By Eric McHugh
The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Despite the Coronavirus, the Mewis sisters say they are ready to get back on the field. Sam is a midfielder for the two-time defending league champion North Carolina Courage while Kristie is a midfielder for the Houston Dash.
Sam Mewis has won a lot — three National Women’s Soccer League titles, plus that World Cup crown last summer in France with the U.S. National Team.
You might remember that last one.
It got a fair amount of attention.
It’s also a year in the past. And since everything in the world pre-2020 seems like it happened a century ago on another planet, it’s understandable that the World Cup buzz is starting to fade for the former Whitman-Hanson High standout.
“No, it never gets old,” Mewis says of winning, “but there’s a moment of relief and satisfaction right when you win and then so quickly it’s gone and you have to start working toward the next thing. The World Cup was happening right around now a year ago, so I’m seeing a lot of pictures and stuff (on social media), and it’s so fun to remember it, but it seems like it was a lifetime ago.
“I don’t have that sense of relief anymore. I’m already like, I need to do this again. It’s a fleeting satisfaction. I hope that maybe when I’m older and I’m done playing that I can really bask in it, but not right now.”
Right now it’s time — finally — for both Mewis sisters to get back to work.
Sam, 27, is a stalwart on the national team. Kristie, 29, is determined to get back into the U.S. mix after the setback of a 2018 ACL tear. Both will soon head off to a sports bubble in Utah, where the nine-team NWSL, in lieu of a regular season, will conduct a month-long, 25-game Challenge Cup tournament.
The NBA, NHL, Major League Soccer and WNBA all will launch similar, coronavirus-inspired efforts later this summer — bringing their clubs to one or two locations to play in empty stadiums — but the NWSL will go first, kicking off with a doubleheader on June 27. That makes the Mewis sisters — Sam is a midfielder for the two-time defending league champion North Carolina Courage; Kristie is a midfielder for the Houston Dash — trailblazers of sorts.
“Yeah, I definitely like that,” Sam said. “I feel like this league is trailblazing in a lot of ways. I’m excited that we have this opportunity to be the first major (American) sports league back. To have that exposure and that opportunity to get a lot of eyes on the games before there are any other (live) sports to watch I hope is going to be good for the league.”
“It’s really great,” Kristie agreed. “It’s definitely a plus for us that we have fewer teams, so that’s fewer people involved. I think everything’s being handled professionally, and I do feel safe going there. We’ve had endless talks about how it’s going to be organized, how safe it’s going to be, what the testing situation is.”
Speaking of those probe-up-the-nose COVID-19 tests, Kristie is not a fan.
“It is not fun,” she said. “The first one I got was so shockingly painful for me that I was kicking and screaming. My second and third ones were more bearable.”
Enduring multiple tests is the price all NWSL players will have to pay for resuming their careers. That and probably some boredom since the league will have strict social-distancing policies in place in Utah so as to not spread potential illnesses.
Sam noted that at the World Cup last summer she had a lot of freedom — to wander off to get coffee or see her family. There will be none of that this time. No family members other than the small children of the league’s few moms (and their caregivers) will accompany the players to Utah.
Sam’s husband Pat will be back home in Boston, so she figures “bringing a lot of books” will be smart. “I’m going to have to come up with a little project if I’m going to by myself all day. We’ll have to see.”
As for Kristie, “Sam’s the reader,” she said with a laugh. “I’m probably going to bring my iPad and download every single show on Netflix, every single reality TV show.”
Kristie long ago binged “Tiger King” — she votes for casting Matthew McConaughey as Joe Exotic in the inevitable Hollywood version — but if she has to rewatch Carole Baskin & Friends on an endless loop to pass the time in a Utah hotel room she’s willing to pay that price.
“It’s going to be exciting just to be there, just getting out of Houston and being in a competitive environment,” she said. “It’s not even going to matter how much downtime we have. We’re just excited to have these games.”
Each NWSL team will play four games in the round-robin portion of the Challenge Cup. A quick check of the schedule shows that the Dash’s first game will be July 1 against … the Courage.
