Mallory Pugh

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Before Team USA kicks, learn more about “next big thing” Mallory Pugh

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Mallory Pugh hasn’t even started college and is a pivotal piece of Team USA’s attempt to win its fifth Olympic gold in women’s soccer.

The 18-year-old California born forward is incredible with the ball, and already has a trio of international goals to go with seven assists in 14 caps.

But this tournament could really see her star rise in the United States, and Noah Davis has a piece in The New Yorker entitled, “The Next Great American Soccer Star”.

Yep, it’s about her. And it’s likely to become more about her, something she’ll need to get used to:

Recently, when she was at the mall with a couple of school friends, a man working at one of the kiosks ran over and requested a picture. “I was like, ‘Are you sure?’ ” she said. “He was really nice about it. All my friends have said it’s weird for them when we’re in public and I get stopped. I tell them that it’s really weird for me.”

Pugh and the Yanks face New Zealand at 6 p.m. EDT. Watch her silky moves on display via the NBCOlympics.com link below.

WATCH: New Zealand vs Team USA on NBCOlympics.com

U.S. women name Olympic soccer roster, eye 4th straight gold

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The U.S. women’s soccer squad wants to become the first nation to win the Olympic gold medal a year after capturing the Women’s World Cup. Head coach Jill Ellis announced Tuesday the 18 women who will be tasked with accomplishing that unprecedented feat.

The Americans have won the past three Olympic gold medals, to go with silver in 2000 and another gold in 1996.

The squad in Rio will be led by midfielder Carli Lloyd, the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year and the team’s all-time leading scorer with 87 career goals. She netted the lone goal in the Americans’ 1-0 overtime victory against Brazil in the 2008 Olympic gold-medal game, and she scored both goals four years ago in London in the team’s 2-1 win over Japan.

She’ll make her third Olympic appearance, as will goalie Hope Solo and midfielder Tobin Heath. Solo is set to earn her 200th cap during the Rio Games, making her the first goalie in international soccer history to do so.

Midfielder Megan Rapinoe, forward Alex Morgan and defenders Kelley O’Hara and Becky Sauerbrunn are set for their second Olympic appearances. Rapinoe’s inclusion was in doubt after she underwent ACL surgery in December, but she proved her fitness at training camp last week.

The youngest on the squad will be forward Mallory Pugh, an 18-year-old who will be the second-youngest American to play Olympic soccer since 1904, according to sports-reference.com. She’ll be 18 years, 3 months and 5 days old when the Games start; Cindy Parlow was 18 years, 2 months and 13 days old to start the 1996 Olympics. Parlow, however, didn’t score, meaning Pugh could be come the youngest U.S. player with a goal in the Olympics.

Here’s a look at the full Rio roster by position:

Goalies: Alyssa Naeher, Hope Solo

Defenders: Whitney Engen, Julie Johnston, Meghan Klingenberg, Ali Krieger, Kelley O’Hara, Becky Sauerbrunn

Midfielders: Morgan Brian, Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, Carli Lloyd, Allie Long, Megan Rapinoe

Forwards: Crystal Dunn, Alex Morgan, Christen Press, Mallory Pugh

Of the 18 going to Rio, 14 were members of the 2015 World Cup championship squad.

“We’ve got excellent balance in the squad, and with some injuries lately to some major players, it has allowed us to get experience for a few newer players which helped them in their cases to make the team,” Ellis said in a release. “Now the task is getting our team 100 percent healthy and finalizing our preparations during the next camp.”

Christie Rampone, 41, was bidding for a fifth Olympics and to become the oldest Olympic soccer player ever, according to sports-reference.com, but December knee surgery dashed her hopes.

Heather O’Reilly was looking to compete on her fourth Olympic team, but she was named only as an alternate, along with goalie Ashlyn Harris, defender Emily Sonnett and midfielder Samantha Mewis.

The U.S. women will be among the teams to open the Rio Games on Aug. 3, two days before the Opening Ceremony, when they take on New Zealand in Belo Horizonte.

MORE: U.S. women learn Olympic soccer group opponents

Mallory Pugh could become second-youngest U.S. Olympic women’s soccer player ever

Mallory Pugh
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HOUSTON (AP) — For a moment, Mallory Pugh‘s eyes widened.

The U.S. national team had just qualified for the Olympics, and the 17-year-old player now faced cameras and questions. But Pugh, still months away from college, seems an old hand in many ways when it comes to poise.

The Americans assured their spot for this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Games on Friday night with a 5-0 victory over Trinidad and Tobago in the semifinals of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament. Pugh started and assisted on Tobin Heath‘s goal in the 12th minute.

“I think it’s a really cool and awesome opportunity,” Pugh said. “I mean, not everyone gets it. And I think making the most of it when it comes is really cool.”

She is the youngest in a youth movement and could become the second-youngest U.S. Olympic soccer player since 1904, according to sports-reference.com. She would be just younger than Cindy Parlow was at the first Olympics with women’s soccer in 1996.

The average age of the qualifying team is 25, down from the 29.5-year average of the team that won the World Cup in Canada last summer.

Eight of the players on the 20-player roster for this tournament had fewer than nine appearances with the senior national team. Other newcomers include Lindsey Horan, 21; Crystal Dunn, 23; and Emily Sonnett, 22.

Several veterans, including Abby Wambach and Lauren Holiday, have retired from the team that beat Japan 5-2 last summer in Canada for the World Cup title. Sydney Leroux and Amy Rodriguez are expecting and won’t be available for the Olympics. Megan Rapinoe is recovering from knee surgery.

Pugh first came to the attention of U.S. coach Jill Ellis, who also serves as U.S. Soccer’s development director, when she was 14. Pugh played on the under-17 and under-20 national teams, turning heads when she captained the team that won the CONCACAF Women’s U-20 Championship last year, earning the Golden Boot award for most goals with seven.

She made her debut at the senior level in the team’s opening game of this year, scoring her first goal in a 5-0 win over Ireland in San Diego.

Pugh is the youngest player named to a U.S. qualifying roster. The Colorado native made two starts in the tournament, which wraps up Sunday when the Americans face Canada in the final. Canada earned the region’s other Olympic berth with a 3-1 victory over Costa Rica in the semifinals.

With her speed on the left flank, Pugh held her own Friday night. Ellis decided to sit Dunn, who had five goals in the Americans’ previous game, a 10-0 victory over Puerto Rico.

“I knew (Pugh) was ready, so it was looking more at what we wanted and what we wanted to see,” Ellis said. “I think part of it is, in a tournament like this, being able to utilize your depth. And we have depth in those positions.”

Carli Lloyd likes what she’ sees from Pugh.

“I think she’s got a lot of talent, she’s really fast, she’s got good pace, very smart on the ball. I think she’s got to keep grinding away, and be able to continue to keep that level for an entire game. But great tournament for her so far, and she’s got a lot of good years ahead of her.”

Pugh will continue to play for the U-20 national team – the World Cup for that level of soccer is in November. She will also keep fit for a possible spot on the final Olympic roster by training with a boys’ team back home in Colorado. Ellis can take only 18 players to Brazil.

And she’ll also get ready for her freshman year at UCLA in the fall.

“Mallory Pugh, being on the field, it was so cool,” goalkeeper Hope Solo said following the victory. “I was so proud for her to start. To be honest, she didn’t seem nervous. She just seemed excited and happy. It was good energy.”

MORE: Carli Lloyd ranks Olympic final-winning goals, World Cup hat trick