Sam Mewis had just scored two goals in last weekend’s friendly against South Africa when Megan Rapinoe was asked about her teammate’s impact on the field.
Before she answered the question, Rapinoe smiled and instinctively replied with the team’s nickname for their imposing midfielder.
“The Tower of Power.”
Among a wide segment of U.S. women’s national team fans and observers, said inclusion of "The Tower" in the team’s starting lineup has been an increasingly pertinent question in the past few months.
USWNT manager Jill Ellis has had her first-choice midfield trio in place since last fall, with Mewis on the outside looking in. But Mewis has been knocking on the door lately, and her recent performances may just be good enough to force her manager’s hand.
Mewis has experienced a swift upturn in fortunes recently. The 26-year-old was a mainstay for the U.S. in 2017, starting all 16 of the team’s games, before a knee injury derailed her for a large portion of 2018.
She struggled to reimpose herself in the USWNT picture, and her place on the World Cup squad even seemed to be in question as recently as the early part of this year.
The low point for Mewis may have come in the first two games of the SheBelieves Cup this year, as Ellis opted for winger Mallory Pugh out of position in central midfield ahead of Mewis, who appeared to be the obvious replacement for the injured Lindsey Horan.
But in the team’s second game against England, Mewis came on as a second-half sub and helped stabilize a wobbly USWNT midfield. In the third and final game against Brazil, Mewis started and impressed in the team’s only win of the three-game tournament.
Suddenly the value of Mewis was apparent for all to see once again. The 5-foot-11 midfielder combines an imposing physical presence with dynamic two-way play and the ability to unlock defenses with the killer pass or a shot from distance.
“She’s just very different from any of our other midfielders,” Rapinoe said.
“[She] just eats up space, obviously very good in front of goal. She just brings a different kind of presence, she’s a very good dribbler and just causes so many problems in the midfield.”
Julie Ertz, Rose Lavelle and Horan have become the first-choice midfield trio in Ellis’ 4-3-3 system. In many ways, putting these three together makes plenty of sense.
Ertz is a true No. 6, sitting in front of the back four and sweeping up danger while also initiating attacks. Horan plays a box-to-box role, equally involved in defense and attack. Lavelle, meanwhile, is freed up to use her aggressive playmaking instincts to make things happen in the final third.
Mewis, the theory goes, is much more of a two-way player like Horan, meaning Ellis will always prefer a true playmaker like Lavelle as the USWNT looks to outscore teams on its way to a second straight World Cup title.
But Mewis has now scored three goals in the past two games to reinforce her offensive credentials. And with a more defensive-minded player in midfield, the risks Ertz sometimes takes trying to win the ball high up the pitch would be mitigated.
Ellis appears to be coming around to the idea Mewis will be a big factor at the World Cup in France next month.
“Sammy’s confidence just grows and grows with match play and the experience she gets out there,” Ellis said after Mewis scored twice against South Africa.
“She’s a dynamic player that can impact a game. 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.”
For her part Mewis is staying grounded, simply saying that she’s just happy to be on the plane to France.
“It’s such an honor to be on the roster,” Mewis said. “I’m really excited to contribute whatever I can and really just service the team and hopefully be a part of something going forward.
“Everyone on this team has been through adversity and all of our journeys have been amazing in the fact that they’ve led us here.”
Mewis’s journey hasn’t always been straightforward, but the Tower of Power now appears set to make a major impact on the world’s stage.