clubs in Europe were showing interest. Sure, she will have her checks signed by U.S. Soccer, but so do all of her teammates, and the outside world will see her as a Washington Spirit player and rarely be concerned about the federation being involved.

The bigger winners are the Spirit. Following an offseason that saw much of the heart of last year’s very successful team leave in a slew of trades and transfers, getting Pugh to agree to play at the Plex is a sign to the league and to the world that they are a legitimate team. These things matter. Major League Soccer is still riding the residual wave of having David Beckham not only play in the league but globally endorse it. And that’s just the public perception.

On the field, Pugh is a dynamic winger who has already shown an ability to take on and beat some of the top defenders on the international level. Outside backs all around NWSL are likely to be quaking in their boots at the prospect of trying to contain her. We have yet to see her perform on a week in, week out basis, so there could be some peaks and valleys, but Pugh will be a player that opposing teams will have to take note of—all the time.

Off the field, Pugh is instantly among the handful of most marketable players around. Her signing is likely to boost ticket sales at the SoccerPlex, and opponents will now be using phrases like, “Mallory Pugh and the Washington Spirit….”

The Thorns actually came up short

If there is any loser in this arrangement, it is the Portland Thorns though I had to guess, deep down they are happier with Pugh in Washington D.C. than Europe. But the Thorns’ pursuit of Pugh dates back to 2016 when the DRO mechanism was released on draft day and the Thorns immediately traded the No. 3 pick to the Breakers for the right to swap places and get to the top of the chart. At the time there was said to be an agreement in place for her to sign and play for the Thorns, but she changed her mind and enrolled at UCLA. The Thorns pursued her again this time around, but the Spirit held their ground. The teams engaged in trade talks, but there was no common ground to be had.

Through it all there seemed to be a blind belief that somehow the Thorns would wind up with Pugh even if it meant someone up the food chain strong arming the Spirit into trading her rights. That did not happen, and that is a good thing for NWSL because it has shown it is not a league of one super club and a bunch of other clubs.

In the end, the Thorns really lost out when it comes to Mallory Pugh. Their standing in the league and Christen Westphal’s relative ineffectiveness for the Breakers (who the Breakers used that No. 3 pick on) makes it easy to overlook that the Thorns gave up a very valuable asset only to have Pugh turn her back on a pro career at that time.

I can only imagine the outcry had Pugh changed her mind on the Spirit and then agreed to play when the Thorns were in the driver’s seat. Let’s just remember that it doesn’t always work out in favor of the mighty Thorns.

How will the Spirit use her?

Because this is, after all, a soccer league, right?

This is a straight hot take, but my first thought here is for Pugh and Kristie Mewis to function as wingbacks in a 3-5-2 that Gabarra seems to prefer and now has the personnel to play effectively. That would move Kassey Kallman to play in back with Estelle Johnson, with Shelina Zadorsky between them. Tori Huster obviously would lead the midfield trio with Line Jensen-Sigvardsen and Havana Solaun, with some two-woman combination of Ordega, Katie Stengel, and Cheyna Williams up top.

That’s just one idea. I’m sure Jim Gabarra has at least four alternative ideas, and I’m also sure he knows a lot more about this stuff than I do. Gabarra is also a tweaker so don’t expect him to come up with a certain lineup by this time next month and blindly stick to it.

Wherever, and whenever, Mallory Pugh lines up for the Spirit, one thing is for certain – it will be must-watch streaming.

  • Ashley C

    I like lots of players on the Spirit and I hope the organization as a whole can get it together. Hopefully Pugh coming is the beginning of that.

    Just announced Pugh signed with Nike too. http://news.nike.com/news/mallory-pugh-signs-with-nike

    • VW

      Nothing is ever going to change that organization until there’s new ownership.

      • SpiritFan80

        Unfortunately, I must agree with you. The acquisition of Pugh will give the Spirit a bump in attendance and will bring some more exciting play on the field. That won’t be enough to bring back a lot of the fans that the tone deaf ownership has alienated.That sucks for the players on the team, who deserve to have more support than they get.

        • mockmook

          So, you’re calling Joanna Lohman a liar? She is happy with the environment in Washington.

          Isn’t it possible that the players who were bent out of shape are at fault?

          • SpiritFan80

            Not at all. Different players have different views and circumstances. Lohman may legitimately be very happy there as several players have said they are. I also doubt that players would state their qualms with the organization publicly at this point, if they have any.

            I don’t fault the players with how the organization is perceived. What happened last season and during the off season put them in a bad position. They work extremely hard to put a good product on the field and garner fan support.

            As for the players who were ‘bent out of shape’, it’s funny that they are considered to be assets to other teams. Krieger reportedly had many teams vying to get her and is consistently praised by Sermanni for her leadership. Harvey jumped at the chance to have Nairn back in Seattle. She also took Matheson who, even though out for the season with injury, travels with the team and sits on the bench with the coaches. But, yes, I can see how one might think these players were the culprit of Spirit’s bad image.

