You might have heard that USWNT wunderkind Mallory Pugh has decided not to play for UCLA and is instead turning pro.
The question now is: where?
How we got here
In the initial flurry of speculation, it sounded like there were two basic options: a team in Europe who could afford her salary, or NWSL. The Washington Spirit currently have first stab at Pugh’s rights as per the league’s rules about “Unattached Federation Individuals,” or “an Individual who a Federation has designated as a potential Federation Player, but whose rights are not yet controlled by a Team.” Basically there’s an order in which NWSL teams can pick federation players, and the Spirit are at the top after a series of trades.
When Pugh was initially considering turning pro in 2016, the league and USSF cooked up an “Unattached Subsidized Individual” system that had teams able to pick from the USI pool in reverse order of finish from the season before as a way to theoretically even out the distribution of WNT players across the league. (“Subsidized” has now become “Federation” in the rules.) Portland traded to the #1 spot in what was widely seen as an attempt to be in prime position to pick Pugh. Pugh decided to enroll at UCLA instead.
For 2017, Boston had the top spot in the distribution order as the last-place team in 2016. The Spirit traded for that #1 spot, once again probably with an eye on Pugh. Then Pugh finally made her move, but with the caveat she would prefer not to play in Washington, who made it to the 2016 NWSL championship and then promptly gutted their own roster. Instead, Pugh wants to go to Portland.
The Thorns reportedly made an offer to Washington a couple of weeks ago, but according to Grant Wahl, Washington straight up said no. What was the offer? Apparently a two-for-one deal, although Merritt Paulson took to twitter to deny it.
The new hot goss
Wahl has an update now, saying that Pugh reportedly met with Spirit representatives on Monday, but still wants to go to Portland. Additionally, Pugh might not end up with Portland OR Washington and instead could potentially go to Orlando, Seattle, or Houston.
Wahl also pointed to a further issue between Washington and Portland that might be poisoning the well, which is that the Thorns hired head coach Mark Parsons away from the Spirit after the 2015 season. That one’s a bit puzzling, considering if the Thorns were able to hire Parsons, it means he was free to leave the Spirit, and it’s the Spirit’s own fault for not tying him down with a contract extension. But feuds have been built on less, and so the Spirit seem not to want to relinquish their chance at Pugh for anything.
There’s also an offer from French side Paris Saint-Germain on the table, which adds a little urgency to the negotiations with the Spirit; if all else fails, Pugh can take her ball and go to Europe in a classic “okay now NOBODY gets to have candy” situation. Still, according to Wahl, Pugh wants to remain in the United States if possible, which is surely also USSF’s preference. The combined interest from non-Washington and non-Portland teams might be enough to keep Pugh around; Houston and Orlando both have high-quality facilities and plenty of amenities due to their MLS partnerships and Seattle’s Laura Harvey has a reputation for being a real player’s coach.
So where will Pugh land? Look, the league seems to be going to a lot of trouble to keep her here in the States, which is good, considering the value she can bring to NWSL. But if it all gets to be too much of a hassle and she winds up with PSG instead, it’s not the worst thing in the world. Sure, in that case Spirit fans should probably be mad at their team owner Bill Lynch for not taking what were surely some good-value offers either because he really believed a 19-year-old rookie could help his struggling team climb out of the bottom of the standings, or because he really was that petty. But overall, for the league, it would be fine. Pugh would probably return to the United States of her own volition anyway, especially in 2018 as the WNT prepares for World Cup qualification.
For now, the saga continues. Where will Mallory Pugh end up? The only definitive answer for now seems to be “not Washington.” Sorry, Washington.