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Mal Pugh to land in Washington after all

From “anywhere but Washington” to “probably Washington.”

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Russia v United States Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

UPDATED with Spirit’s official announcement that Pugh will join them ASAP.

Mallory Pugh won’t be going to Europe despite an offer from PSG on the table - Pugh has agreed to stay in NWSL after meeting with Washington Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra. A report from Steven Goff at The Washington Post says that USSF president Sunil Gulati was “deeply involved in the process” all the way from FIFA meetings in Bahrain and that the road has now been paved for Pugh to end up in Washington.

The likelihood that Pugh will now play for the Washington Spirit has skyrocketed, given both that the Spirit hold the first pick for any available federation player and that they seem to have refused any possible offer for Pugh. Reportedly no formal offers were made, but early in the process, when it was known Pugh would prefer to land in Portland, Grant Wahl reported that the Thorns made an offer for the pick and Washington said no.

With it known that the Spirit wouldn’t be entertaining any offers for their pick, that probably left it between PSG and staying in NWSL. At this point, we can only speculate, but it probably wouldn’t be unfair to think USSF may have whispered in the ear of their young star that they prefer she stays domestic. Perhaps even one of the sponsors she met with mentioned that her star power and brand are probably best managed if she plays at home as opposed to playing in a European league that few Americans are able to watch regularly.

Goff further tweeted Pugh’s signing would be unveiled on Lifetime as part of their NWSL pregame, which starts at 3:30 PM ET.

Presumably this is her formally signing a contract with USSF, which will include her NWSL salary as part of the federation’s deal to subsidize national team salaries in support of league growth. At that point the Spirit will pick Pugh, barring any last-minute deals.

It’s been a bit of a winding road, but the Spirit, who are currently dealing with a landslide of injured players, will surely be glad to see Pugh. This season the Spirit haven’t been bad per se, but so many injuries in combination with key players from 2016 leaving has made this quite an adjustment period for them. Their recent 4-3 win over Sky Blue FC shows they can still put together goals, but Pugh will help with the uncertainty.

UPDATED:

Mal Pugh confirmed she will join the Washington Spirit during Lifetime’s pregame show before the Houston Dash play Sky Blue FC. Per team press release, Pugh is expected to join the team ASAP and will begin training with them Tuesday, May 16. She could be available to play for them as soon as Washington’s May 20 game against FC Kansas City.

Pugh has also signed with Nike in a “long-term partnership.” Pugh was being courted by Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour as she announced she was leaving UCLA to turn pro.

"I think trying to promote and grow women's soccer in the US was super important to me,” Pugh said in her interview on Lifetime. “I think staying in the NWSL and playing for the Washington Spirit was kind of the best decision for me right now.”

Pugh said she loved UCLA, but had a “feeling” it was time to start her professional career. “Ultimately, it’s my decision,” she said.

There will be a lot of pressure on Pugh to perform right away, especially for a team that went to the NWSL final last season and lost name players like Ali Krieger, Christine Nairn, and Diana Matheson. The Spirit are currently seventh in the league standings with a -1 GD. Pugh surely can’t be expected to singlehandedly drag them to the top of the league, but she’ll certainly be expected to add to that goal tally to have the Spirit sitting in a more comfortable mid-table position, and if she pushes them into the top four, so much the better for Pugh and the Spirit.