          • mockmook

            A player can be an asset to one organization and not be worth anything to another if they don’t want to be at that other organization.

          • SpiritFan80

            Agree, especially when one ownership can’t handle having anyone standing up to them or for those who can’t stand up for themselves.

          • mockmook

            You’re mis-characterizing what happened, but, whatever.

          • Steglitz49

            S/he who pays the piper calls the tune, is an age-old saying.

          • guest

            So what evidence do you have that ownership can’t handle anyone standing up to them? You are assuming that all of these players somehow stood up to the owner and the owner made all of these trades. They have the most experienced coach and GM in the league and he has explained these trades a bunch of times.

          • mockmook

            Not to mention, the owner gave the players free rein to write a critique of him on the teams website.

          • Guest

            Are you so lost in your own stories that you can see that this doesn’t make any sense? Do you really believe Lohman would stay and also go out of her way to tell Lauletta she has a great relationship with the owner? It doesn’t make any sense. Gabarra has explained Matheson who he saw getting limited minutes – she disagreed. There are clearly different views on Krieger as it’s widely known around the team that Krieger over-asserted herself with Gabarra. Nairn was living at home and wanted a big girl change. Dunn will only have a reasonable chance to have the European experience before this next cycle of WC and OG. What teams were vying for Krieger and what were they offering? None of us have a clue, what are you talking about? Did anyone of any stature actually state that publically? That also doesn’t mean she does or doesn’t have any value, it just means she didn’t fit in Gabarra’s plans. Her trade to Orlando is the reason we are now talking about Pugh being at the Spirit. If you had to choose, Ali back at the Spirit for maybe a couple of years or Mallory Pugh, who do you pick?

        • kernel_thai

          Unfortunately, in US sports leagues the worst thing u can be is middle of the pack. U either need to be a playoff team or, if not then u need to be at the bottom so that u can draft the few corner stone players who come out of college each year. If they can be in position to add a healthy Andi Sullivan next January then it will be worth suffering thru an awful 2017.

      • Ashley C

        Yeah, I don’t think the environment ever changes there with Lynch.

      • guest

        FYI. the spirit went to the nwsl championship game last year. not too bad.

        • VW

          The organization as a whole is a POS and the players came together as a group in spite of it.

          • Borgata

            Is your problem with them because of the National Anthem situation or has there been other things?

          • VW

            The organization has been a mess since day one. The national anthem debacle was just the culmination of a series of missteps that affected players as well as fans. The organization has had huge turnover in staff because the owner is a micro manager nor does he value anyone’s opinion other than his own. He is also very unwilling to get the team greater exposure by marketing it in the DC area. Not willing to spend money in order to make it.

          • Borgata

            Fair enough. Ideally you need a Mark Cuban type owner who is willing to champion and sell the product. It will be interesting to see what happens when the new DC United Stadium opens. For the Spirit to have a real future that’s where they need to be playing and building a fanbase.

          • VW

            The current owner would never move there because it’s simply too expensive. Unless the Spirit can cut a deal similar to the one CRS has that allows them to play at their more centrally located venue at a reasonable rate it isn’t going to happen. Venue cost was one of the reasons franchises folded in previous leagues. The Spirit have a good deal being at the Plex because it’s run by state and local government so the cost per match is quite reasonable. The only problem with the Plex is accessibility so they’re missing out on young people who don’t have cars who’d otherwise attend matches so they’re missing out on that important demographic.

          • Steglitz49

            Given that DC used to practical purposes sell out the Plex, I put it to you that the drop in attendance must worry the management and the Chief Ideologist of the NWSL.

            Attendances seem generally down around the NWSL. Granted, it is too early to tell but the big names like Alex and Carli won’t be back for a while yet. Indeed, Carli might come before Alex.

            One marketing ploy might be to trade for Syd Leroux. That way DC would have an all black forward line in Dunn, Pugh and Leroux! That ought to get them a bit of free publicity.

          • VW

            Your reply in no way addresses what I was saying but then that’s usually the case. As to your suggestion about a marketing ploy I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make.

          • Steglitz49

            The obvious one.

          • Terry Lash

            Why do you think Dunn will return to play for the Spirit?

          • Steglitz49

            Your point is well taken. After Chelsea, where? Montpellier?

          • guest

            So again you say things like the owner would never do this. Have you actually had this discussion with the owner? Do you have any idea what the $ are and the tradeoffs and what the owner makes decisions based on? Seems to me like you are just perpetually negative and make this stuff up.

          • Observed

            DC attendance has been sh*t this season.

          • guest

            Attendance seems to be down across the board which shouldn’t surprise anyone given we had a WC and OG years. Is the Spirit attendance down more than everywhere else?

