All eyes were on 17-year-old Mallory Pugh when she made her debut for the United State Women's National team in 2016. She came into camp as a relative unknown to most but she made her name with the U-17s. She was one of the top scorers in that qualifying cycle and showed tremendous promise.
She made so much of an impression that USWNT head coach Jill Ellis decided to bring her into camp. Pugh proved to Ellis that her performance wasn't a fluke and scored in her very first cap for the team.
Fast forward to 2017 and we have an interesting situation brewing. Now 19-years-old, Pugh had joined the UCLA Bruins with the intention of playing soccer at the prestigious school.
Pugh had a change of heart and opted to join the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) instead. The league is filled with top-tier talent from Canada, the United States, and Mexico. It also has oversight from the aforementioned countries federations.
This is key to the success of the NWSL as the federations would pay the salaries of more talented players like Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, or Christen Press.
Pugh, falls into that player pool for the United States and has to enter the allocation process. The allocation process can be best described as a waiver-wire of sorts. Meaning that the worst performing team has the opportunity to sign Pugh.
Should they pass; the next worse performing team would then get the opportunity. However, there is a caveat to this whole thing. Teams may pay for the right to sign Pugh.
For example, the Washington Spirit (the team that landed Pugh) could receive money from another club like the Boston Breakers. The Breakers would assume the sport that was previously held by the Spirit. Thus, being able to speak and negotiate Pugh.
Pugh is now with the Washington Spirit and they are a club in desperate need of her services. With a record of 1-3-1 in the first five weeks of the season; they are looking for a quick turnaround. They are a team that are missing the presence of veterans Crystal Dunn and Ali Krieger.
Dunn joined Chelsea in England and Krieger was traded in the offseason to the Orlando Pride. Pugh's early jump to the pros signifies something interesting. It's indicative of why the rest of the world is beating us in football (soccer).
Some pundits will make the argument that the lack of a good academy system in the United States is what hurts soccer as a whole in this country.
I would say that I disagree with them. One can look to clubs domestically and see the success that FC Dallas or Columbus Crew SC are having as they are two clubs that boast the most youth on their rosters.
Some would blame players going to college as a reason we don't have thriving players across the world. They are correct...to an extent.
Players frequently get injured in college and are just not the same going forward. I played soccer with a former USWNT prospect who was an all-star in her time at Virginia. Until an ACL injury left her missing her speed and brought her back down to earth.
Don't get me wrong, she was tearing up my rec league but just wasn't garnering attention where it mattered.
A trend that we are starting to see is players are starting to turn pro rather than go to school. Look no further than Jordan Morris of the Seattle Sounders and Lindsey Horan of the Portland Thorns. Morris, finished out his college years at Stanford and Horan skipped school all together to sign with the powerful french club PSG.
Morris only decided to finish school after being courted by several clubs in the German Bundesliga. He thrived in college and won the Mac Hermann trophy. Which is the soccer equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.
Horan thrived in France and was a relative unknown under previous USWNT coach Tom Sermanni. It wasn't until Jill Ellis took over that Horan started seeing regular gametime. Once she began thriving with the USWNT she made the jump to the NWSL and joining up with the Portland Thorns to be a part of their successful midfield.
U.S. Soccer has been hungry for a new star ever since the retirement of Abby Wambach. Alex Morgan has filled the void nicely but her production has been hampered by injury.
Christen Press has really blossomed into an effective striker for the national team and newcomers like Rose Lavelle have really thrived. Pugh is more than capable of playing with more senior members of the program.
In the past people used to freak out that athletes weren't finishing their schooling. As someone who finished the majority of my final year online; that won't be an issue for Pugh. In fact, midfielder Morgan Brian of the Houston Dash just finished her schooling from the University of Virginia after being drafted two years ago.
Pugh jumping to the professional ranks is good for women and the game of soccer in general. She will get the quality coaching that she needs given she plays at an advanced level, and she won't be playing down to her competition.
She has tremendous potential and really can be something great. The NWSL must handle Pugh's debut carefully and not push her to hard. The 19-year-old could be one of the best players the NWSL has ever seen.