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Sam Mewis Returns 'Home' To NC Courage. US Women's Soccer Star Is Here To Stay.

Britain Soccer Women's FA Cup
Adam Davy
AP via Pool PA
Manchester City's Sam Mewis celebrates after scoring her side's first goal during the Women's FA Cup final soccer match between Everton and Manchester City at Wembley stadium in London, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020.

As she turned her car onto East Chatham Street in Cary and approached WakeMed Soccer Park on Monday morning for a training session, Sam Mewis couldn’t stop the grin from growing across her face.

“I am really excited to be back,” said Mewis, a star on the U.S. women’s national soccer team. “I felt like a smile started to creep up on me as I was driving in and walking into the locker room.”

After a stint in England where she played for one of the most well-known clubs in the world, Manchester City, Mewis is back with North Carolina Courage of the National Women’s Soccer League.

And the midfielder named U.S. Soccer’s Female Player of the Year in 2020 is here to stay. Two weeks ago, after City’s season ended, Mewis signed a multi-year contract with the Courage that will keep her with head coach Paul Riley’s side through the 2023 campaign. Mewis is an allocated player this season, which means U.S. Soccer is paying the World Cup winner's salary. Other details of her contract were not revealed by the club.

“We’re so thrilled to have her back,” Courage general manager Curt Johnson said. “I think the most important part of this, from my perspective, is a multi-year commitment. We want to keep all of our top players, our most impactful players, here as long as possible.”

Mewis, 28, started practicing with the Courage again this week and is expected to make her season debut with the team Friday, when the Courage host Racing Louisville FC at 7 p.m. Last Saturday, the Courage had more than 5,000 fans in the stands for their match against the Orlando Pride. With Mewis’ return to the pitch, the club is expecting a similar crowd at the 10,000-seat venue under a self-imposed restriction on attendance, due to COVID-19.

 Sam Mewis dribbles through Houston Dash defenders on Sept. 17, 2019 in Cary, North Carolina.
Mitchell Northam
Sam Mewis dribbles through Houston Dash defenders on Sept. 17, 2019 in Cary, North Carolina.

“We’re thrilled to have Sam,” Courage majority owner Steve Malik said. “Just having Sam back, we’re going to pack it in… It was a great atmosphere here (vs. the Pride) and we’re looking forward to (Friday).”

Offensive Boost For Courage

Mewis’ return comes at the right time for the Courage, who have stumbled a bit at the start of this season. Riley’s side has notched a draw and a loss in the first two games and the Courage ― who broke the NWSL’s scoring record in 2019 ― have scored just once in 180 minutes of regular season play. A towering and imposing midfielder at 6 feet tall, Mewis is a versatile box-to-box player who tallied seven goals and two assists in 17 appearances with Man City. Two months ago, ESPN tabbed her as the best women’s soccer player in the world.

Riley is hoping that Mewis can provide an offensive spark to the team right away.

“The great thing is Sam can play anywhere in midfield. And the midfield needs a boost, at this point. There's no question, I think we've been a bit bland in the midfield,” Riley said. “She's the best box-to-box midfielder in the world… We look like we’re just about there and there’s just a few things missing. And one is a goal-scoring midfielder. I think Sam brings that to us.”

Mewis was a key part of Man City’s success this past season as the club won the FA Cup, finished second in the Women’s Super League and advanced to the quarterfinals in Champions League. Mewis scored the first goal of the match in the final of the FA Cup, the oldest tournament in English football.

"Home With The Courage"

When the season was over, Mewis had a choice to make. There was an option for her to return to City, or she could come back to the states and play with the Courage, the club she’s been with for the majority of her professional career.

 Sam Mewis talks to a coach on the sidelines of the 2019 NWSL Championship in Cary, North Carolina.
Mitchell Northam
Sam Mewis talks to a coach on the sidelines of the 2019 NWSL Championship in Cary, North Carolina.

Simply put ― for Mewis, the Courage is home.

“These girls are some of my best friends,” said Mewis, who hosts a podcast with Courage teammate Lynn Williams. “And this environment is one that has shaped me already so much. And I know will continue to do so… I just feel like right now, this is the best place. And I'm definitely open to anything in the future, but I'm really happy to be home with the Courage.

“A lot has changed here. But a lot, obviously, is still the same. There's still such a great energy around everybody.”

Indeed, much has changed since Mewis last played in a competitive game for the Courage. She was last on the pitch for Riley’s side in the 2019 championship match, which wound up being a 4-0 win for the Courage and a victory that was capped off by a score in the 61st minute by Mewis.

Since then, there was a pandemic, which shortened and altered the 2020 season for the NWSL. Instead of staying stateside in 2020, Mewis and several other USWNT players ― such as Rose Lavelle and Alex Morgan ― signed contracts with clubs in Europe to ensure that they could play consistently to keep their fitness. Without Mewis, the Courage were eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Challenge Cup and went 1-2-1 in the Fall Series. In all, the Courage played just nine games in 2020.

The Courage’s roster has also changed quite a bit since that 2019 championship triumph. Six players who played in that match are gone, including U.S. national team centerback Abby Dahlkemper, who signed a long-term deal to stay with Manchester City.

Sam Mewis plays in the 2019 Women's International Championship Cup with the NC Courage.
Mitchell Northam
Sam Mewis plays in the 2019 Women's International Championship Cup with the NC Courage in Cary, North Carolina. Mewis has helped the club win three championships.

"Tower Of Power"

With Mewis in the midfield, the Courage have enjoyed a ton of success. She was drafted by the club ― then known as the Western New York Flash ― in 2015 out of UCLA. Riley was hired in 2016 and the team won the NWSL championship that year. In 2017, the team was purchased by Malik, renamed and moved to the Tar Heel State. With Mewis in the midfield, Riley has guided the club to two more championships, three Shields and a win in the 2018 International Champions Cup.

In 87 NWSL appearances, Mewis has scored 20 goals and dished out 12 assists. The Massachusetts native has also scored 21 goals in 72 appearances with the U.S. national team and has helped them capture several trophies, including the 2019 World Cup.

“I think something that is unique to the Courage is just that we really pride ourselves on that high pressure and high intensity all the time. It's so much fun to be in that kind of environment and to be pushed like that every day,” Mewis said. “I hope that I can continue to contribute a lot to the club, because they have obviously given me so much. So, my ultimate goal is to just help the team win whatever way I can.”

North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley instructs players during a training session.
Mitchell Northam
North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley instructs players during a training session on May 20, 2021 in Cary, North Carolina.

Said Riley: “What she brings to the table is massive. I don’t know if you can even put into words. Tower of Power? Is that it? The Tower of Power, she brings a lot to the team and the group.”

The temperature in Manchester this week hovered around a cool 60 degrees. In Cary, the daily averages have been over 90 degrees, and the humidity on Friday is projected to be over 50%. Those conditions might be the most drastic change for Mewis, who is going from the cold and crispness of England to the hot and sticky air of North Carolina summers. But, in a year where Mewis is preparing for the Olympics, she sees it as a challenge and just one more potentially beneficial factor about returning to the Courage.

“I do think that there are some positives with what could happen this summer to being back here in the states… We were just joking about playing in the in the humidity,” Mewis said. “It’s definitely going to take a little adjustment back to the heat and the current way of playing. But I'm really happy and excited to be here.”

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