The most successful football team in US history is, without a doubt or an argument, the Women’s National Team. The USWNT won the World Cup in 1991, 1999, and 2015, and reached the semifinal or final in every other World Cup.
As the team begins the quest for a fourth star above the USA crest in 2019, it is with great pride that two of the teams youngest and brightest stars, Lindsey Horan and Mallory Pugh, come out of the state of Colorado.
And they’re back where it all started this Friday as they take on New Zealand in a friendly at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
For both Horan and Pugh, there is tremendous pride at playing a home game in their home state. Both spoke to Burgundy Wave before practice on Tuesday. Horan, who was born in Lakewood and grew up in Golden, told us: “I have a bunch of family and friends coming, and my whole youth club (Colorado Rush) bought out a section, which is the coolest thing in the world. It’s amazing and warms my heart, and makes me excited to come out here and play.”
Pugh also grew up in the Denver metro area, in Highlands Ranch. The 19 year-old gets an extra jolt from being back in town. “It’s amazing to be home,” she said. “Anytime I come home I’m excited, but especially coming home with the national team and being able to play here is just really special for me. Seeing all my friends and family in the stands is really really cool."
Both credit their youth programs here in Colorado as a major reason for their successful soccer careers. Pugh was a product of Real Colorado’s youth program, saying, "Real has been a huge part of my career. My sister played for them, and I played for them for all my youth soccer career. Just having that support system now behind is just great.” With Real, Pugh helped power the club to state championships in 2010, 2011, and 2013.
Horan is equally as enthusiastic about the role her club team, Colorado Rush, played in making her a success. “They were hugely impactful. They’ve done everything for my development,” she continued. “I give all the credit in the world to them and how they influenced me and how they motivated me to be where I am today. We’re basically family. Having that kind of support with players you played with, coaches that coached you, it’s so cool for me.”
The Colorado link between the two of them has also bonded the women into friends and confidants. Horan referred to Pugh as “like a little sister to me”, while Pugh explained that, when she wanted advice from someone on whether to leave college and turn pro earlier this year, she picked up the phone and called Horan. Pugh explained, “For me it was about asking ‘What can I do to put myself in a good environment to grow as a player? And as a person too?’ I talked to Lindsey - she’s a close friend of mine. And she kind of went through the same thing. So I kind of just asked her opinion, and she supported me, either way.”
The two can share in their similarities as Coloradans, but are both have been living fairly different experiences as soccer pros. For Horan, she finished high school in 2012 and jumped to playing professionally abroad for Paris Saint-Germain’s women’s team, returning to the US to play with the overwhelmingly popular Portland Thorns in 2016.
Horan is thrilled with that choice. "Portland’s been awesome. I absolutely love it there,” she said. “Right now, we’re really on the ups, and we’re doing well. We’ve won our last four games, and really have killed it. All of us have come together. With the fanbase we have, with the support we have, it’s incredible. You don’t see that anywhere else. You just hope that more and more teams can get that. It’s incredible and I absolutely love it.”
Where Horan has played, success has followed. Her PSG Féminines went to the UEFA Champions League every year she was with them, finishing as runners-up in 2015. This year, the Portland Thorns have locked up a playoff spot with two games left in the season.
Unlike Horan, who began her professional career abroad, Pugh chose to stay domestic. Mallory originally elected to go the collegiate route, heading off to UCLA in the fall of 2016. But she ultimately decided to leave school before the soccer season began, joining the NWSL’s Washington Spirit in May of this year. Mallory and the Spirit didn’t fare as well this year as Lindsey’s Thorns, with a 5-4-13 (WTL) record that has left them well out of the playoff picture.
The 22 year-old Horan and 19 year-old Pugh are both growing into a USWNT squad that is still laden with the exceptional talent that earned them the last World Cup. Ten of the 22 players on the roster for the match this Friday featured in the 2015 World Cup roster. The goal for both players is to help the team make it to the 2019 World Cup in France. “Every game moving forward is looking towards the World Cup and what we can do to improve and get better before that,” said Horan.
On the long campaign to get the USWNT back to a World Cup Final, Mallory Pugh and Lindsey Horan are sure to play an important role. Hopefully both will get to be there in 2019 for their first World Cup experience. Together. And proudly representing Colorado.