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Mallory Pugh is embracing her role on the U.S. women’s national team as she straddles the line between the experienced core and the up-and-comers.

“It’s definitely this interesting balance, but it’s also really unique,” Pugh recently told Attacking Third, pointing to the fact that while she’s just a few years older than relative newcomers Sophia Smith and Trinity Rodman, she also has a World Cup and an Olympics under her belt and has been able to share that experience with them.

After the 2019 World Cup, though, Pugh struggled. While she was invited to the USWNT camp in January 2020, she was left off the Olympic qualifying roster.

“Mal was competitive, and she did well, but there were other players I believe that performed better,” coach Vlatko Andonovski said at the time. “I want to be clear that she’s a very talented player, she performed well, and she has a big future in front of her, so I’m pretty sure if she keeps on developing, going forward, she will be on this roster.”

The forward later was named to the roster for the SheBelieves Cup, which took place in March 2020. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic and Olympics postponement, as well as a spate of injuries for Pugh. She was absent from USWNT camps in late 2020 due to injury, then suffered another injury while playing with the USWNT in January 2021.

The injuries, combined with her at times inconsistent play, led to Pugh’s exclusion from last year’s Olympic roster.

“Over the years, the pressure of me putting onto myself and then external pressure, it got to me and I felt like I lost my game a little bit,” the 24-year-old told Attacking Third. “In 2020 I realized, OK, this is not going the way that I want it to go.”

Finding and working with mental health coach and sports psychologist Armando Gonzalez helped turn her game around, Pugh said.

“I feel like I found that in 2020. That played a huge role in my game,” she said. “It kind of went hand in hand, and I’m very thankful that I have him as a resource.”

The steps she has taken in the last few years have paid off. Pugh has come into her own — both in the NWSL, where she currently sits in third place in the Golden Boot race, and on the USWNT, where she helped the team to a gold medal at the Concacaf W Championship earlier this month.

And according to Andonovski, Pugh doesn’t have to worry about her roster spot. The coach pointed to the forward — as well as Smith, Andi Sullivan and Emily Fox — as the future of the USWNT.

“They’re going to be here for three, maybe four World Cups,” he said, “so get used to them.”