The U.S. Women’s National Team is returning to DICK’S Sporting Goods Park and Rapids fans can be assured their club, home stadium and state are well-represented on the international roster. Midfielders Lindsey Horan (Golden), Mallory Pugh (Highlands Ranch), Sophia Smith (Windsor) and Jaelin Howell (Windsor) all hail from the Centennial State.
While the national team stars have achieved what so many youth players can only dream of, they had to start somewhere. They once were those youth players who competed for local clubs, found A-list mentors and of course, watched Rapids games in their home state.
Perhaps none have a connection closer to the Rapids than Horan, as the midfielder and recent UEFA Women’s Champions League victor was coached under current Rapids 2 head coach, Erik Bushey, in her youth and regularly trains at the training grounds of DICK’S Sporting Goods Park in the offseason. Horan also showed support for the burgeoning Rapids 2 team at their recent matchup with Real Monarchs.
Horan has built close relationships with some Burgundy Boys themselves over the years. Midfielders Collen Warner and Cole Bassett both credit the Golden native as their favorite U.S. Women’s National Team player in history.
Pugh, 24, would support the Burgundy Boys when they still played at Invesco Field at Mile High in the early 2000s and remains a “diehard Colorado sports fan”. Howell made connections in national youth teams that led her to Tim Howard, former Rapids and U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper.
Both Howell and Smith have yet to make an international appearance in their home state. The two young players made their first caps for the Stars & Stripes on November 27, 2020 against the Netherlands, over a year after Pugh and Horan took to the Mile High pitch against Australia.
“I think it's going to be surreal,” said Smith. “It's just nice to be close to home and to be able to have lots of family there. I think I got around 20 tickets for family and close friends.”
The Coloradans are leading by example for the next generation of U.S. Women’s Team players. Nicki Fraser, daughter of Rapids head coach Robin Fraser, recently secured a World Cup berth with the under-17 U.S. Women’s Youth National Team after being crowned a Concacaf champion in May.
Nicki and Robin are now the second father-daughter pair to make caps at any level of U.S. Soccer. They both took the opportunity to sit in on USWNT training ahead of the clash with Colombia and Nicki was able to experience what a senior team reality is like.
Pugh, Smith, Horan and Howell have high hopes for the future of Nicki and other young girls hoping to make their dreams of international play a reality.
“I hope now, for me, I can be a role model for all these younger kids coming through and show them that hard work and determination can get them to this level,” said Horan.
“I think us being here and her being able to see that [we’re] from Colorado, they're just like me, I can do that one day, too, I think is huge,” said Smith. “And not just for her, for any young soccer players. I think representation matters. And that's just what we're trying to do everyday with this team.”
Despite Denver missing the opportunity to be a 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup host city, the women’s competitions at DSGP prove that there is a market for international – and women’s – soccer in the Mile High City. The last time the USWNT visited at altitude was in 2019 for a 5-2 outcome friendly with Australia. Pugh recorded a brace in the matchup.
“I think it's huge, I think we will see that tickets are already selling out so fast, and people want to see women's soccer here in Colorado,” said Smith. “There's so many kids that play soccer here and want a team to go watch. So I think it's only good for the soccer.”