Mallory Pugh, the blazingly fast and wildly skilled winger who played with the U.S. women’s team in the 2016 Olympics, is leaving UCLA to turn pro, according to a statement released by the school. The 18-year-old enrolled at UCLA in January and would have begun her freshman season in the fall. Instead, she decided to take her talents to the professional ranks before she ever played a competitive game for UCLA, which isn’t too much of a surprise considering U.S. Soccer just reached a new collective bargaining agreement with the women’s players, guaranteeing some players upwards of $200,000 a year. Turning pro means she can cash checks from U.S. Soccer as well as pick up endorsement deals.
Now, the biggest question is where Pugh will sign. If she chooses to stay in the U.S. and play in the National Women’s Soccer League, allocation rules dictate the Washington Spirit would have the option to sign her first. But according to Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl, Pugh doesn’t want to play in D.C.:
Three sources close to the situation told SI.com that Portland was one of Pugh’s preferred destinations in the NWSL. But multiple sources said that destinations in France, including Lyon and PSG, were also in play if Pugh was not satisfied with what the NWSL was willing to offer.
Should she follow in the footsteps of older teammates like Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd and play in Europe, she would still earn some pay from U.S. Soccer as well as a salary from the club. If she doesn’t play in Europe, she could conceivably be signed by the Spirit and traded to Portland or another club, though a player of her caliber and burgeoning star power would certainly command a hefty cost from whatever team traded for her.
It’s rare for women’s soccer players to leave college early to turn pro, so wherever Pugh goes, it’ll be exciting to watch her buck convention and earn her worth.