As 2020 finally comes to an end, Chicago Red Stars fans were given a reason to start celebrating the new year a little early on Tuesday morning. In a deal that was finalized on Christmas Eve, the Red Stars acquired forward Mallory Pugh and midfielder Sarah Killion Woldmoe from Sky Blue FC in exchange for the 4th and 8th overall picks in the upcoming 2021 NWSL Draft, a conditional first-round selection in the 2022 NWSL Draft, and an international slot for 2021 and 2022.
“For the oldest and winningest pro women’s soccer club in the country, this is going to be a remarkable year,” said team owner Arnim Whisler.
Head coach Rory Dames, who in recent years developed a reputation for wheeling and dealing around the time of the draft, said he was comfortable parting with the picks given the opportunity to receive such high-quality players in return.
“You take Mal’s experience internationally and within the league, there’s certainly nobody [in the draft] that matches that,” said Dames. “And I think Sarah’s very similar to Kealia [Watt] for us last year: we’re bringing in a player with experience… a player who was a captain of another NWSL team. Those attributes, you can’t quantify that.”
Pugh notably debuted for the United States Women’s National Team in 2016 at the age of just 17, breaking out as the Americans won gold at the 2016 Olympics and going on to win the 2019 World Cup as well. However, since the triumph in France, Pugh played just 9 games for Sky Blue in 2019 and just 29 minutes in 2020 due do frequent injury struggles. Despite the lack of soccer, 2020 remained an important year for Pugh’s career.
“Obviously this year has presented a lot of difficulties and different injuries,” she said. “But it also has been a time where I’ve been able to heal my body and really take care of some lagging little injuries that I’ve been dealing with for the past, I don’t know, two years. I’ve just been thankful that I’ve been able to take the time, heal, and just get ready for 2021.”
Both Pugh and the Red Stars expressed confidence on Tuesday that Chicago is the ideal place for her to return to her best. Dames pointed to the success of Morgan Gautrat and Vanessa DiBernardo’s returns from long-term injury issues in recent seasons, while Pugh said she identified Chicago as a perfect fit for what she felt was needed to get her game and career back on track.
“This year I had to look at what made me ‘me’ growing up and made me really tick and thrive, and I think it was having a really competitive training environment,” Pugh said. “I think once I see myself in that and in that environment, I think everything else falls into place.”
Less of a house-hold name, Woldmoe has compiled no less impressive a resume in her career. A U20 World Cup winner in 2012 alongside Julie Ertz, Vanessa DiBernardo, Morgan Gautrat and Kealia Watt, Woldmoe went on to captain Sky Blue through a difficult period for the club and into a new era. She expressed admiration for the Red Stars’ talent and way they played, hopeful that she can continue to improve an already strong team.
“[I’m] just hoping that by bringing my best I can help bring the best out of every other player there, that will be the goal,” she said.
Woldmoe joins deep midfield core with Ertz, DiBernardo, Gautrat and Danielle Colaprico all battling for roles in the team, a situation which Rory Dames views as a positive.
“It puts everybody on notice that day in and day out at practice, you’re going to have to compete to get better,” he said. “To get into the 18’s gonna be hard… to get into the 11’s gonna be really hard. I’m excited about that.”
As for Pugh, he knows that patience may be required but stressed that her personal development is of primary importance.
“We’re not brining Mallory here to be our savior or have to do this or have to do that,” he said, the roster having struggled for goals last year. “We’re bringing Mallory here to play the level we know she’s capable of, to be a part of our team, to continue to make our group better, and to make her better.”
If this trade wasn’t exciting enough, the Red Stars want fans (and the entire NWSL) to know that they’re far from done. For the roster and beyond, there are bigger things to come.
“We’re not messing around,” said Whisler. “There’s several more very big announcements coming about this club, which has been around for so long but which is really just getting started at a level that we haven’t been able to think about before. This trade is wonderful, they’re two great people, I’ve watched them for years, and there’s a lot more coming.”