What we know about Mallory Pugh’s parents

Mallory Pugh was only 21 when she won the 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup. In the couple of years after, injury and inconsistency threatened to derail the footballing prospect’s career. In 2021 Pugh joined the Chicago Red Stars – her third club in as many years – following a disappointing spell with Sky Blue FC. 

At the Chicago Red Stars, Pugh’s enjoying something of a renaissance. She’s had eight goal involvements in the 2021 season and will be looking to guide the Red Stars to playoff glory. Pugh hasn’t enjoyed the start to club football that most expected, but at only 23 years old, she has plenty of time to deliver on her undoubted promise.

Pugh’s mom and dad stopped competing with their daughters after it threatened to get dangerous

Mallory ‘Mal’ Pugh was born on 29th April 1998 to Karen and Horace Pugh. She grew up alongside her older sister, Brianna, in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. 

Mal inherited her athletic genes from her track-loving parents. Karen was a prolific long-distance high school runner before she graduated to triathlon in college. Yoga has replaced biking and swimming, but she still retains enough energy for running. 

Horace ran track and played football as a young man growing up in Pueblo, Colorado. His long jump best effort ranks in the top five for distance at Western State Colorado University. 

Karen used to enjoy running with Mal around Washington Park. She set the pace for Mal, but when Mal was around ten, she bet Karen at a 5K race for charity. Karen told Mile High Sports that the defeat stung. 

Horace and Pugh also took Mal and Briana skiing. After the sisters took over leading from Karen and Horace, the parents faced a conundrum: Go harder and risk injury, or accept that Mal and Brianna had come of age. They chose the former as they understood that their bodies would take longer to heal following a potential accident. 

“Finally, there was a day where the kids were beating us down the mountain,” Karen said. “And we thought, ‘You know what? This is it. We’re done. We’re washed up.”

Karen and Horace had no background in soccer, but somehow, Mal and Brianna chose the sport. “They were little and you just tried everything,” Karen added. “And [soccer] is what stuck. Like throwing spaghetti against the wall, it stuck.”

Mal’s humble nature baffles her parents, who encourage her to show more pride in her achievements

Mal’s attraction to football started when she was three or four years old. She would watch Spanish television for hours on her Hello Kitty TV and rarely missed Brianna’s games.

At age 5, Mal started playing and impressed instantly with her natural skill. Mal tried adding track and basketball to her schedule, but she couldn’t manage three sports. She chose football and dedicated all her effort to it. 

During winter, she sharpened her footwork in the garage, and when in the house, the ball hardly ever left her feet. “There’d be balls laying everywhere and she’d walk by to talk to you and she’d swoop it with her foot,” Horace told The Denver Post.

Mal’s constant practice paid off on the pitch as she outshone players several years above her age group. You would expect Mal to express her desire to star in the top leagues, but she didn’t. She saw football as a fun activity rather than a job. 

“Even after a game, she’ll come back and you’ll ask her about (certain plays) and she’s like, ‘Oh, I don’t remember doing that,’” Horace said. “It’s not standoffish. Her thing is, ‘I don’t understand what the big deal is. I like to play soccer. I’m halfway decent at it.’ She never likes to say she’s good at it.”

To Horace and Karen, Mal seemed oblivious to her rapid rise in stock. “Mal has never been one who has been starstruck,” Horace explained. Mal’s parents watched her senior national team goal-scoring debut, half-expecting Mal to have a nervous debut. “I’m thinking she’s going to whiff a ball or kick it out of bounds,” Horace said. 

They couldn’t have been more wrong: With seven minutes left on the clock, Mal turned home Christen Press cross from the left. Karen told Mile High Sports:

“The she went in, and lo and behold, she got that header goal off a cross from Christen Press and everybody went crazy. I think [her teammates and the U.S. fans] were all rooting for her because she’s the young one. She’s a fresh face.”

Mal didn’t burst out in excitement after learning that she’d made the team for the Rio Olympics. “I made it,” Mal told Horace. “And that was it,” he told The Denver Post. She then put her earphones and hoodie on and slept for two hours.

Karen told Mile High Sports that she enjoys Mal’s humility but encourages her daughter to show more pride in her achievements. “So I think [I’m most proud] that she’s so humble,” she said. “She’s too humble, I think, actually. I kind of tell her, ‘You know, it’s okay to think, I’m proud of that.’ But she doesn’t talk about it.”

Pugh’s dad assured people that Mal would join UCLA before she decided to forego college

At age 17, Mal grappled with joining college football and going pro. She possessed the skill to make it professionally but worried about her inexperience. 

Mal initially decided to join UCLA. Horace told The Denver Post that it was a tight decision, but one that Mal thought best. “Her gut feeling was that she wanted to go to college,” he said.

However, after joining college for three months, Mal left to go pro. Mal described the U-turn as ‘difficult’ and appreciated her family for supporting her throughout.

“I learned that this is my life, and I’m going to decide what I’m doing. I was [at college] for three months and I’m so glad I went because I realized what I wanted,” Mal told Teen Vogue.