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Tara Sullivan

Their soccer journeys took Sam and Kristie Mewis apart. The NWSL restart brought them back together

Sam (left) and Kristie Mewis are so close together, yet so far. The NWSL restart is forcing the two sisters to stay socially distant out in the league's bubble in Utah.
Sam (left) and Kristie Mewis are so close together, yet so far. The NWSL restart is forcing the two sisters to stay socially distant out in the league's bubble in Utah.Getty Images

Soccer has taken Sam and Kristie Mewis around the world and back again, yet rarely have their years of teams, tournaments, and travels put them in the same soccer place at the same soccer time.

But now, the sisters and former Whitman-Hanson Regional High School standouts are both inside the NWSL bubble, Sam starting at midfield for the North Carolina Courage and Kristie doing the same for the Houston Dash. While the nation’s largest professional sports leagues of MLB, NHL, NBA and eventually, the NFL, continue to inch toward returning to play, the women of the NWSL have been playing for the past two weeks, and by all accounts, this first foray into team sports in the time of pandemic has gone exceedingly well.

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Not that it means the Mewis sisters actually get to spend much face-to-face time together, since COVID-19 protocols require responsible distancing and social interaction largely limited to players on the same teams. But even the occasional crossover at the coffee truck or waves across the loading and unloading of team vans is welcome. And with the nightly free time, the two have given their FaceTime apps a workout with conversations that can last hours, comparing notes on everything from latest books to read to best shows to binge.

“Sam and I were talking about it, how some people are struggling in this little bubble, but Sam and I, we absolutely love it,” Kristie says over a Friday evening Zoom call, the sisters sharing side-by-side screens on my laptop, both of them laughing over just how comfortable they can be with the down time.

“It’s just so nice to be able to focus on yourself and your team, spend so much good quality time with the team, to focus on soccer and recovery and resting. We love just laying down watching TV, watching shows. So it’s actually been really good to relax and focus on ourselves and our team. Honestly, I think it’s going super well, it’s been so well organized.”

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The NWSL has decamped to the Salt Lake City suburbs to restart play. The central location has allowed sisters Kristie and Sam Mewis an opportunity to interact – at least, from a distance.
The NWSL has decamped to the Salt Lake City suburbs to restart play. The central location has allowed sisters Kristie and Sam Mewis an opportunity to interact – at least, from a distance.Alex Goodlett/Getty

Not that it was easy. The NWSL’s season was turned into a Challenge Tournament in Utah, a World Cup type format with preliminary rounds at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, setting the seeding for quarterfinal knockouts in Herriman followed by semifinals the championship game at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. Even before it got started, the Orlando Pride had to withdraw due to too many positive COVID tests. But ahead they went with the other nine teams, a relatively small number and one, as Kristie said, that “probably made us one of the easier leagues to get going, really the only benefit of having less teams.”

Now, after a perfect four-game preliminary round, Sam’s Courage have the top seed going into the quarters while Kristie’s Dash, who went 1-2-1, are seeded fourth. Both teams play Friday night, with the other two quarters on Saturday, followed by semifinals July 22 and the title game July 26.

Sam, 27, scored the opening goal in the Courage’s fourth win over Sky Blue FC, and was memorably on the US World Cup-winning team a year ago in France, starring at UCLA after her years at Whitman-Hanson. Kristie, 29, is still second in career scoring at Boston College and spent years with the national team program, set back by knee surgery that cost her time in her prime.

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Yet for all their divergent career paths, they are together in this. For both, the opportunity to be part of this NWSL bubble isn’t simply about playing, but about playing in this unprecedented moment in time, one done against the simultaneous backdrop of pandemic and social justice activism.

It’s about knowing they have a platform to show it can be done, about understanding they have an opportunity to remind the world they’re here, and about using that combination to continue to spotlight issues of equality and justice.

“With the virus side, I think being here is actually a little bit freeing, you have very strict protocols you have to follow, but we are isolated and in a bubble, there’s no option of even going to a grocery store or something, so it feels safe,” Sam says. “From the social justice side, I don’t want to forget about that, I don’t want to let soccer be a distraction, I want to be responsive.

“One, to look at myself in the mirror, how I’ve been complicit in this my whole life, something I’m taking seriously, educating myself and taking action. I don’t want to take time for soccer and say, ‘This can wait.’ This can’t wait. I’m grateful to all my Black teammates to help white teammates learn, it’s been so eye opening. I don’t want to separate and compartmentalize.”

With Kristie nodding in agreement, the two also realize how important it has been that players have been following the virus protocols strictly enough to allow play to continue.

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“Our season is definitely shorter than some of them, but honestly, it’s about being super professional and super safe, and our league has done a super job with it,” Kristie said. “Honestly, I don’t know how they pulled this off, food, facilities, it must have taken so much work. I’m so thankful and grateful that they made this happen. We wouldn’t be doing anything right now. I don’t even know if we’d be training, if the whole season was cancelled, there’s no income anymore. It’s the most amazing thing ever to me.

“I’m just so happy to be here. I think all of us have shown great maturity in this. I would say to other athletes if I could that you have to follow the rules and ‘Be safe.’”

Find time to read (Sam has been doing extensive research on anti-racism), to binge (Kristie was thrilled to discover the Unsolved Mysteries reboot), and to watch each other’s games as they’re televised in the various hotels or watch the Premier League games they both devour.

And maybe, to dream. Though there is no NWSL counterpart to the Foxborough-residing Revolution, the Mewis sisters find themselves hoping for a potential future career intersection. “How cool would that be to play together at home?” Sam says.


Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at tara.sullivan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.