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Colorado’s Mallory Pugh shines in return to USWNT play

Assists on three goals as Team USA routs Paraguay and looks forward to second match-up on Sept. 21

Soccer: USWNT International Friendly Match-Paraguay at USA David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado Real alumni Mallory Pugh has endured a long absence from national team play. But on Sept. 16, before 14,000-plus avid U.S. National Team supporters, the 23-year was firing on all cylinders and delivered for both herself, her teammates, and U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) head coach Vlatko Andonovski.

Pugh not only made the starting XI, but she also contributed right from the get-go during her 58-minute showing in Cleveland, Ohio’s First Energy Stadium. When she was subbed out for fellow Real Academy product, Sophia Smith, the free-spirited Pugh shoveled off a career-high three assists to help under right the Lady Yanks 9-0 battering of Team Paraguay.

During his post-match press conference, when the amiable Andonovski took time to compliment Pugh’s field play, saying “We are very happy with her performance. This is just one of those games to get her back in, to refresh the principles, and hopefully, it’s just the beginning of getting her back to her best.”

The start was Pugh’s first for the senior side in nearly one year. The last time the Highland’s Ranch native saw playing time was on March 11, 2020, when she slipped in an assist as a second-half substitute in the USA’s 3-1 win over Japan in SheBelieves Cup match. The Colorado favorite now has 64 caps with the national team.

Soccer: USWNT International Friendly Match-Paraguay at USA David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Three minutes into the Paraguay game, Pugh served a corner kick to the six-yard line. An on-rushing Carli Lloyd leaped over a number of her marks and headed the ball into the net for the game’s opening goal. Lloyd went on to lead all scorers with five goals.

Twenty-seven minutes later, Pugh played a beautiful pass to Lynn Williams, who was moving in transition. Williams took a touch from 25 yards out before she launched a missile over Paraguay’s goalkeeper.

The next beneficiary of a Pugh assist was Andi Sullivan. During the 49th minute of play, Pugh set up for her free-kick from about 36 yards out on the left sideline of the field. Her strong drive sent the service to the six-yard line. It found Sullivan, who glanced a header that hopped and skipped inside the right goal post.

The three assists marked the most in any game in Pugh’s international career. To that end, it is most by any USWNT player since Alex Morgan had three assists in the USA’s 13-0 shellacking of Thailand in the 2019 World Cup Tournament.

Returning to form has been one of Pugh’s foremost objectives. She has rediscovered much of it during her training and playing with her National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) side, the Chicago Red Stars since being traded from New Jersey’s Sky Blue FC earlier this year.

Her mix of sequential setbacks has taken a small toll on her body and psyche. She has brought on a professional sports therapist to support her with the latter. “I don’t feel young,” Pugh stated during her pre-match presser. “I had to remind myself that I am young and I still have a lot of years ahead of me.”

She continued, “Over my club career, it’s been a little uneasy. I finally think I found Chicago to be a place where I can express how I want to play.” Her free-motion style of play has excelled in the Windy City. “It was very beneficial for me after coming off some injuries. I needed to find my form again and, thankfully, I was able to do that in Chicago.” Pugh was the Player of the Week during NWSL week nine play.

“When Mallory is performing well, staying healthy and she’s performing well on a consistent basis, she’s going to be a very important piece of this puzzle,” Andonovski said during the same call with media. “She’s going to be a very important player for this team. I’m excited for her and we’re looking forward to having Mal in good form.”

In substituting in for Pugh, the rising striker Sophia Smith earned her seventh cap with the senior team. Smith did get off a powerful shot on goal that deflected off of both the goalkeeper and post.

Rush Colorado alumni Lindsey Horan did not play as a result of an injury that she sustained during a recent match with her NWSL Portland Thorns team.

The USWNT close out its two-game series with Paraguay at Cincinnati’s TQL Stadium tomorrow. Paraguay is currently ranked 50th in the world and fifth in South America behind Brazil (7th in the FIFA World Rankings), Colombia (26th), Argentina (35th), and Chile (37th).

USWNT DETAILED ROSTER BY POSITION (CLUB; CAPS/GOALS):

GOALKEEPERS (2): Jane Campbell (Houston Dash; 5), Adrianna Franch (Kansas City NWSL; 8)

DEFENDERS (7): Abby Dahlkemper (Houston Dash; 74/0), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars; 39/1), Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC; 122/24), Casey Krueger (Chicago Red Stars; 35/0), Kelley O’Hara (Washington Spirit; 145/2), Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC; 193/0), Emily Sonnett (Washington Spirit; 58/0)

MIDFIELDERS (5): Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC; 104/23), Rose Lavelle (OL Reign; 62/15), Catarina Macario (Olympique Lyon, FRA; 8/1), Kristie Mewis (Houston Dash; 28/4), Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit; 17/0)

FORWARDS (6): Tobin Heath (Arsenal, ENG; 177/35), Carli Lloyd (NJ/NY Gotham FC; 312/128), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride; 186/111), Mallory Pugh (Chicago Red Stars; 63/18), Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC; 6/0), Lynn Williams (North Carolina Courage; 40/12)

How to Watch

Match Date/Time: Tuesday, September 21 at 5:38 p.m. MT

Venue: TQL Stadium, Cinncinati, Ohio

TV Information: TUDN USA, FoxSports TUDN App, FOX Sports App, Fox Sports 1

Follow along on Twitter @USWNT, @AODenver, @AOSprings on Instagram @USMNT, Facebook, or the official U.S. Soccer App