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How Mallory Pugh and Sophia Smith tipped scales in USWNT victory

(Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)

The U.S. women’s national team avoided catastrophe Sunday due in large part to heroics from young forwards Mallory Pugh and Sophia Smith, who each scored in the 2-1 win over Germany.

Smith struck first for the USWNT. The 22-year-old’s goal in the 54th minute pulled the team even after Germany took a 1-0 lead in the first half.

“It [stinks] to lose three games in a row, especially when this team has never done that, so we didn’t want to continue on that path,” Smith said after the match. “So we all just kind of knew… There wasn’t a lot said, we just knew we weren’t going to lose this game.”

Pugh sent one home two minutes later, which put the team ahead 2-1 and earned the 24-year-old Woman of the Match honors. Pugh has scored in 10 straight USWNT victories.

Both Pugh and Smith took on a heavy workload during Sunday’s match, with head coach Vlatko Andonovski calling each player’s contributions to the game “incredible.”

“It’s not just their work rate. I thought that they were creative with their runs, interchanging positions,” he said. “We saw a couple of times their creativity even in the midfield and finding space and overloading the midfield.”

The issues within the USWNT midfield necessitated such effort from the forwards, who perhaps would benefit from staying up front to create additional scoring chances. But as the USWNT’s midfield continues to struggle, their presence was instrumental in helping the team avoid what would have been its first four-match losing streak.

“We were trying to break them down the middle. And to be quite honest, I felt like we did a little better job in that part of the game, in the last game than in this game overall,” Andonovski said. “I felt like we were able to break them down in different ways in the last game. In this game, we were lacking some of those creative moments.”

Both Smith and Pugh helped the team succeed within its 4-3-3 formation, creating chances not just for themselves but for players such as Alex Morgan and Rose Lavelle as well.

“So [they] helped us create the 4-3-3, especially when we have a marking midfield, with a creative brand,” Andonovski said. “And obviously the difference at the end is the results, we scored the goals this time.”