US Soccer recently had the interesting opportunity to cap two 17-year-old attacking players whose name starts with P in the same year, one for the WNT and one for the MNT. Both of them are being widely hailed as the future of the US program and both of them have already gotten off to bright starts despite their age and relative lack of experience. We've compiled an introduction to these American wunderkinds so you can get familiar with a pair of faces you'll hopefully be watching score lots of goals over the next 10 years.
1. How did they get to the national team?
Pugh: She worked her way up the ranks of US Soccer, starting with the U-17's, with whom she had a fantastic 2013 CONCACAF tournament with five goals and three assists when she was 15. Then with the U-20's, she won Golden Ball and Golden Boot at the 2015 CONCACAF tournament. She'll captain the U-20's in the 2016 World Cup in Papua New Guinea.
She received her first senior team cap on January 23, 2016 in a friendly against Republic of Ireland by subbing in in the 58’ for Alex Morgan. She scored her first goal in the same game.
Pulisic: At 14, he joined the U.S. Soccer U-17 Residency Program in Bradenton, FL. After impressing and catching the eye of Borussia Dortmund, he signed with the Bundesliga club in 2015 after receiving his Croatian passport.
He scored six goals and five assists in just eight matches for the club's U-17 side to end that season. Promotion to the U-19's greeted him at the beginning of this most recent season. The youngster continued to standout and eventually the club's first-team manager, Thomas Tuchel, promoted him to the squad during the winter break.
After two months of on-again-off-again minutes with the first-team, Jurgen Klinsmann called him up for a home World Cup qualifier in March. His international debut came against Guatemala in Columbus, OH. He became the youngest player to ever appear in a World Cup qualifier for the USA when he was subbed on for Graham Zusi in the 81st minute.
2. Strengths and weaknesses
Pugh: She has incredible composure, and not just for her age. Pugh has the presence of mind and ball control to operate while under pressure and can keep her head up to either find the right pass into space, go one-v-one, or take the shot herself. She has good speed, which probably still hasn't topped out yet as she finishes developing physically, good timing, and is pretty strong for her size.
Her judgment on shots isn't quite there yet; there are times when she maybe should have ripped one herself, but that's the kind of thing that comes with experience.
Pulisic: The most impressive quality he possesses is his technical ability. His first touch is silky smooth and sets him up to attack defenders or find his teammates with ease. The ability to maneuver in tight spaces is another aspect of his game that stands out. While many American players panic and give the ball away when put under pressure, Pulisic has the special sense to remain calm and escape or find the right pass.
At such a young age, his body is still developing. His strength is his biggest current weakness. Getting knocked off the ball or out-muscled too easily is one area he needs to improve on. Playing in one of the top leagues in the world and at the international level should force him to get better at protecting the ball against bigger and stronger players.
3. Future with the national team
Pugh: Mallory Pugh may be the most eagerly anticipated forward to play for the WNT who has already gotten a cap and a goal. She still hasn't gone through a major tournament with the team, but already there's talk she may be involved with the Olympic roster. She's a new generation of attacking player who has pace and strength with the soccer IQ to match and could end up as part of creative, fluid front line with Christen Press and/or Crystal Dunn. Her youth also means that she should be fully primed by the 2019 World Cup, and could certainly go one more into 2023 (and beyond, who knows). Pugh represents a long-term investment by the WNT who looks like she really won't require that much more investing before the dividends pay out.
Pulisic: The USMNT haven't had a player with this much talent since Landon Donovan in his best years. This is the type of future that Pulisic could possibly have if developed properly. His skill set is one that a manager can choose to build their entire attack around if they choose. Much like Donovan was the USA's main attacking threat both in creating and finishing chances, Pulisic can be too if utilized properly.
The mix of playmaking abilities and quality in the final third is one that few American players have ever possessed. The best case scenario is that he develops into the world class player USMNT supporters have been waiting for. His current career trajectory suggests that's possible. We've seen many players with tons of potential come through the national team ranks but none with this much success this early on. Expect him to be a focal point of the national team for the long-term barring any unforeseen circumstances.