So, sister vs. sister.
A scouting report on Sam Mewis, provided by Kristie Mewis:
“She is probably the player you don’t want to have the ball. We’re going to try to keep her away from the ball as much as possible. She’s obviously a huge physical presence (at 5-10), so she’s going to win a lot of the first balls. I think it’s important for us to win the second balls. She’s got a hell of a shot. She can shoot from anywhere outside of the 18, so we need to be aware of that.”
A scouting report on Kristie Mewis, provided by Sam Mewis:
“She’s always been so versatile, but her big skill, the thing that everybody talks about, is her left foot. She’s always had such great vision to find the right space and then either set herself up for a shot or play a final pass. Her awareness of the field (is special). She’s really smart at solving problems and finding the right spaces.”
Although fraternizing between teams might be frowned upon in Utah, the sisters are looking forward to checking in with each other in person, at least on the field.
“When I saw the schedule, I was like, ‘Oh, thank God, at least I’ll get to see her during the games,’ ” Sam said. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to hang out outside of that. I haven’t seen Kristie in months, so I’m definitely excited that we’re playing them. I know my parents will be really bummed that they’ll have to miss it. I don’t know if they’ve ever missed us playing against each other.”
Said Kristie: “I just figured we were going to play them at some point. It’s going to be fun. I haven’t seen her in a while (although) we FaceTime all the time.”
The Mewis sisters have a strong bond these days. Kristie said she called Sam every night, in tears, during the low points of her ACL rehab. But, like all siblings, they’ve had their moments.
Most of them came early, back in their Whitman-Hanson days.
Sam vividly recalls their first big adventure together — they teamed up to lead the U.S. to a runner-up finish at the Under-17 World Cup in New Zealand in 2008.
“To be honest, at that time we weren’t best friends,” Sam said, chuckling at the memory. “I was two years younger than her and the annoying little sister, always nipping at her heels to hang out with me and invite me (places) and be nice to me.”
Told of Sam’s recollection, Kristie cracked: “It wasn’t just then. She’s always annoying.”
“I think at the time I took it for granted a little bit,” Kristie said of their shared soccer experiences, which also included a quarterfinal loss at the U20 World Cup in Germany in 2010. “We also weren’t as close growing up (as we are now). I guess I didn’t really realize how special it was to have a family member with me through those stressful and intense times of our lives. Just going to a youth World Cup, that was the biggest thing either of us had ever done at that time. When I look back on it now I realize how amazing it was to have her there.”
“I think we have a much better relationship now,” Sam agreed, “and I would kill to go to another tournament with her on my team now. It would be so much fun.”
Kristie was not in France when Sam hoisted the World Cup at Stade de Lyon on July 7, 2019, following a 2-0 win over the Netherlands. The NWSL chugged along without its international stars last summer, and while Kristie was back on the field after her ACL tear, she was hesitant to subject her reconstructed knee to another long-distance flight on an off day.
So she watched on TV. And was amazed.
“It was so surreal,” Kristie said. “My whole family was there. Her husband was there. It was so sad that I couldn’t be there with them but just watching her, the emotion that was written all over her face, you could see it was just years and years of blood, sweat and tears. It was so incredible to see her win it. It was probably one of the best moments of my life, seeing her win that.”
And, yes, she dreams of having a moment like that for herself.
Even though Kristie’s career hasn’t been quite as high profile as Sam’s, you shouldn’t sell her short. A three-time All-American at Whitman-Hanson, she’s still No. 2 all-time at Boston College in goals (39), assists (38) and points (116). She’s played professionally in Australia, Japan and Germany and has logged eight seasons in the NWSL. She also has 15 caps for the senior national team, although she hasn’t appeared for the U.S. since 2014.
Asked if the only thing that would have made winning the World Cup better would have been doing it with Kristie, Sam said, “Oh, yeah, that would have been so cool. I’ll never give up hope on that (happening one day). Not assuming that I’ll make any more rosters — I have a lot of work to do myself; you can never take that for granted — but for both of us to get to play on the national team together again would be really cool. I would love that. I have all the faith in the world that Kristie can get back to that level.”
