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Mallory Pugh: USWNT snub ‘allowed me to find my game again’

The 24-year-old forward is a sure bet for the 2023 World Cup roster. (Howard Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

For Mallory Pugh, the last two years provided the chance to reset her mentality and her game.

In 2021, the 24-year-old forward missed out on the Tokyo Olympics. Heading into 2023, she is a sure bet for the U.S. women’s national team roster for the upcoming World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

“Not being with the national team allowed me to find the game again,” she said in the latest episode of “The Journey” video series from the USWNT.

Pugh has shared similar sentiments regarding her snub from the Olympic roster throughout this year, though as she admitted to Just Women’s Sports in September, that comes down to the power of perspective.

“Last year was one of my favorite years, but I wouldn’t say that in the middle of it,” she said.

When USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski called Pugh in January 2020 and told her she wouldn’t make the Olympic qualifying roster, she felt crushed. Then, an hour later, the Washington Spirit told her she was being traded, Pugh revealed in “The Journey.”

“Those two things happening at the same time, I was so overwhelmed,” she said. “It hit me hard.”

Her struggles continued through that year and into the next. She made just one appearance for Sky Blue FC in 2020 due to a hip injury, then she was traded again in the offseason, this time to the Chicago Red Stars.

In January 2021, she suffered another injury at a USWNT camp, and her injuries and inconsistent play kept her off the Olympic roster in the summer of 2021.

A fresh start with the Red Stars, though, breathed a new life into her game.

“She put her head down, she got healthy, she went to work,” her USWNT and Red Stars teammate Alyssa Naeher said. She started focusing on a lot of the little nuances and intricacies that make her now the player that she is.”

As Pugh looks back on her journey, she agrees with Naeher’s assessment.

“I think not making the Olympics was one of the best things that could happen to my career,” Pugh said. “It was the adversity that I needed. It was the adversity that really allowed me to find my game again, allowed me to find myself again.”

As the USWNT heads into the home stretch of World Cup preparation in 2023, Pugh has established herself as a starter on the forward line. She scored 22 goals across all competitions in 2022, and she finished the NWSL regular season tied for fourth in the Golden Boot race with 11.

“As hard as it was, I’m so grateful that it happened in the way it happened,” she said.