          • Steglitz49

            If the players had concentrated on the primary objective and played till the final whistle went they would have won the Championship last season. Thus, you might as well blame the fat lady for not singing sooner.

            Marketing costs money. In the first few seasons, DC essentially sold out their home matches even in that miserable first season. Attendances in the NWSL are down generally. I blame the Bomb in Brasilia on the Glorious 12th.

          • Guest

            The organization as a whole? Everyone? Front office, coaching staff, ownership? You have the most experienced women’s professional soccer coach in Gabarra. You have Denise Reddy who could be a head coach anywhere. Nicci Wright ex-professional, Canadian National team coach. Katie Jo Spisak, ex-professional player coaching for years and head reserve coach. Gulati has mentioned the Spirit several times as the benchmark for the non-mls teams off the field, so the front office is obviously doing a decent job. The owner was relatively unknown until Rapine decided she would make a statement by taking a knee during the national anthem, and then started with the name calling when when she didn’t get her own way, although she never used her own resources to promote whatever it was she was promoting.

          • VW

            It’s the owner. Had to chuckle about Gulati thinking their ownership is such a success given how he chooses to manage the federstion.

          • Steglitz49

            You did write “the organization as a whole”. Please explain what you meant by the organization as a whole.

          • guest

            Gulati runs maybe the best Federation on the planet. Whether or not you agree with him, there’s no question the Federation is in a good place. The USSF has a lot of catching up to do but they started way behind most other countries. What’s your case against the way he runs the Federation? Do you actually have any real evidence that’s he’s incompetent as well, so when he says the Spirit have a solid business model you can dismiss it out of hand? Have you run an organization like a professional soccer team or a Federation. I wonder what makes you an expert. Do you have any real insight into the financial side of the Spirit and the tradeoffs? I hear people running their mouths all the time but doubt you really understand the real numbers. Must be great to be the eternal critic.

          • Guest

            The

          • mockmook

            “The”

            Excellent point!!! 😉

      • Borgata

        Hopefully the next DC United owners take over/buy the Spirit. In the meantime the Spirit have an out of touch old white guy as their owner like 90% of every other professional sports team.

        • mockmook

          Why do you hate whites and the elderly?

          • Borgata

            I’m thinking of the Jerry Jones, Al Davis or to the more extreme Donald Sterlings of professional sport ownership.

          • Reformed GOPer

            Why do you hate poor people and seek to punish them?

        • guest

          there are old female billionaires in the united states. but they have not shown any interest in owning female sports teams to date. like oprah winfrey. better someone than no one.

          • Steglitz49

            Hear hear!

        • Guest

          Wow! Old White Guy is now the enemy. How old is he exactly and at what age do we put people in the old white guy category? How did you measure his out of touchness. You are an idiot.

          • Borgata

            C’mon stop taking things so literally. “Old White Guy” was a tongue in cheek statement. If anything I was trying to tell people to give the poor guy a break.

        • Steglitz49

          This “white guy” as you describe him now has two black USWNT players in his stable. I guess that makes him “out of touch” to some.

      • ted norberto

        Let the players fight for their right to…..PARTAH!! Yes! My wish came to past. PUGH & DUNN !!! Make this owner walk the plank. Right this dang Spirit ship!!!

        • Steglitz49

          Maybe they should trade for Syd Leroux too while they are at it?

    • ted norberto

      I’m hopeful and excited. I’m a DASH fan but as a WOSO fan I’m very over the rainbow with Pugh signing with the Spirit. Long live the NWSL!

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  • Paul Klee

    So essentially the Spirit traded Krieger and Oyster for K. Mewis, Kallman and Pugh.

    • Breakers fan

      No, add “Morgan Andrews and Margaret Purce” and possibly the next allocated player if one is chosen before the next deadline. Boston got the #2 allocation order position from Washington in exchange for the #1 slot and Washington gave them the 3rd and 9th overall picks in the last draft and Oyster to get Kallman and Mewis and that #1 allocation slot. I think I have it right…someone correct me if I’m wrong.

      • mockmook

        No you are (technically) right.

        But I would break it down this way:

        Washington got:

        K.Mewii
        Kallman
        Pugh

        Washington gave up:

        Krieger
        Oyster
        Andrews
        Freeman

        [I’m positing that Washington would have drafted Freeman over Purce.]

        And, on its surface, the deal still looks unfavorable to Washington.

        But, we don’t know if Krieger and/or Oyster would have bolted Washington for some other league (or whatever), leaving with no compensation for them.

        • Guest

          You have to look at everything Gabarra did together. Matheson and Krieger are good players but neither is going to be around much longer and Gabarra clearly just wasn’t happy with Krieger and Matheson wasn’t happy with a limited future role. They also gave up Nairn who wanted a change, was also a very good player but was honestly hot and cold and was slow in a relatively slow Spirit midfield. Oyster and Kallman are a like for like. They now have Pugh, Ship, Mewis, Kallman and Solaun. All young, athletic, fast.. do you see a theme here. Oyster is the only player in the young, athletic and fast category.

