USA might be three-time FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup champions and among the pre-tournament favourites, yet they boast one of the youngest attacks at Papua New Guinea 2016. Leading the line in their 3-1 win over New Zealand was 17-year-old Ashley Sanchez, supported by 18-year-old pair Emily Fox and the Live Your Goals Player of the Match, Mallory Pugh. Indeed, so young are the trio, all three will still be eligible for selection when the 2018 edition of the U-20 Women’s World Cup comes around.
Each have varying degrees of experience. Sanchez captained USA at the recent FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. Pugh is already an established member of the senior national team squad, even scoring at the recent Women’s Olympic Football Tournament in Rio. Fox, conversely, is just a few days into her first World Cup experience on the world stage.
The focal point of the attack, and indeed the team, is Pugh. A powerful and skilful attacker with a blistering shot, Pugh has already achieved much in her still fledgling career. She made her senior international debut aged just 17 – the youngest player for the Stars and Stripes in 11 years - and promptly scored her maiden goal.
Sanchez and Pugh scored within eight minutes against New Zealand, as USA made a perfect start. The pair also worked in concert with Fox for what would have been the goal of the match, only for Sanchez’s final effort to strike the post.
Little wonder then that Pugh's still raw team-mates are revelling in the chance to play alongside their well-known captain. “I love playing with her,” Sanchez told FIFA.com. “It is easy to play with her and I think we are similar players. I feel like her runs and movements are really good and we look for each other and work well with each other.”
Fox is similarly enthusiastic about the team captain. “It is amazing seeing her dribble through everybody and blast shots from all over the place,” Fox told FIFA.com. “It is great to be able to look up to her, and be able to train with her, and she really gives that role-model aspect.”
Revelling in a new experience
Still at high school, Fox is enjoying every moment of her experience among the rarefied air of World Cup football. The FC Virginia player described the noisy 2,399 crowd as “probably” the biggest she had played in front of.
“There was a big crowd, and we really enjoy having everyone coming out and watching us. It is a great feeling to be around a lot of people watching you play. I try not to let it get in my head and treat it like any other soccer game. But with the extra cheers, it definitely is a good feeling.
“On the field, it is just great to be here and be with some amazing players, and play against some of the best players in the world.”
And Fox is equally enjoying her experience off the field, where the warm reception offered by the Papua New Guineans has been reciprocated. “On the bus, we love waving to all the PNG people and saying hi to them. They all wave back to us. That is one of those extra little things that I have really enjoyed.”