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Chile or not, Mallory Pugh’s return an important step for USWNT

Photo Copyright Hannah di Lorenzo for The Equalizer

Among the biggest personnel questions facing the United States women’s national team as the 2019 World Cup nears, the forward line has not been one of them.

Megan Rapinoe has a legitimate claim to being the world’s best player right now, Alex Morgan – in contrast with her club form for the Orlando Pride – has been lethal for her country, and Tobin Heath, once again fully healthy, is back to playing the breathtaking ginga style that especially captivated the world in 2016.

The recently-concluded Tournament of Nations provided clear evidence of the effectiveness of the Heath-Morgan-Rapinoe three-front. Morgan scored a hat trick against Japan and added another against Brazil, while Heath and Rapinoe tallied a goal each in the tournament; stats don’t tell the entire story. That setup gives the U.S. an out-and-out No. 9 with pace (Morgan) flanked by a pair of uniquely creative wingers – Rapinoe in her ability to be completely unpredictable, and Heath similarly, with an added emphasis on beating players 1-v-1.

In their current international form, they might be the best three-prong attack in the world. But that can’t be said without acknowledging Mallory Pugh’s place in the equation.

Four months ago, U.S. coach Jill Ellis looked like she had her front three set: Pugh, Morgan and Rapinoe started together the first six games of the year, combining to score nine goals. Morgan played her usual central role and checked down into space to allow the pair to run off her, as even the rather direct goal against Germany in the SheBelieves Cup exemplified. Pugh, in particular, thrived in a role which gave her freedom on the touchline and the green light to push on to last defenders.

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