On Saturday evening, the Maryland SoccerPlex was buzzing, not because of the game between FC Kansas City and the Washington Spirit that was set to take place, but because of who was set to make her debut. Mallory Pugh earned her first professional minutes in a 1-0 loss for the Spirit.
In the 54th minute, Pugh entered the match for Arielle Ship. When Pugh stepped on the field, she became the youngest American-born player to appear in the NWSL at just 19-years-old. With US Women’s National Team head coach Jill Ellis in attendance for the match, Pugh played primarily as a left forward, a position she has become familiar with on the national team.
“I think that’s where she’s most comfortable and that’s where she best fits our style of play and our system,” Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra said when talking to the media after the game. “It’s probably the easiest transition for her, rather than playing in the midfield where there’s tactically some different things that she’s got to get used to.”
Both teams had numerous chances to score throughout the game, but it was not until the 39th minute that either side broke through. Kansas City forward Sydney Leroux flicked on a ball to midfielder Alexa Newfield who buried the ball past goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé. The Spirit had chances of their own but failed to deposit any of their opportunities.
“The times we attacked the flanks, which was the game plan, we created scoring chances,” Gabarra said. “I think if we get a goal out of what we created in the first 20-30 minutes, I think we walk out of here with an easy three points, but that didn’t happen. That’s kind of been the theme for three of our four home games.”
Despite the ongoing offensive struggles for the Spirit, the defense bounced back from a 6-2 defeat the week before in Seattle. This marks the third time this season that Washington has lost 1-0 at the Plex.
“Defensively we did much better limiting their chances and not really giving them any big scoring chances other than the goal obviously,” Labbé said post game. “I think with that, it’s just continuing to build on the offense. That’s where were going to win games. We need to start scoring goals. I think keep pushing towards that and building our confidence with that is where we need to go.”
The midfield saw the biggest change this week. Tori Huster was out with a quad strain and Kassey Kallman did not see action for the first time in over three years. The play of Line Sigvardsen, Meggie Dougherty Howard and Kristie Mewis did a better job of connecting between the backline and the forwards than in previous weeks.
“It was organized and I think they worked really hard, but you can’t replace Tori. I’ve said all along, when you don’t see her out there, you really have a good appreciation of how much she does,” Gabarra said. “Her mobility and winning of balls and change the point of attack was something we really missed, even though the three of them, Line and Meggie and Kristie did a very good job.”
The Spirit will travel to Kansas City next week for the second half of a home and away series with the Blues. Kickoff for next week’s matchup will be at 8 p.m. ET.