UPDATED with new information on where Pugh prefers to land.
Mallory Pugh had three games this spring with UCLA, where it looked like she Canadian international Jessie Fleming would be ruling every pitch they stepped on together for the next three years. But now Pugh has said she intends to leave college go pro.
“...chasing after a national championship with my friends and teammates would've been special, but I could not turn down this opportunity,” Pugh said via UCLA press release.
Turning pro of course means Pugh can get paid by US Soccer now, and just when they negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement with a rumored $165k base pay before bonuses (with bonuses, that figure gets pushed into the $200-300k range). This decision also comes on the heels of allocated player Amy Rodriguez likely having a season-ending ACL injury, perhaps freeing up a spot that wasn’t available before, assuming USSF only had 22 allocations spots this season and wasn’t holding two in reserve.
Should Pugh head to NWSL, it’s almost certain she would receive an allocation spot from US Soccer as a federation player whose salary is covered by USSF instead of her club team. And as an allocated player in NWSL, she would go to the Washington Spirit, who hold the #1 spot in the allocation distribution order after trading for it with the Boston Breakers. The Breakers gave up Kristie Mewis, Kassey Kallman, and the allocation spot in exchange for Megan Oyster, the #3 and #9 2017 draft picks, and the #2 allocation spot.
But with respect to NWSL and the Washington Spirit, “I could not turn down this opportunity” definitely does not sound like Pugh got lured to the high-flying world of NWSL. An opportunity so good she decided to leave behind a full-ride scholarship probably doesn’t mean NWSL money, and the teams currently in position to pay a player of Pugh’s caliber and hype are in France and England. (Note: if Pugh goes to Europe, she will still receive the NT portion of a contract with USSF, just not the NWSL part.)
And in fact Grant Wahl has reported that Pugh doesn’t want to go to Washington (sorry Washington). The Portland Thorns, who already tried to work out a deal with Pugh once, are on her list, but France is also still an option. Wahl has made it sound like Pugh will use the possibility she could go to France (and there have to be at least some vague offers on the table for Pugh to use France as leverage) to try and push through a deal allowing her to play for Portland despite the Spirit having first pick in the allocation order. It’s great for Pugh that she has the talent and hype to produce that kind of leverage; it remains to be seen if the league and clubs will deal with those terms.
Pugh would be one of a very small handful of female players to skip NCAA ball to turn pro; Lindsey Horan did it in 2012 when she decided not to attend UNC and signed a rumored six-figure deal with Paris Saint-Germain. Most female players know that soccer is not something that will set them up for life and need the security of a college degree to get jobs after they retire from the game.
There are a couple of French clubs like PSG and Olympique Lyonnais, the current home of Alex Morgan, who could afford to bring on Pugh. And of course Chelsea and Manchester City in the FAWSL are no strangers to high-profile American signings, with perhaps Arsenal in the wings. Russian and Chinese clubs have also been known to offer lucrative contracts to foreign players, although neither of those countries have the kind of competitive league that would keep Pugh sharp and on Jill Ellis’ radar.
If Pugh does end up in Europe, that will be bitter disappointment for Spirit fans, who have lost huge swathes of their 2016 championship roster, as well as team stalwart Joanna Lohman, who just tore her ACL during opening weekend. But Pugh can go just about anywhere she wants, and you can’t fault anyone in the women’s game for following the money when it’s still fairly hard to make a living at it.