By ANNE M. PETERSON
The Associated Press
PARIS — After scoring in her first Women’s World Cup game, Sam Mewis scanned the crowd, found her parents and blew them a kiss.
The gesture was meant as a thank you for all the hard work Bob and Melissa Mewis had put in to make sure their youngest daughter was prepared for the sport’s biggest stage.
“For them to see this big moment in my life and in my career, it was awesome and I really feel like we got to share that,” she said.
Mewis finished with two goals in the U.S. national team’s 13-0 rout of Thailand to open the tournament in Reims on Tuesday. Afterward, the team was criticized for the lopsided score and for celebrating after late goals when the victory was already well in hand.
But nothing was going to taint Mewis’ big night.
Mewis, 26, didn’t make the roster for the 2016 Olympics but was named an alternate for the squad. A fixture on the youth national teams, she became a regular with the senior squad in 2017 — until a serious knee injury that November sidelined her for the first half of 2018.
She bounced back from the injury and made the roster for the World Cup but there were no expectations she would start — until the day before the opener.
That’s when she got word that center back Becky Sauerbrunn was ruled out because of a quad injury and defensive midfielder Julie Ertz was sliding to the backline. That opened up a spot for Mewis to start in the midfield, along with fellow World Cup rookies Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle.
Oh, and they both scored, too. As did first-timer Mallory Pugh.
Although the United States overall was blasted for the goal celebrations, there was an understanding that the young players making their World Cup debuts deserved to revel a bit in their goals.
Mewis also was credited with a pair of assists.
“She’s a dynamic player that can impact a game,” coach Jill Ellis said in the run-up to France. “When you go to a World Cup, in midfield you need to have players who can score from distance, who can get in the box and obviously play-make. I think there’s versatility in Sam.”
Megan Rapinoe nicknamed her 6-foot teammate “Tower of Power.”
Mewis, a former UCLA standout, currently plays professionally for the North Carolina Courage, which won the National Women’s Soccer League title last year. Her sister, Kristie Mewis, plays for the NWSL’s Houston Dash.
The two are staying in touch, with Kristie providing encouragement from afar because the Dash are in the midst of the season.
“I was a little bit nervous a couple days leading up to the first game and was texting with her,” Sam Mewis said. “And just having her there to reassure me, someone who’s been with me literally from the beginning and totally understands the journey that I’ve been on and has shared in a lot of it with me. I really just totally trust her opinion. When she said, ‘Sam you’re going to be fine, you’re going to kill it,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, OK, you’re right.’ I believed her and it made me feel a lot better.”
It is unclear whether Mewis will keep her starting role because there’s no word on Sauerbrunn’s status for the team’s second game Sunday in Paris against Chile. Sauerbrunn’s absence, if extended, could be a concern later in the tournament when the U.S. defense will be tested more.
“We have a lot more in front of us, to hopefully continue have more exciting moments,” Mewis said. “But it’s been great so far and we’re excited to see what’s next.”