After the U.S. women’s national team defeated the Netherlands 2-0 on Nov. 27, midfielder Kristie Mewis had one important thing to do before she talked to the media.
“I just had to rewatch it, actually, because I think I blacked out on what actually happened,” she admitted.
“It” was Mewis’s goal in the 70th minute, when she received a pass between two defenders from Lynn Williams and placed a low shot into the far corner of the net.
It was Mewis’s second career goal with the national team and her first since 2013, setting a team record for the longest time between goals (2,722 days) in a player’s career. One of the first players to congratulate her was her younger sister, Sam, a fellow midfielder who started against the Netherlands and played 28 of her 89 minutes next to Kristie.
Kristie and Sam were born just 20 months apart and grew up in a soccer-loving family in Hanson, Massachusetts, about 25 miles south of Boston. Both of their parents were former players, and Kristie and Sam took up the sport at a young age, often in the family’s backyard. “They played so much, we still can’t seem to get the grass to grow,” their mother, Melissa, told Sports Illustrated in 2010.
When Kristie and Sam were 8 and 6 years old, respectively, they watched the U.S. women’s national team win the 1999 Women’s World Cup and were transfixed. “That was our dream,” Sam recalled. “We used to wear Mia Hamm jerseys around the house.”
The Mewises followed in the footsteps of Hamm and her teammates, making their own history in 2008 as the first sisters to play together on a U.S. World Cup team with the under-17 women’s national team. In their youth careers, they combined for 30 goals in nearly 100 caps, or appearances, and played in five World Cups.
Kristie was called up first to a youth national team, which made Sam realize that she could get there, too. “It made that dream seem less out of reach. She paved the way in a sense and made me believe that I could do it too,” she told The Athletic. Sam has also said that Kristie “sparked a competitiveness in me by beating me in everything,” though at times that hurt Sam’s confidence as a young player. As a teenager, Sam decided to continue her soccer career at UCLA in part because she wanted to forge a separate path from Kristie, who was staying local at Boston College.
Despite the sisters’ divergent paths, their production as college players was remarkably similar:
Kristie averaged 1.30 points per game for her career, and her most productive season came as a senior, when she recorded 16 goals and 12 assists for 44 points in 21 games. As a sophomore, she helped her team advance to the College Cup for the first time in school history, and she still holds school records for the most points (19), goals (7) and assists (5) in the NCAA Tournament.
Sam had slightly fewer goals and assists than Kristie, but she had more game-winning goals (11 to 9) and — perhaps most importantly — the better winning percentage in the NCAA Tournament (0.781 to 0.714), including a national championship in 2013. Over one-third of Sam’s goals for the Bruins were game-winners, seven of them coming in her senior season alone. That clutch production earned her the 2015 Honda Sports Award as the national player of the year.
Both sisters debuted for the U.S. senior national team before playing a professional game. Kristie got her first cap in February 2013 and scored her first goal four months later against South Korea. That match was played in Foxborough, Massachusetts, with Sam and her parents in the stands — which Sam called “one of the coolest experiences ever.”
Less than a year later, in March 2014, Sam got her first national team cap by subbing into a match against Sweden at the same time as Kristie, which seemed symbolic of the long and promising international careers that they both seemed poised to have. But it wasn’t that simple for either of them. After just 15 caps and the lone goal against South Korea, Kristie fell out of favor with the national team, in part because coaches weren’t sure which position she should play at the international level. And Sam took a few years to fully break in, making only five appearances between March 2014 and February 2016 and missing out on the 2015 World Cup roster.
In the meantime, Kristie and Sam had both been top-five picks in the NWSL Draft after college, with Kristie going third overall to FC Kansas City in 2013 and Sam going fourth overall to the Western New York Flash (now the North Carolina Courage) two years later. Kristie played for five NWSL teams in her first five seasons before settling in with her current team, the Houston Dash.
Kristie tore her ACL in 2018, prompting her to reflect on what she still wanted to accomplish in soccer. She had scored just four NWSL goals in the previous two seasons after a career-high six in 2015, and her teams had mostly finished near the bottom of the standings. “I was OK with being average for a couple years,” she said this year. “I had to look within myself and decide where I was going to go with my career. Am I going to continue being average, or am I going to try and push for my dreams?”
Sam played with Western New York for her first two NWSL seasons before relocating with the team to North Carolina. The franchise won NWSL championships in 2016, 2018 and 2019, with Sam playing over 3,300 minutes in 43 matches in those three seasons.
