- Sam Mewis was recently voted USA’s Female Player of the Year
- Midfielder is also starring for English giants Manchester City
- Mewis chatted to FIFA.com about mindset, family and future ambitions
If there is one attribute, besides excellence, that has set the US women’s national team apart, it is steely self-assurance. They are the best in the world and, as individuals and a collective, the USWNT unabashedly bask in that hard-earned status.
Sam Mewis has more reason than most to walk with that swagger in her step. After all, in this peerless team, she stands as the pre-eminent performer, having recently been voted – by a handsome margin – US Soccer’s Female Player of the Year.
Mewis has excelled at club level, too, and on the lengthy, star-studded list of overseas imports into England’s WSL, few, if any, have matched the impact made by Manchester City’s ‘Tower of Power’.
But when coach Vlatko Andonovski describes this outstanding midfielder as “a true example of what the USWNT stands for”, it is not because she bears that hallmark of unshakeable self-confidence. Far from it.
When Mewis speaks of simply “hoping to get called to the next camp”, and of fretting ahead of the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™ final about “not wanting to be the reason we didn’t win”, there is no hint of false modesty. Instead, it reflects the quiet, genuine humility that has shaped her career.
The 28-year-old stands, as Andonovski recognises, for another defining quality of the USWNT: its determination to never stand still, to never rest on its many achievements. It is that same dedication to continual self-improvement which transformed Mewis from a bit-part player, who didn’t make the Canada 2015 squad, to a first pick in 2019 and now, in the words of Megan Rapinoe, “the best player in our team”.
An ankle injury, sustained while scoring a hat-trick against Colombia in January, will prevent Mewis living up to that lofty billing at the upcoming SheBelieves Cup. But she will be cheering for her team-mates and, in particular, sister Kristie, and is hoping that both halves of this Mewis midfield alliance can strike gold at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament later this year.
FIFA.com: Sam, you and Kristie were part of the USA set-up from a very young age and in your teenage years were competing at tournaments in different corners of the globe. How do you reflect on those experiences now?
Everything to do with that – living away from home, playing soccer at a really high level against players from different cultures – was fantastic preparation for what I experienced in 2019 at the senior World Cup. The structure of the tournaments is so similar, and when you’ve had that experience at a young age – and know what the challenges are – it definitely prepares you for experiencing it all on a bigger scale. Travelling the world, especially at such a young age, is such a privilege anyway, and doing it with my sister made it extra special – even if there were times that we didn’t get along so well back then! (laughs) Even in those days though, soccer was one of the things we got about each other. It was something that people on the outside often found it hard to relate to, and it always kept us close.
Is it fair to say that the conflicts of those teenage years are long gone now? It seems you and Kristie are closer than ever.
Definitely. My mom always says, ‘Thank God they’re friends now!’ (laughs) At those youth tournaments, during our high school years, there was a lot of bickering. I think it was just tough for us to be so similar, doing the same thing, going down the same path and finding that, as sisters, we were constantly being compared to each other by people on the outside. I think now we can see a lot better what an amazing thing it is that we’re both playing professional soccer and trying to make the national team. We really relish how cool and unique that is. I also think that, as we’ve matured, we’ve come to understand each other a lot better and are much more patient with each other. I definitely feel that Kristie is my best friend and understands me better than anyone.
It might not compare to the World Cup final, but that game against Colombia in January – when you got a hat-trick and Kristie came on to score too – must be up there with the most special experiences you’ve had.
It was surreal. I’d subbed off at the time Kristie was coming on and, when she scored, I remember wondering, ‘What are our parents thinking right now?’ I asked them later and my mom said she was crying because she was just so proud and happy. But I also know that I can speak for both Kristie and myself when I say that we want more. We’ll remember that night so fondly but we both want to make the Olympic team and win a gold medal, and I’d love it if we could do that together.
How big a goal is the Olympics for you personally, especially having just missed out last time?
That’s been one of the chips on my shoulder, so it’s a big one. I was very close to making the squad for Rio, totally understood why I didn’t, but it has definitely given me some added motivation to play my part in Tokyo. The Olympics is something I’ve dreamed about my whole life.