          • mockmook

            I was just looking at the moves associated with getting Pugh.

            Still, even limiting the discussion to that, you are ignoring the draft picks they gave up (likely Andrews and Freeman).

            So, if they didn’t maneuver for Pugh, they could have had:

            Ship, Solaun, Oyster, Andrews, and Freeman — do you see a theme here? 🙂

            [plus retaining a valuable veteran in Krieger]

          • Steglitz49

            You could argue that DC going after Ms Pugh is a bit like Lyon Ms Morgan.

          • kernel_thai

            If it adds to the narrative, they were maneuvering for Sullivan

          • Borgata

            I just hope Gabarra is the right person to rebuild the team. I’m willing to watch a losing season, but I need to see some progression.

          • Steglitz49

            Who would you want instead?

        • Steglitz49

          K Mewis, please.

          We do not write Ada or Andrine Hegerberger. Lyon fans sometimes use Ada Stolsmo because it is shorter than Hegerberg but her sister is also Stolsmo (one of the Norwegian naming conventions, the one that they kept from being under the Danish yoke).

  • Paul Klee

    Pugh will apparently be wearing #11.

    • VW

      How very interesting.

      • Guest

        Had two granddaughters who had the #11 the entire time while playing club, high school and college soccer. Interestingly enough, they also played for the same club in Colorado as Mallory.

        • Steglitz49

          Fascinating!

          As far as I know the #11 shirt is not coveted. The #10 was coveted for the reason that in position specific numbering it was the number of the most difficult position to play — the inside left. Because certain players played there with aplomb, #10 achieved a unique status.

      • guest

        Another conspiracy to add to your why you hate the Spirit list. The team has already addressed your veiled accusation. The number 10 was committed to an incoming player who signed before Mallory. Other than that Mallory could have picked 11, 13, 25-whatever. She chose 11.

        • mockmook

          “The number 10 was committed to an incoming player who signed before Mallory.”

          What player currently has a “hold” on that #?

          • Guest

            Banini seems to be the best guess of Spirit fans on Twitter. Gabarra said early on that she might be back when the Valencia season was over. That should give them another boost in play.

          • mockmook

            Thanks!!!

  • washfan

    they are down 6-1 to seattle – welcome pugh

    • sudeep das

      Can she change that alone? We will have to wait and see.

  • Guesting

    Anyone mentioned that this might only be a band-aid for just this season?. Pugh may have only signed for this season.

    • Steglitz49

      Until she proves herself, who else would take her except on a free transfer?

      The USWNT does have some matches against top European sides though not all later this year and then a mini-tournament in the US. I guess Pugh can strut her stuff there; she had better.

      • Guesting

        Whether she has to prove herself or not, she still would want to be in a position where there are options for next season.

        • Steglitz49

          The Pugh enterprise is based on her remaining injury-free and the USWNT doing well. The second she can help keep right but the first issue is on the whole beyond her control.

          Injury is common in WoSo and not all can have the good fortune — if fortune is the right word — to suffer one at the end of a successful career like ARod just did. She might want to contemplate Kim Kulig.

    • guest

      portland could always trade up to the #1 in the nwsl draft next year and take sullivan. then portland can trade sullivan to washington for pugh straight up. they have the resources to do it. it’s just a matter of if portland is willing to pay fair market value to get the pick.

      • JL

        Portland won’t have to do a thing to get the #1 overall pick if Orlando finishes last. The Thorns got the Pride’s 1st round pick when they sent Rachel Hill’s rights to Orlando.

        • Steglitz49

          Portland could finish last themselves.

          Without relegation/promotion, finishing last is better than 5th in the NWSL.

        • guest

          It looks like there is going to be 1 or 2 expansion teams, so they will get the first couple of picks.

      • Steglitz49

        Such a trade is dependent on And Sullivan having made a full recovery from her ACL-tear. Of that we can only speculate till the cows come home.

        • sudeep das

          Hasn’t she shown interest in the Spirits as well? Andy Sullivan feeding Mallory Pugh up front will be a must watch. Maybe this has influenced in Pugh signing up with the Spirits – who knows?

    • disqus_hj8dHnhlYK

      Allocated players don’t have contracts with the NWSL teams. The NWSL teams have the rights to an allocated player and that player plays with the team so long that the team has their rights. Their contracts are with USSF since they are the ones paying the players to play in the league. Unless Pugh only plans on playing for the USWNT for one year then she will be in D.C. until she either skips off to another league or is traded to another NWSL team.

  • GT

    Washington is in last place after 5 games. They need Pugh desperately.