World Cup debut inspires Pugh to strive for greatness

  • Exclusive interview with USWNT forward Mallory Pugh

  • She reveals her most memorable moments from France 2019

  • "I've never been so motivated in my life"

A host of winning veterans inspired the USA’s triumph at the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in France, with the likes of The Best FIFA Women's Player finalists Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan leading the front line while Julie Ertz and Becky Sauerbrunn stymied opposing attackers. But while the Stars and Stripes had a consistent foundation that strengthened their bid to become repeat world champions, there were also players making the most of gracing the stage for the first time.

The second-youngest player on the USA roster at 21 years old, forward Mallory Pugh played behind Rapinoe, Morgan and Carli Lloyd, three of the most prolific attackers in the country’s history. For the Colorado native and Washington Spirit winger, France 2019 was a transformative experience on the international scene.

Pugh chatted with about what the World Cup meant to her, what she learned from her team-mates and more.

Do you remember where you were and how you felt the moment you learned you had made the USA's World Cup roster?

I was in Washington, D.C. I remember Jill [Ellis, USA head coach] called me right before training. It kind of just gave me a feeling of relief that I was going to a World Cup. But it was also a little intimidating! I was going back to training and thinking, ‘OK, now the work has to start.’ Of course we’d been working prior to that – forever, really. But now it was time to take it into the next gear.

What moments personally stood out to you in France?

Playing against Thailand and scoring a goal was really cool and fun. But seeing Lindsey [Horan], Sam [Mewis] and Rose [Lavelle] all score their first World Cup goals – I think that was definitely a highlight of mine.

The France game was amazing too. The atmosphere was incredible. It was the first time we felt like we were playing an away match. Every other game I felt like we had the home advantage despite not being at home. Even though I didn’t play, that was probably one of my favourite games. We were playing the host country and it was all out, all or nothing. One of the craziest games I’ve been a part of. It’s hard to put into words.

There was huge support for the host country, USA, the Netherlands and many others. How impressed were you by the atmosphere?

France did such a great job hosting. It was cool to see so many people in the stands and so many different countries very passionate about their women’s football teams.

I believe we have the best fans in the world. Like I said, we felt at home for almost every game in France. Having their support over there, where it can be a tough environment to play in otherwise as an American, definitely made the experience so much more special.

Training alongside players like Rapinoe and Morgan each day must have been a big boost to your development.

Not going to lie, it was definitely hard leading up to the World Cup. But I realised that I am learning from the best forwards in the world, in my opinion. Really there’s no other 21-year-old who gets the opportunity to learn from them the way I do. I took every little thing into account. Every training I’d be watching what Tobin [Heath] and ‘Pinoe’ would do, because I played out wide more.

It was nice to admire all their hard work, and how special each one of them is at their craft. Everyone knows that they’re passionate and great role models. To be in that environment every single day made me better.

REIMS, FRANCE - JUNE 11: Mallory Pugh of the USA celebrates with teammate Megan Rapinoe  after scoring her team's eleventh goal during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group F match between USA and Thailand at Stade Auguste Delaune on June 11, 2019 in Reims, France. (Photo by Cathrin Mueller - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Rapinoe or Morgan may walk away with The Best FIFA Women’s Player award in Milan on 23 September. What do you think makes each of them special?

I remember watching Megan at the last World Cup in 2015, and she was very, very good. But I think this World Cup she stepped up even more in big moments, and that’s probably one of the hardest things to do. She was a true professional and really put the team on her back in those moments. I think she is an amazing player. It’s well deserved that she’s on that list.

I can say all the same things about Alex. I really think that she is the best No9 in the world. Some of the goals she scores make you go, ‘How does she do that?’ It’s cool to be around them and be working with them. I can learn from them. I’m excited to see what happens for both of them.

Jill Ellis is also on the shortlist for The Best FIFA Women’s Coach this year. What makes her such an effective leader?

I tell people all the time that we were so well prepared for anything that could happen in France, and that’s because Jill does such a great job. All 23 players knew exactly what had to be done and what the mission was. As a coach, that can be hard to get everyone on board, but I think Jill did an outstanding job there. That’s why we were so successful – everyone was so well prepared, no matter the role.

How did what transpired in France motivate you moving forward in your career?

After the final, I felt like I’ve never been so motivated in my life. I’ve never felt anything like that – it’s the best feeling ever, and I want to feel that again. I now know the work required to put in, but I also know there’s so much more that has to happen. I just have to keep pushing.