History finally sinks in for Pugh
BRASILIA, Brazil — While she’s just 18 and the youngest soccer player at the Olympics for the U.S., Mallory Pugh displays the confidence of a seasoned veteran.
The Colorado teenager holds the distinction of being the youngest American ever to score an Olympic goal. She got it on Tuesday night in Manaus, when the three-time defending champion United States won its group with a 2-all draw against Colombia.
A couple of days later, the magnitude of the feat had sunk in — at least as much as possible for someone who considers goals just part of the job.
“I got on the bus after the game and it’s kind of felt like any other goal,” she said Thursday. “But that night I was getting settled in and I was like, this is actually pretty cool. I scored a goal in the Olympics.”
Pugh was in Brasilia preparing with the United States for a quarterfinal match against Sweden on Friday.
The recent graduate from Mountain Vista High School in Colorado made her debut at the senior level in the team’s opening match this year, scoring her first goal in a 5-0 win over Ireland. She’s appeared in 16 matches overall with four goals.
Her latest put the United States up 2-1 against Colombia. She blasted a shot through several defenders in the 59th minute.
“I was asking her when we were in ice bath: ‘Did that shot go through a bunch of people’s legs?’ And she told me, ‘I don’t really know. I just hit it as hard as I could.’ That’s just kind of how she is. She does amazing things and it’s kind of like, ‘Well, I do these things all the time.’ So I guess it’s just every day,” U.S. defender Becky Sauerbrunn said.
Pugh said she remembers thinking: “It’s go time.”
The lead didn’t stand, however, as Catalina Usme scored her second goal of the match on a free kick in the final moments to tie it.
Pugh first came to the attention of U.S. coach Jill Ellis when she was 14. She has played on the under-17 and under-20 national teams, and turned heads when she captained the team that won the CONCACAF Women’s U-20 Championship last year, earning the Golden Boot award for most goals with seven.
She is the youngest of a youth movement for the senior U.S. national team. The average age of the team is 27.8, down from the 29.5-year average of the team that won the World Cup in Canada last summer.
Several veterans, including Abby Wambach and Lauren Holiday, have since retired from the team that beat Japan 5-2 for the World Cup title. Sydney Leroux and Amy Rodriguez didn’t vie for Olympic roster spots because of pregnancies.
Pugh, however, is not the youngest-ever Olympian on the team. That distinction went to Cindy Parlow, who was about a month younger than Pugh is now when she played in the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Following the Olympics, Pugh will compete for the U-20 national team (she’s the captain) at the World Cup for that level of play in Papua New Guinea this November.
She jokes that she still hasn’t figured out how to pack for big tournaments in far-flung locales.
When things settle down, she said she plans to enroll at UCLA in January.
She didn’t enroll for the fall because she didn’t want to use a redshirt year.
At least for now, she’s all about soaking up the Olympic experience. Pugh would like nothing more than to help the U.S. win a fourth straight gold.
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