Mallory Swanson’s Moment – Can it Become Her Era?

A look at Swanson’s career history and what has led to her recent outstanding performances.

By Johanna Modak

Mallory Swanson at the 2023 She Believes Cup (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

If you have been paying attention to women’s soccer over the past few weeks, you have been hearing a lot about Mallory (Mal) Swanson. After a great season with the Chicago Red Stars, putting some heat on Alex Morgan in the race for Golden Boot, she has now started 2023 off at quite a clip. Already this year, she has scored 7 goals in five games with the USWNT. 

She is having a moment, and it has been glorious to watch. What led to this rise in Mal’s performance? And is it just a moment, or is she developing some sustainable greatness?

Swanson got her first call up to the senior USWNT at age 17. She was consistently involved with the USWNT for the next four years, playing a role at the Olympic Games in Rio (becoming the youngest player ever to score for the U.S. at the Olympics from the USWNT) and getting named to the roster for the 2019 Women’s World Cup. But that was where her momentum dropped off. 

Leading up to the Tokyo Olympics, Mal suffered a series of minor injuries that kept her off the field. She was also the subject of a surprise trade in the 2020 draft between the Washington Spirit and Gotham FC (then Sky Blue FC). She had been with Washington for three years prior to the trade. She was with Sky Blue for the unusual year of 2020 (the birth of the Challenge Cup), until again, she was traded to the Chicago Red Stars in advance of the 2021 season. 

On the USWNT, things had been changing as well. Former head coach Jill Ellis handed the reins to Vlatko Andonovski. He did not name Pugh to the Tokyo Olympic roster, explaining that she had lacked consistency and others had outperformed her. But, he did leave room for her to return to her former superstar-phenom self, stating, “I want to be clear that she’s a very talented player, she performed well, and she has a big future in front of her, so I’m pretty sure if she keeps on developing, going forward, she will be on this roster.”

It seems that it was the type of career hiccup that only fueled her performance. In an interview with Grant Wahl, Swanson was able to say “looking back at it, I think being off that roster, not being on this team for a little bit, was probably a huge blessing in disguise. You need [adversity], and it just grows your character.” 

It turns out the biggest factor in Mal finding success on the field was to first find her identity off the field. Swanson told Wahl, “the more I was able to connect with all those different things and not put soccer at the top, I feel like I was able to become more whole and complete, so then obviously that translated to on the field.”

With a necessary shift in perspective, Mal got her “old self” back again (although really she’s outperforming younger Mal by a long shot!) and found her chemistry with the Chicago front line throughout the 2021 and 2022 seasons, even making a run all the way to the championship in 2021. In 2022, she built on her momentum, scoring 11 goals, just behind golden boot winner Alex Morgan (15 goals). 

Alex Morgan may, in fact, be another important piece of the Mal Swanson magic we are seeing on the field now. In a recent interview with legendary USWNT retiree Abby Wambach, Morgan reminisced about the time she and Wambach spent on the field together. When asked who Morgan, now the senior member, sees stepping into her own shoes as she assumes the leadership role that Wambach once fulfilled for her, she responded with praise for young Mal Swanson. The two have a visible desire to help each other succeed, with Morgan in the mentor role and Swanson fully seizing the moment to come into her own and return to the carefree dominance of her early career. 

Heading into a World Cup year, it seems that Mallory Swanson has certainly set herself up to be a key player in the USWNT attack. She notes, when asked what she is doing to maintain her competitive edge, that now it is just about “focusing on the little things.” Time will tell, but things are looking good for a long-term run of Mallory Swanson greatness. 

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