“For me, at this point of my life, I kind of wanted to step outside comfort zone and put myself into a new level,” Mallory Pugh explained as her reason for leaving UCLA and joining the Washington Spirit at a press conference Tuesday held by the team.
In many respects it’s hard to believe these words come less than a year and a half since 19-year-old Mallory Pugh made headlines with reports that she’d join NWSL’s Portland Thorns right out of high school. Ultimately, of course, that didn’t happen, and just over a week after those first reports, Pugh scored in her debut with the full U.S. national team.
Since then, Pugh has traveled far both figuratively and literally, with stops in Brazil, Papua New Guinea and Los Angeles, featuring regularly for the full national team when healthy. Just a few weeks ago, few would have considered Washington, D.C. a likely stop for the dynamic player despite the Spirit holding the number one spot in the DRO order as reports surfaced that she preferred to play in Portland and was possibly looking at going to France.
“I think it was just lack of proper information and Mallory went through this decision-making process and she was going to get all the information she could and make the best decision she could,” Spirit Head Coach Jim Gabarra said Tuesday addressing for reports of Washington, D.C. being an undesired landing spot for Pugh. “I think the talk that you heard and the reports that are out there were prior to us having a 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.”
For a team that’s currently last in the league standings, the signing is welcome news not because any one player can be a cure all for woes the team currently faces, but rather it gives the club the chance to change the negative perception of the organization.
Pugh’s decision to forego college soccer and join NWSL was aptly described as both “historic” and “monumental” by Gabarra, who’s been a head coach every year a professional league has existed in the U.S. From the bottom line of ESPN to stories from almost every major sport journalism outlet, Pugh joining the Spirit was everywhere and rightfully so. Being a trailblazer often comes with a lot attention.
Even for a player with Pugh’s resume and talent, there’s no such thing as a seamless transition though. She’ll still need to learn the expectations, the tactics and her teammates and to adjust to the style of play. Of course, that reality will do little to change the microscope the young star will have on her as she settles to life as a professional.
“For me, it’s all about playing,” Pugh said about playing in the spotlight. “I think trying to win games and trying to make an impact. The most important thing is trying to develop and having fun with it and just setting, all that stuff aside, and coming in, building relationships and having fun playing soccer is my main thing right now.”
Gabarra, for his part, did his best to slow down the hype train Tuesday, stating that the team will need to keep her age in mind.
“It’s important that we not have too high expectations for Mallory,” he said. “This is a long process, whether it’s a 19-year old or a 30-year-old international who has not played in our league. It takes almost a year of games to feel comfortable and figure it out. It’s important that we let Mal enjoy the process and really be free just to learn and develop.”
Even with measured expectations, Washington fans, who have had little to cheer since the heartbreaking loss in the final, will likely raise a pint–a pint ice cream of course–to the idea of watching Mallory Pugh develop in a Spirit jersey.