Both sisters’ careers were on the upswing in 2019, as Kristie recommitted herself to becoming a standout player and Sam was a regular starter in the World Cup and won another NWSL title. Kristie had four goals and one assist in 22 NWSL matches, and Sam had two goals and four assists to help the Americans win the World Cup.
“Being a professional soccer player can be difficult and challenging at times, and … for a lot of people who have never done this, it is kind of hard to understand all the ups and downs,” Sam told the media in November. “And to have someone in my family that gets it and that we kind of go through the ebbs and flows of this career together … is just really special and it’s brought us closer.”
Sam added that it was “really rewarding” to watch Kristie recover from her knee injury and become an even better player. “I think it’s just demonstrated how hard she worked, how much she wants this and how good of a character that she really has.”
Both sisters have said in multiple interviews that they are extremely supportive of each other, and they talk almost daily. That bond could have been tested with only one Mewis on the World Cup roster, but Kristie didn’t hold any hard feelings.
“I was so, so happy for her, but I obviously wanted to be next to her doing it,” Kristie said. “… But I was able to separate it. A little bit of her success, I felt it also a little bit, just because she’s my sister, she’s my blood, we did everything together growing up. … And it also pushed me even harder to try and play with her again.”
Kristie built on her 2019 season by helping the Houston Dash win the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup, an eight-team tournament held at a single site in Utah because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Winning that title “honestly meant everything to me,” she said. “I obviously haven’t had that much success in the league on the teams I’ve been on. Just to win something and to be in first place … was the best feeling in the world.” She followed that up with two goals and five assists in four games of the Fall Series, which consisted of friendlies against the Courage and the Orlando Pride.
Kristie’s success in the Fall Series didn’t come at Sam’s expense, however, because Sam had signed a contract after the Challenge Cup to play in England for Manchester City. She had always considered playing overseas, and she made the move this summer because of the limited playing opportunities in the United States during the pandemic and her desire to prepare for the 2021 Olympics. Through her first eight games in England, she had scored two goals and was playing an average of 73 minutes per match.
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Just as in college, Kristie and Sam have produced similar statistics in their American and English club careers,1 including the exact same number of goals: 23. For Kristie — who has played 36 more matches and nearly 3,000 more minutes than Sam — that translates to 0.19 goals per 90 minutes. Sam has produced more goals and slightly more assists per 90 minutes, but she has also accumulated yellow cards at twice the rate Kristie has.2 And as Kristie mentioned after winning the Challenge Cup, her teams have struggled at times, earning 0.87 points fewer per match than Sam’s teams have, out of a maximum of 3 points.
“[For] her to get called in here just brings me so much joy,” Sam said during the November camp. “… Already today at practice, we were working together a little bit and it’s just so fun to have her here.”
When Kristie subbed into the game against the Netherlands, it capped a storybook return for the onetime youth phenom. “I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face,” she said afterward. “I was trying to be so serious, but I couldn’t. I just saw Sam and she was smiling at me, and I did feel oddly comfortable. It was probably because she was on the field and I’ve been training with the other players, so I did feel a sense of comfort.”
Her goal, coming just nine minutes after she entered the match, validated U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski’s belief in her and made his comments during camp look prescient. Reflecting on her growth since 2013, when he drafted her as the head coach of FC Kansas City, Andonovski said, “The 2020 version of Kristie Mewis is almost like a different person, different player. She’s more mature, understands the game, she’s more into it, definitely more intense. Her approach to the game, mentally, is totally different.”
As a result, Kristie doubled her career goals total with the senior national team and notched her elusive 16th cap:
Sam still leads the way in caps, goals and assists on the senior team, but 2020 has given the Mewises hope that both players will add to their totals in the coming years. If so, they may even have a chance to top the 123 combined caps earned by Lorrie and Ronnie Fair, the only other sisters to play for the U.S. women’s national team. (The Mewises have already bested the Fairs’ seven goals.)
In the spring, when much of the United States was under stay-at-home orders, Kristie resorted to training in public parks. ESPN’s Graham Hays reported that the setup was less than ideal: “The grass grew so high … that Kristie Mewis could scarcely see where she was going.”
It had to feel quite different from the backyard battles that whittled the grass down to nothing and grew the Mewis sisters into youth national team stars. But the match against the Netherlands proved that both types of training in the grass have paid off at the sport’s highest level. As The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jonathan Tannenwald wrote on Twitter during the game, “The plural of ‘Mewis’ is ‘a midfield.’”