, whom Anson Dorrance
has called “the Mia Hamm
of her generation," is leaving UCLA without having played an official game. Where she plays -- the NWSL or France
-- remains to be seen.
Pugh, who won't turn 19 until April 29, had once before contemplated turning pro but she enrolled at UCLA in the winter quarter and played in three spring games for
the Bruins this year. She sat out her freshman season last fall to represent the USA at the 2016 Under-20 Women's World Cup.
"This decision was certainly not easy for me to make," Pugh
said. "UCLA is such a special place, and being a Bruin was an incredible thing. UCLA Soccer brought amazing things to my life, and chasing after a national championship with my friends and teammates
would've been special, but I could not turn down this opportunity. I want to thank my teammates, coaches, UCLA Athletics, and everyone else for the support I have behind me. I may have been here for a
short time, but UCLA will always have a special place in my heart, and I will always be a Bruin."
Pugh has scored five goals and added three assists in 22 games for the USA since making
her national team debut in January 2016 when she was 17. She quickly became an integral part of the national team and made the 2016 U.S. Olympic team.
"We are sad to see Mal depart UCLA,
but it's exciting for her to have such a unique opportunity," said UCLA head coach Amanda Cromwell
. "Our relationship with Mal started a long time ago in the recruiting process. We've seen her
develop and grow into an amazing young woman and player. Mal will always be a Bruin, and we have no doubt that she is destined for great things as her career progresses." NWSL?
Pugh almost turned pro in January 2016 when the Portland Thorns acquired the first spot in the NWSL's allocation rankings in a trade with the Boston
Breakers with the hope of using it to sign Pugh. The 2016 rankings expired at the end of last year.
The Breakers again had the No. 1 spot in the 2017 allocation order but swapped the No.
1 and No. 2 spots as part of a bigger deal with Washington. The Spirit had originally moved up to No. 2 in the allocation rankings in the deal that sent unhappy Ali Krieger
The unsettled situation at Washington, where 2015 NWSL MVP Crystal Dunn
left to join England's Chelsea Ladies, has put a cloud over the Pugh situation.
Portland -- which drew more fans for its opener on Saturday
than the four other NWSL openers combined -- is the most
popular destination for players. The Thorns' roster includes Pugh's U.S. teammates Meghan Klingenberg
, Emily Sonnett
, Lindsey Horan
, Allie Long
and Tobin Heath
Portland would have to swing a deal with Washington to sign Pugh.
An NWSL contract would supplement the income Pugh would earn from the U.S. national team as well as endorsements. The
recent conclusion of a new collective bargaining agreement gives some clarity to Pugh can earn. She'll have to weigh that against what she might earn by playing abroad. FRANCE?
Like Pugh, Horan grew up in the Denver area. She turned pro out of high school and turned down a scholarship to North Carolina to play for Paris St. Germain
in France. PSG and Lyon, which signed Alex Morgan
in January, have the best-financed women's programs in Europe and would be considered the only realistic options for Pugh abroad.