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For Colorado’s Lindsey Horan and Mallory Pugh, the road to FIFA’s 2019 Women’s Cup Tournament starts tonight

USWNT CONCACAF’s ”Group A” World Cup qualifying matches kick-off tonight at WakeMed Soccer Park in North Carolina.

John A. Babiak - @Photog_JohnB

For former Colorado Rush midfielder Lindsey Horan and Real Colorado forward Mallory Pugh, years of dreaming big, training until near exhaustion, competing against veterans, and returning from setbacks have finally paid a world of dividends. For these two Colorado women’s soccer icons, tonight’s face-off with Mexico triggers an all out, two-week effort to help their national team win a berth in next summer’s FIFA’s 2019 Women’s Cup Tournament in France.

Barring any last-second muscle tweaks or a ‘Coach’s Decision,’ Colorado soccer fans should expect to see both Horan and Pugh starting, front and center, before rambunctious US Soccer supporters in suburban Cary’s intimate Sahlen’s Stadium.

The USWNT is 13-0-0 at home in qualifying and also owns a 7-0-0 record all-time at Sahlen’s Stadium. What is ahead of Horan and Pugh and their fellow Yanks is a ‘do not take-it-for-granted’ assignment.

Despite being ranked number one in the world and heavily favored in this qualification tournament, each and every member of this team is very mindful of what happened to the U.S. Men’s team in Couva, Trinidad last year, when they were knocked out of World Cup qualification after their upset loss to the revenge-minded Soca Warriors.

Veteran U.S.defender Becky Sauerbrunn put it best after a recent training: ”There is definitely an element of, ‘We better not mess this up.’” She added: “There is excitement, there is energy but there is also a little bit of, ‘All right, guys, it’s now or never.’ ” The World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist also said that they talk about the men’s team quite a bit. “When they didn’t qualify, for us, it was a huge loss for the country.” It is also, she continued, “a reminder that you can’t take any team for granted.”

U.S. Head Coach Jill Ellis expressed a similar mindset during her meeting yesterday with a contingent of international journalists. “We’ve got to earn it,” Ellis said. “We’ve got to earn the right to go on. And by playing Mexico first, the U.S. will probably face its toughest opponent right away, which should get the Americans’ attention.

“It’s the first opponent, so definitely it’s the toughest opponent,” Ellis said. “Mexico has been together for a while in preparation for this event. So, they’ve had time to jell. They’ve got players playing in a professional league now, they’ve got players playing internationally...I think they going to be prepared and be well-schooled.”

Earlier this year in April, the U.S. squad played Mexico twice, winning 4-1 and 6-2 during back to back games over a four-day span in Jacksonville, Florida, and Houston, Texas.

Mallory Pugh and Lindsey Horan are as ready as ever to step up and help seal the deal. Pugh has worked hard to recover two injuries, one last year in New Orleans and a second this spring. They occurred prior to two USWNT camps and Tournament of Nations.

Head Coach Ellis has been very pleased with her recovery and immediate contributions. Pugh was cleared to play against Chile during back-to-back friendlies in August and September. She had last represented that national team in April against Mexico. Pugh made a clear statement that she was back to her per usual 110% self when she scored on a header in the 34th minute during the September match in San Jose, California. Days prior she assisted on Christen Press’ goal in Carson, California.

After her goal-scoring match, Pugh told the Burgundy Wave: ”I have been focusing on getting back for qualifying. You have to set a goal and every day you wake up and go to rehab. Having that goal in the back of my head helped me get through that injury.” Since the start of 2016, Pugh has delivered 12 goals and 11 assists for the U.S. during international play.

Lindsey Horan has been a significant factor in the Team’s torrid 18-0-3 run over the past 14 months. Since her discussions with Ellis in the beginning of the year when she was challenged to open up her midfield play and run box-to-box, Horan has delivered many times over, much to the delight of Ellis and her teammates. The recent North American Women’s Soccer League MVP now brings an added two-way threat to the national team, both as an attacker who complements the offensive-minded front line with her own strikes and headers, spot-on through passes and crosses, and dogged defense. Her complete play for the U.S.and for the NWSL Portland Thorns has positioned this Coloradoan for global stardom.

Ticket to France 2019 is on the Line

CONCACAF Group A teams and FIFA Women’s Ranking:

1. United States

24. Mexico

52. Trinidad and Tobago

66. Panama

CONCACAF Group B teams (games to be played in Edinburg, Texas):

5. Canada

34. Costa Rica

64. Jamaica

88. Cuba

The top two teams from each group move on to Frisco, Texas, for the semifinal, championship, plus third-place matches October, 14-17. The two finalists and third-place team automatically earn berths into the 24-team World Cup Tournament. The fourth-place team will meet Argentina, the third-place team in a two-game playoff with another World Cup invitation that is at stake.

Barring any muscle tweaks or a cardiac arrest, this SB Nation/Burgundy Wave photojournalist aims to cover the USWNT effort and snap a few photographs of Mallory Pugh and Lindsey Horan lifting the CONCACAF Women’s Championship trophy on October, 17 in Frisco, Texas.

How to Watch

Match Date/Time: Thursday, October 4 at 5: 30 p.m. MT

See the full CONCACAF Calendar and Schedule here.

Venue: WakeMed Soccer Park — North Carolina

Live stream: If you subscribe to FS1 but not FS2, you can stream tonight’s match live via the FOX Sports GO app.

Check onto viewing events hosted by your local @AmericanOutLaws chapters:

  • @AOColorado (Denver)
  • @AOSprings (Colorado Springs)
  • @AOBoulder (Boulder)
  • @AOFortCollins (Fort Collins)