Mallory Pugh to make pro debut with Spirit this weekend

Mallory Pugh isn't particularly fond of the spotlight.

The 19-year-old forward is waaayyy more comfortable just playing her game. But her on-field ability is what has ultimately led to countless interviews over the past week as she prepares to do make her professional debut with the Washington Spirit of the National Women's Soccer League.

Pugh's getting extra attention because she's a rarity in the women's game: she skipped college soccer to go straight to the pros.

"I'd like to just play," she said, laughing.

The only other prominent American woman to turn professional out of high school was Lindsey Horan , who passed up a scholarship to North Carolina to play professionally in France before joining the NWSL's Portland Thorns last year.

"You see it on the men's side all the time and it's completely normal," Pugh said. "Some kids go over to Europe when they're 15 years old and play with clubs over in Europe. I think women's soccer in the U.S. is evolving."

Pugh, who hails from Colorado, was busy last year with the U.S. women's national team, first as the youngest woman on the Olympic team, and then on the Under-20 national team that played in that level's World Cup.

She enrolled at UCLA in January and took part in a few spring games with her freshman season on the horizon this fall. But then Pugh surprised many by deciding to turn pro.

There were questions about what she might do: Join U.S. teammates Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan in playing professionally overseas, or stay in the NWSL, the domestic league in its fifth season.

Pugh chose the latter. She is the youngest player in the league.

"For right now, for where I am, I think staying in the United States and playing for the Spirit was the best decision for me," she said. "Staying at home, you're in the U.S. I mean, I'm only 19 so it's better for me."

Once Pugh became an allocated player she went to the Spirit, which held the top spot in the distribution order. Here's how it works: U.S. Soccer allocates national team players across the league and pays their salaries. Canadian players are similarly allocated.

The same day she joined the Spirit, Nike announced it had signed Pugh to a sponsorship deal.

Life is coming at her fast: She joined the team for her first practice earlier this week and on Saturday she makes her debut when the Spirit host Kansas City. She's also doing the little things that come with a big move, like settling into an apartment.

"I think it's a big step for Mallory to take but I think it's a step, again, that's groundbreaking, but also something that we'll see more of in the future," Spirit coach Jim Gabarra said . "We're really looking forward to helping Mallory develop and get where she needs to be, which is one of the better players for the U.S. women's national team."

Pugh has four goals in 22 matches with the national team since she scored in her international debut in January 2016. She became the youngest American with an Olympic goal when she scored against Colombia in Brazil last summer.

She'll be the first to acknowledge she's got a long way to go. But she's clearly among the league's brightest young stars. She's also a national player to follow in advance of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.

"Becoming more technical and becoming faster, not off the ball, but just the speed of play and thinking fast," she said when asked about what she needs to work on. "And developing a better soccer brain."

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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