Kristie, too, won’t give up chasing that. Her knee is fully healed now, and she did get her foot back in the door with the USWNT when she was invited to a brief training camp in December. New U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski was her coach with FC Kansas City in 2013, so she’s got that going for her.
“I haven’t been in with the full team in a while,” she said. “I don’t take it lightly. They’re obviously the best players in the world. It’s not just going to happen overnight. I think I still have a lot of growing to do, a lot of learning to do. But I do think it’s possible, and it definitely is my end goal. I definitely know the reality of it. I don’t think I’m there just yet, but I think I’m definitely capable of doing it.”
For now, though, she has a more attainable goal in front of her. While Sam has won three NWSL crowns (the first, in 2016, with the Western New York Flash, which relocated to Carolina the following year), Kristie’s deepest playoff run came in her first year in the league — 2013 with Kansas City.
She would very much like to get on the Mewis Sisters Championships scoreboard.
“I’d love that, obviously,” Kristie said. “The teams that I’ve been on since (2013) have struggled to get into that playoff position, but I still wouldn’t change the experiences that I’ve had with these other teams. Sam’s team is definitely the one to beat. They’re incredible, the best team in the league. And obviously Sam is a huge part of that.
“But, yeah, I would love to, one of these years, win the NWSL championship. That’s one of my goals. We’re hoping that we can make a positive step with this tournament leading into next year. We’re really pushing for a successful tournament.”
NWSL Challenge Cup at a glance
Here’s a look at the upcoming National Women’s Soccer League’s Challenge Cup:
When: June 27-July 26
Where: Two sites in Utah. Round-robin games and quarterfinals at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman. Semifinals/final at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy.
Teams (9): North Carolina Courage; Houston Dash; Sky Blue FC (Harrison, New Jersey); Portland Thorns FC; Washington Spirit; OL Reign (Tacoma, Washington); Chicago Red Stars; Orlando Pride; Utah Royals FC
Format: All teams will play four round-robin games against randomly selected opponents. Eight of the nine teams will advance to the single-game knockout stage — quarterfinals, semifinals, final.
TV: CBS will carry the first game (North Carolina vs. Portland on Saturday, June 27 at 12:30 p.m.) and the final. All other games will be available on CBS All Access. Games will re-air on the CBS Sports Network. International viewers can stream the tournament on Twitch. The North Carolina-Portland opener will be the first time professional women’s club soccer will be seen live on a national broadcast network in the U.S.
Local angle: Former Whitman-Hanson High stars Sam Mewis (North Carolina) and Kristie Mewis (Houston) will figure prominently.
Fans: There will be none. This is a disappointing reality of the coronavirus world. Last season NWSL attendance, boosted by interest generated by the World Cup, was up 22.6 percent compared to 2018. Average attendance was 7,383.
Safety precautions: The league formed a 15-physician task force to guide its approach to health and safety for everyone on site. Players will undergo COVID-19 and antibody testing. Players can opt out of the tournament and still draw their 2020 salary. One unnamed player already has tested positive for COVID-19. The full testing protocol is posted on the league’s website – nwslsoccer.com
Sam Mewis’ chances of winning the Cup: Excellent. The Courage are two-time defending league champs and last year enjoyed a regular-season goal differential of plus-31; the next-best team was plus-13. North Carolina scored 54 goals in 24 regular-season games, going 15-5-4. Said Sam Mewis:
“We just have a lot of versatility and a lot of dynamic players who can score. Really, our starting lineup is pretty unbelievable, but even when you look at the players coming in off the bench there are players who would start for most other teams in this league.”
Kristie Mewis’ chances of winning the Cup: Fair. The Dash were 7-12-5 last season and managed only 21 goals, second fewest in the league. Said Kristie Mewis: “We’re not winning games because we’re not scoring. And we’re not scoring because we don’t have the ball enough.” Still, as Sam pointed out, “In a unique tournament like this, honestly, anything could happen. The tables could turn. It could be a totally crazy month of soccer.”
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