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Mal Pugh is going pro, but probably not with the Washington Spirit

The Spirit have the top NWSL claim on the USWNT phenom, but Grant Wahl is reporting she’s not that interested in coming here

Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl is reporting that USWNT phenom Mallory Pugh has decided to go pro. Pugh, a versatile attacking player who has 22 caps and 4 goals with the United States despite being just shy of her 19th birthday, would be subject to the NWSL’s Distribution Order were she to opt to play there. UCLA, where Pugh had been going to school, confirmed the development:

The Washington Spirit, after a series of offseason trades, have the #1 spot on that list, which would appear to put them in a great spot. There’s just one problem: Wahl’s report also notes that “Washington is not a preferred destination for Pugh.” In other words, Pugh is probably not suiting up in the Spirit’s new red kits any time soon.

So where is she going? Wahl says his sources say French giants Olympique Lyonnais (current home of Alex Morgan, who is just one of what is basically a world all-star team) and Paris Saint-Germain (who have numerous internationals from France, Brazil, Spain, and Canada) are in the frame, while the possible NWSL clubs that have a shot include the Portland Thorns.

Portland being involved is no surprise. The Thorns draw MLS-sized crowds on a regular basis, and during the 2016 draft - amid strong rumors that Pugh was going pro - the Thorns traded the #3 overall pick to acquire the top Distribution Order spot in an effort to sign her. Pugh instead opted to go to UCLA, though she deferred her enrollment due to her involvement with both the USWNT’s Olympic side and the under-20 World Cup.

Where does this leave Washington? Well, if Pugh opts for an offer from France, or perhaps one of the suddenly big-spending clubs in England jumps in, the Spirit have no recourse. They’ll retain the #1 Distribution Ranking spot, and likely maintain hope that midfielder Andi Sullivan (a Lorton, VA native with 4 USWNT caps currently going to Stanford) opts to go pro before the season ends. Sullivan tore her ACL back in late November, though, and there are no guarantees that she’s ready to leave a school like Stanford to go pro a year early.

If Pugh gets a deal within the NWSL that works for her, though, Washington is going to get something for their troubles, which involved trading Ali Krieger to Orlando for the #2 spot, then packaging the #2 spot, Megan Oyster, and the #3 pick in this winter’s draft in a trade to Boston that brought the top spot, Kristie Mewis, and Kassey Kallman to the Maryland Soccerplex.

Whichever NWSL team has put together the deal to bring Pugh aboard will have to make a trade to Washington, who have the advantage of knowing the trade essentially is for a very valuable player, rather than a hypothetical possibility. Portland, for example, has a stacked roster, and would probably need to offer up a big name (or bundle a couple of starting-caliber players) to make a deal work.

Tobin Heath and French midfielder Amandine Henry are not going to be mentioned, and at 22 years old, neither is Lindsey Horan. USWNT players like Allie Long (29) and Meghan Klingenberg (28), though? It might seem crazy, but Pugh is already competing for minutes in actual competitive games with players like Crystal Dunn and Christen Press. You don’t see a potential superstar like that move for role players.

Of course, nothing is guaranteed. Portland is probably not the only team with the ambition to win Pugh over, and the European offers will be substantial. A lot of what’s going on is out of the Spirit’s hands. However, even if Pugh outright refuses to entertain joining Washington, the Spirit just might end up stronger if they play their cards right.