Mallory Pugh’s performance against OL Reign on Tuesday night might have signaled a long-awaited return to form.
Pugh struck first against the Reign in the 38th minute with a moment of individual brilliance. Bodying off one defender and darting around another before ripping off a shot, the play was vintage Pugh trickery.
The goal was Pugh’s first as a Red Star and her first in the NWSL since 2019.
Pugh Pugh 💥💥#RGNvCHI | https://t.co/0LtSAUK1Jw | #CC21 pic.twitter.com/5i7GXMfgdG— National Women's Soccer League (@NWSL) April 28, 2021
Pugh Pugh 💥💥#RGNvCHI | https://t.co/0LtSAUK1Jw | #CC21 pic.twitter.com/5i7GXMfgdG
It may seem premature to read this far into a single goal, but Pugh’s movement on and off the ball Tuesday night was a reminder of just how special a player she can be. In her 66 minutes on the pitch, Pugh looked both aggressive and fit, and her play clearly energized the Red Stars’ offense.
With 63 national team appearances, Pugh may give off the air of a seasoned vet. In actuality, the phenom is still just 22 years old.
Don't know about you, but she's feeling 22! 🥳🙌Happy Birthday, @MalPugh! pic.twitter.com/qNk1XeEWgF— U.S. Soccer WNT (@USWNT) April 29, 2020
Don't know about you, but she's feeling 22! 🥳🙌Happy Birthday, @MalPugh! pic.twitter.com/qNk1XeEWgF
In 2016, at only 18 years of age, Pugh became the youngest player in U.S. history to score at the Olympics. Performances like that only added to the hype heaped upon Pugh at a young age. Dubbed the future of women’s soccer, her reputation as a teenage prodigy was nearly impossible to maintain.
Pugh’s meteoric rise first hit a snag in 2019 when she was relegated to a supporting role in that summer’s World Cup.
In a conversation with teammate Kelly O’Hara on the Just Women’s Sports Podcast, Pugh acknowledged that she wanted to play more in France and that it took time to embrace her new role.
“I definitely had to change my mindset and look at it a different way,” Pugh said of her supporting role at the World Cup.
In 2020, Pugh was presented with a challenge she hadn’t yet faced — for the first time in her career, she was left off a USWNT roster. While invited into camp, Pugh was not part of Vlatko Andonovski’s Olympic qualifying lineup.
Pugh told O’Hara that being left off the roster, while challenging to process, may have been just what she needed.
“It was pretty rough, but I am a strong, strong believer in everything happens for a reason,” Pugh said.
🎶 look who’s back, back again 🎶⚽️ Mal Pugh’s back, tell a friend ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/O8o6fzgsfG— National Women's Soccer League (@NWSL) April 21, 2021
🎶 look who’s back, back again 🎶⚽️ Mal Pugh’s back, tell a friend ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/O8o6fzgsfG
That same positive mindset helped propel Pugh through a season of nagging injuries and a series of trades. First, she was sent from Washington to Sky Blue (now Gotham FC). After less than a year in New Jersey, Pugh was traded to the Red Stars in December 2020.
If Pugh’s performance in the Challenge Cup is any indication, she seems to be settling into Chicago nicely.
With the USWNT Olympic roster decisions still looming large, the upcoming NWSL season could be an opportunity for Pugh to shine. If she manages to stay healthy, and can continue to score goals like the one she delivered Tuesday, 2021 could prove to be Mallory Pugh’s comeback season.