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Sky Blue FC land Mallory Pugh, add depth at 2020 NWSL College Draft

Head coach Coombe says the team brought in all of its prospective targets, including Pugh.

USF product Evelyne Viens talks to the crowd after being selected fifth overall in the 2020 NWSL Draft by Sky Blue FC in Baltimore, Maryland. (Mitchell Northam / Pro Soccer USA)

As if selecting players with potential to contribute immediately out of the draft was not enough for Sky Blue FC, the New Jersey-based club made headlines Thursday when it traded for star forward Mallory Pugh.

Pugh was acquired in a trade with the Washington Spirit, which acquired the No. 4, No. 13, and No. 17 picks in the 2020 NWSL draft as part of the deal. The trade is a statement of intent from Sky Blue, which continues to make big moves after acquiring Midge Purce and McCall Zerboni in trades.

She’s a player with her caliber that we’ve been looking at for a long time and we’ve been chipping away at it,” Sky Blue FC head coach Freya Coombe said after the draft. “It’s going to be a pretty scary front line.”

Pugh will automatically improve an attack that has struggled for goals in recent years. In both 2018 and 2019, Sky Blue had the fewest goals in the league, scoring 21 in 2018 and 20 in 2019.

I think one of the criticisms of previous years is us not being able to score enough goals,” Coombe said. “We’ve certainly done everything we can to try and fix that now.”

That includes Sky Blue’s first selection in the 2020 draft, Evelyne Viens from the University of South Florida. The forward, who was selected No. 6 overall, scored 73 goals and recorded 23 assists in 77 games at the collegiate level, making her a candidate to contribute immediately at Sky Blue. She joins the likes of Purce, Carli Lloyd, Paige Monaghan, Jen Hoy, and Nahomi Kawasumi in the position.

With the team’s three other picks, Sky Blue went with defensive options, and defender Kaleigh Riehl from Penn State, the 12th overall pick, may be the steal of the draft. A frequent call-up to United States youth national teams, Riehl was also part of Vlatko Andonovski’s identification camp in December and was expected to be a first round pick in the draft. Of Sky Blue’s four selections, the center back may be the one most prepared to play in the NWSL and should improve a back line that needs some of the quality seen further up the pitch.

Additionally, Sky Blue picked up goalkeeper Amanda McGlynn from Virginia Tech with the 20th overall pick and defender Chantelle Swaby from Rutgers with the 29th overall pick.

Between the draft picks and the team’s recent acquisitions, the incoming players give Sky Blue a lot of tactical possibilities. Coombe noted the players are flexible — Riehl can also play left back, while Purce has played as a defender, midfielder, and forward.

It gives us a lot of options,” Coombe said, “whether our shape’s going to lend itself to be a bit more attacking-minded. … It’s just a really exciting time to be here and see where the chemistry is on the field.”

As Coombe prepares for her first full season at the helm, her vision for what Sky Blue might look like on the field in 2020 has become clearer after recent trades and the NWSL draft. As a result, Thursday was a successful day for the New Jersey-based club, particularly considering the success of the recruiting process.

I know sometimes you identify players and you’re not always able to bring them in for whatever reason,” Coombe said. “We’re really fortunate that it’s come through for us. … It allows us to have the players to play to our system that we want, so we can expect a little bit of a change in Sky Blue from last year.”

Mitchell Northam contributed to this report.

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