It might be too strong an assertion to say that Sam Mewis’ return to the U.S. women’s soccer team’s starting lineup was why the Americans shut out Brazil, 1-0, in the SheBelieves Cup finale.
The 26-year-old’s mix of defending and attacking talents makes her an ideal fit in a central midfield triangle with a creative playmaker and a defensive enforcer.
U.S. coach Jill Ellis has the pieces. Lindsey Horan (who missed the SheBelieves Cup with a quadriceps injury) and Rose Lavelle are the playmakers; Julie Ertz and backup McCall Zerboni are the enforcers.
Mewis and Ertz have excelled every time they’ve played together, providing a layer of steel beneath superstars Horan, Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath, and Alex Morgan. But Mewis’ start against Brazil was just her third since the start of 2018.
Why doesn’t she play more? Ellis has been asked a few times, and has rarely provided a direct answer. It happened again after the Brazil game.
“Sammy has been great in training for the whole camp,” Ellis said. “Rose’s knee was problematic … Sammy was deserving of playing. So it was an easy decision.”
That answer raised eyebrows. It may have been an easy decision, but it was made for the wrong reason. Lavelle and Mewis are different players.
As has been written here before, Ellis prefers to play two attacking playmakers in front of one enforcer, instead of a more balanced setup. The aim is to use the Americans’ unrivaled attacking firepower to overwhelm opponents that sit back and bunker.
But the world’s top teams — including all three the U.S. faced in the last week and a half — don’t play that way. They go at the Americans, because they’re good enough to. So does World Cup host France, which thumped the U.S. in January; and Australia, which will play the U.S. in suburban Denver next month.
An increased dose of defense won’t be a bad thing for Ellis’ team. It will help the back line, spare goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher from having to bail her colleagues out, and give the attacking machine more freedom. And Mewis can join the party. She made some great rampaging runs against Brazil, and has a cannon of a right foot that can score from distance.
U.S. defender Becky Sauerbrunn put it best when she spoke to reporters after the Brazil game.
“Sam Mewis was the best player in this match. She seized the game,” she said. “She can drive at players with the ball [and] break things up defensively. Her presence was really felt and it was what the midfield needed.”
As the World Cup approaches, Ellis would do well to heed her cocaptain’s words. A midfield triangle of Horan, Mewis, and Ertz can help the U.S. repeat as World Cup champion this summer — if Ellis lets them.