You mention how close you were in 2016, having missed out on the 2015 World Cup squad too. What changed in the years after Rio to turn you from a fringe player into a first pick at France 2019?
First and foremost, I grew up a bit. I’d just come out of college around the time of the 2015 World Cup and, looking back, I wasn’t as good a professional as I could have been. I definitely wasn’t doing every single thing I could, all the time, to become the player I wanted to be. I learned that lesson. But I also have to say that I owe a lot to the coaches and trainers who’ve worked with me during those years. My time at the [North Carolina] Courage with Paul Riley stands out because I learned so much. I also started training in the off-seasons with a man called Walter Norton, and he never gave me credit for doing ‘almost enough’. When I was an alternate at the Olympics, he just said, ‘That’s not a cool story. Let’s get you a cool story.’ The way we went about doing that was working really hard, and I discovered there was a whole new level I could reach by doing that.
Given that you are a humble person and perhaps don’t have the unshakeable self-confidence that comes naturally to some of your team-mates, did you also need to take a mental step in becoming a bit more ruthless if that’s right word?
There is definitely a transition in the national team where you need to go from just being happy to being called into the squad to kind of demanding space for yourself. That’s one of the hardest leaps for any player to make, and I do find that I still have the mentality of ‘I hope I get called to the next camp’. People might laugh at that but in the USWNT environment it feels like a constant tryout, and there’s always someone doing better than you. But it’s definitely true that when you’re just part of the squad, there does need to be a shift to thinking, ‘I belong here and I deserve to be here’. And that’s a shift I’ve been experiencing over the last few years.
But even now, having been so important in the France 2019 team and won the Player of the Year award by such a wide margin, you still worry about being called to the next camp?
Yeah. I mean, I definitely feel more confident in saying ‘I belong here’ these days. But even that comes and goes to an extent. In this team there’s always that fire underneath me that tells me, ‘I need to keep working and improving because the second I stop improving, someone’s going to pass me.’
Turning to Man City, you’ve clearly adapted very well on the field. But has settling in been made more challenging by the COVID lockdown and the restrictions on your movements and ability to socialise with your team-mates?
I was lucky enough to have my husband and our dog here in the fall, and having that little piece of home with me really helped me settle in well and feel happy and comfortable. Having Rose [Lavelle] here with me, and now Abby [Dahlkemper] too, has also been a big help. It’s just that little bit of comfort around the team, where you feel safe to be yourself and know that at least someone will get what you’re talking about! (laughs) As for the COVID restrictions, if there has been one positive it’s that it’s allowed us to be even more focused on football and everything that goes into it. There’s no rush to leave the facility at Man City and there’s nothing else to do, so you can take your time and do everything that can possibly help in terms of training and recovery. That’s the big positive I’ve taken from it.
You mention Rose and Abby. They’re not just team-mates from the national team; they’re two of your closest friends, aren’t they?
For sure. They’re two of my best friends in the world and I’m so excited we’re all here together, going through this same experience at the same time. I mean, Rose and I got to win the FA Cup final together at Wembley – that’s something we’ll always remember. And hopefully there are more great experiences coming down the line for the three of us.
Do you think the experiences you’re having in England are improving you as a player?
I hope so. I thought coming here was a wonderful opportunity to grow and evolve my game, and the whole experience – playing in English football and in the Champions League – has been so fulfilling. One of the coolest parts is that there’s so many competitions: you go from a league game to the FA Cup to the Champions League. It’s awesome to have such variety and so many trophies to play for.
Finally, I need to ask you about your ‘Tower of Power’ nickname. Are you a fan, and is it true Abby Dahlkemper is responsible for bestowing it on you?
Abby was there when it happened, but the name actually came from an announcer at a Courage game. Unless Abby gave him the idea! (laughs) We were getting rings presented for winning the championship and, as he announced me, he just pulled the name out of nowhere: “The Tower of Power… Sam Mewis!” We all just looked at each other and laughed. It was so funny, and such a good nickname, that it stuck. And I like it. I’ve definitely adopted it now!