Mallory Pugh
Mallory Pugh Credit: Jamie Smed/FLICKR

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Mallory Pugh Credit: Jamie Smed/FLICKR

Watching Mallory Pugh and Rose Lavelle excel for the U.S. women’s national team, it’s hard to imagine that any club team featuring the duo could have the kind of season that the Washington Spirit just did.

But the Spirit did manage to have a historically bad 2018 campaign. Out of the team’s 24 regular season games, Washington won two, tied another five, and lost 17. The Spirit scored just 12 goals in those 24 games, and compiled a goal differential of minus 23. There was a 13-game stretch in which the team scored one goal in total. Head coach and general manager Jim Gabarra was fired midway through the season.

To put it simply, 2018 was a nightmare for the Spirit. One of the biggest reasons the team’s campaign went south so quickly was the health status of two of its marquee names, Pugh and Lavelle. The pair shared the field just seven times during the season.

Pugh missed a large portion of the season with a knee injury, appearing in just 15 of the team’s 24 games. Meanwhile, a hamstring injury dating back to 2017 limited Lavelle to just 11 appearances and five starts.

Lavelle’s season didn’t start until May 23, by which point the Spirit had already opened their campaign with just one win in eight games. She was brought along slowly, failing to play more than a half until August.

“It was really tough to sit on the sidelines the first half [of the season], of course I would have loved to go and help them out,” Lavelle tells City Paper. “Then coming back my hope was I could help with the group but obviously we still kind of struggled the latter half, so I think it was definitely a disappointing season.”

Thankfully for the Spirit and the U.S. national team, Pugh and Lavelle appear to have put their injury problems behind them. Both players are currently with the U.S. national team as it looks to qualify for next summer’s World Cup in France and defend its world title from 2015.

“It takes time to get back from an injury so [I’m] just putting myself in this environment and trying to learn as much as I can from the forwards and from everyone, just to kind of get back into that sharpness,” Pugh told reporters after the U.S. cruised to a 5-0 qualifying win over Panama in Cary, North Carolina on Sunday. “Overall it’s going pretty good.”

It says a lot about Pugh and Lavelle’s standing within an extremely deep U.S. player pool that both immediately returned to the national team after long periods out with injury.

Pugh, 20, is the youngest player on the USA’s World Cup qualifying roster while Lavelle, 23, is the third youngest. Both players will be a big part of the national team in the coming years but the future is already here for Pugh and Lavelle, who are both currently right in the mix for starting roles with the U.S.

Against Panama, Pugh and Lavelle got to play a half alongside one another. Lavelle slotted in at attacking midfielder and looked to combine with Pugh, who was at outside forward. It was an encouraging sight for fans of the Spirit and the national team alike.

“I love playing with Rose,” Pugh says. “I think we have a great connection and I think just as more games come up, the more we can play together the better it’s going to be. We just get each other. Her creativity feeds off of mine, and mine feeds off of hers so I love playing with Rose, it’s really fun.”

The duo’s chemistry stems not only from their time spent playing alongside one another, but also from the amount of time they spend together away from the field.

“Mal is one of my really good friends, we live with each other back in D.C. so it’s been fun to continue to build our relationship on the field but also off the field,” Lavelle says.

Pugh and Lavelle are now the most prominent Spirit players but should the team bounce back in 2019, some other young Americans on the roster will also have a big say.

Spirit players Ashley Hatch, Taylor Smith, and Andi Sullivan have all spent time with the U.S. national team over the past two years. Smith is the oldest of that particular trio at just 24.

Add those three to Pugh and Lavelle, and the Spirit have a core of international-caliber talent all younger than 25. Should all five players stay healthy in 2019, expectations will be unusually high for a team that won just two games last season.

“We’re still very positive and excited for what we can do together,” says Lavelle. “We’re excited to start fresh next year and get a new slate and get some redemption.”

Photo by Jamie Smed on Flickr, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.