Boyds, M.D. — Mallory Pugh is officially a member of the Washington Spirit and the National Women’s Soccer League.
The 19-year old forward went to her first Spirit practice on Tuesday morning before meeting the media at an introductory press conference alongside head coach and general manager Jim Gabarra, team captain Shelina Zadorsky and Spirit president Chris Hummer.
“Today at training, I felt like I just meshed right in,” Pugh said. “We were playing around. There were smiles all over the field, which I love. If you’re not having fun with what you’re doing, you’re not going to succeed. I can really tell that everyone is just having fun, but also is very competitive and wants to get better.
“That’s the vibe I got out of today and I love it.”
“We’re so happy to welcome her. [She is] obviously a dynamic, attacking player and someone who will fit right in perfectly,” Zadorsky said. “I think, obviously, with a lot of changes throughout last year, we’re growing each and every game. This is just a positive spark for us right now.”
Pugh is expected to make her NWSL debut in Washington’s next game, when the Spirit host FC Kansas City on Saturday, May 20 (7 p.m. ET).
The Colorado native arrived in Maryland on Monday following the Saturday announcement that she would join the NWSL and her interview on Lifetime during the pregame show before the NWSL Game of the Week.
She said she was “flooded with texts” after the announcement and heard from Zadorsky as well as Gabarra on Saturday.
“It was amazing. It shows that people care,” she said.
“There was a bunch of emotions going on. There was nerves, excitement, everything.”
Pugh said the decision to go pro had been a “lingering thought” before leaving UCLA in April and joining the NWSL. Following rumors that she might join the NWSL last year after high school, she deferred her start at UCLA to January 2017 to participate in the 2016 U-20 FIFA Women’s World Cup. She played in three spring games this year before leaving school in April to turn pro.
“I’m glad I went to UCLA. It was one of the best experiences of my life. Met great people, the coaches were amazing there. I think for me, at this point in my life, I wanted to kind of step out of my comfort zone and push myself into a new level,” she said.
“I’m happy with my decision. I’m very happy with it. Coming here, everything was welcoming and it feels good.”
Pugh brings her international experience to the Spirit, having scored four goals in 22 appearances with the U.S. women’s national team since her debut in January 2016, following a strong U-17 and U-20 career.
She joins a Spirit team that has struggled to start the season, going 1-3-1 through the first five weeks.
“It’s important that we not have too high expectations for Mallory,” Gabarra said. “This is a long process, whether it’s a 19-year old, or a 30-year-old international who has not played in our league. It takes almost a year of games to really feel comfortable and figure it out. It’s important that we let Mal enjoy the process and really be free just to learn and develop and not say, ‘She’s coming in here to lift this team up.’ This team is in a good place.
“We’re welcoming the injection of energy and youth and quality that she’s going to bring without setting the bar way way high for her.”
Pugh said she is setting aside the attention that joining the NWSL has received and focusing on the field.
“For me, it’s just all about playing and trying to win games and trying to make an impact. The most important thing is trying to develop,” she said. “Having fun playing soccer is my main thing right now.”
The Spirit will host FC Kansas City on Saturday, May 20 (7 p.m. ET) and Pugh could see her first minutes as a professional soccer player in the match.