Mallory Pugh, the capricious 18-year-old breakout contributor of the U.S. women’s national soccer team at the Rio Olympics, did everything possible to put herself in position to win as a collegian. She graduated from high school early, enrolled at UCLA in January and was all set to contribute from the word “go.”
Then she decided to go pro instead.
Pugh announced she was leaving UCLA on Sunday, and the move was confirmed by a statement from the school. If you think the recent collective bargaining agreement struck between the women’s players and U.S. Soccer had something to do with her decision, you’re almost certainly right; as a member of the national team, Pugh could earn up to $200,000 per year and also add endorsement revenue, as noted by Sports Illustrated soccer insider Grant Wahl, who reported Pugh is set to sign with Wasserman agent Richard Motzkin, who will represent her marketing interests.
Perhaps the most intriguing development now that Pugh has officially turned pro focuses on where she’ll compete next, now that UCLA is off the table. The Washington Spirit technically have first right to sign her in the NWSL, but Pugh — a West Coast native — has apparently made it clear that she has no interest in playing for Washington. That would require a trade to another (likely West Coast) NWSL team or, perhaps more boldly, a first professional contract for Pugh in France or another European country; both Paris St. Germain and Olympique Lyon are allegedly being considered (again, per Wahl).
What this means for the future of American women’s soccer development, and the still solidifying NWSL, remains to be seen. If Pugh stays home in the U.S. and emerges as a next generation star for some NWSL franchise, that could reinforce the league’s talent structure. If she bolts for Europe, it could undermine the league’s pipeline by showing another viable alternative for young stars, not just established names like Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan.