Riding along on Sam Mewis’s whirlwind World Cup victory tour
Stan Grossfeld joined the US women’s soccer team star during a recent visit to her home state, where she enjoyed a hero’s welcome.
It is 8:30 on a steamy Friday morning in Dorchester and a jet-lagged Sam Mewis needs caffeine. She orders an iced coffee in a Savin Hill cafe.
“This one is on me,” says the barista. “Congratulations.”
Mewis, 26, looks surprised. “That never happens,” says the 6-foot midfielder for the World Cup-champion US women’s national team.
She had better get used to the attention, and the unsolicited gestures of gratitude along the way. After all, one billion people worldwide watched the tournament on television. Nearly 14 million domestic viewers saw the US defeat The Netherlands, 2-0, in last Sunday’s final at the Stade de Lyon in Lyon, France.
Mewis thought she’d be coming in off the bench for the US, but she started six of the seven matches, including the final. She recorded two goals and four assists and made 31 defensive plays.
Not bad for a woman who was born in Weymouth and grew up in Hanson, and whose older sister, Kristie, described her as “the girl in the backyard kicking against the fence for hours when no one was watching.”
Since the Americans’ decisive World Cup triumph, their second in a row and fourth overall since 1991, Mewis’s whirlwind schedule was so overloaded with engagements, it appeared she was in need of a stunt double to help with her appearances.
After Team USA won the title and celebrated with a big champagne-soaked party in France, the team chartered back to New York on Monday. The next day, the team appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Mewis also did NBC’s “Today Show,” where she nailed the bottle-cap challenge with a roundhouse kick. (The bottle was glued down, she says.)
Wednesday morning, there was a ticker-tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes in New York City, followed by a West Coast trip to Los Angeles for an appearance that evening at the ESPYs, where the US women received the “Best Team” award to close out a busy day of coast-to-coast appearances and events.
The cross-country charter flight, though, provided the team not only with some well-deserved downtime, but also a window of opportunity for some hair and makeup glamorization.
“Well, it was crazy because, No. 1, nobody got to shower,” Mewis says. “So we are coming from the parade, which was hot. We were sweating, having champagne dumped all over us, and waving to everybody in New York. Then, we get on a plane and we have to look glamorous. And they had four girls on the plane doing our hair and makeup, which was awesome and, like, thank God.”
Mewis’s wardrobe — a black-and-white pant suit — was put together by a stylist.
One problem: Her pants didn’t fit.
“When I tried it on, I didn’t really like it and I was panicking,” she says. “I was, like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t want to wear this.’ I’m scared, but I ended up really liking it.”
The team arrived in the City of Angels, all yearning for a hot shower, but that never happened out of fear it would ruin their hair and makeup.
“So, we got off the plane in LA and went to our [hotel] rooms,” she says, “but my hair was done. So I could have rinsed my body, but my hair would have gotten frizzy from the steam. So I didn’t [shower]. Nobody did. We just like put on deodorant and went [out on stage].
“So it was like gross,” she adds with a giggle.
A big Patriots and Red Sox fan who used to paint her face red, white, and blue when she attended football games at Gillette Stadium, Mewis got her biggest thrill at the ESPYs when she got to see recently-retired Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, yell out “Nomah!” at Mr. Mia Hamm, Nomar Garciaparra, and meet the show’s host, comedian and actor Tracy Morgan.
Mewis says she skipped the afterparty to nosh on a bowl of macaroni and cheese, a guilty pleasure that was forbidden from her diet during training, before returning to the Ritz-Carlton to finally enjoy that hot shower.
Thursday morning, she woke up at 3:45 and flew back to Boston, to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for Friday’s Red Sox series opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Fenway Park, where she was joined by US goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher.
Once she arrived home from LA, Mewis played catch with her husband, Pat Johnson, in front of their Savin Hill apartment to tune up for the first pitch. The last time the couple had been to Fenway, they sat in the very last row of the bleachers for the World Series.
On Friday morning, Mewis does a one-hour recovery workout at the Institute of Performance and Fitness in North Reading, where she poses for selfies with everyone at the gym.
“They’ve seen me through a lot of my low points,” says Mewis.
Walter Norton Jr., Mewis’s longtime trainer, marvels at the way she stepped up her workouts after she was chosen as an alternate for the Olympics in 2016.
“She physically changed who she was,” he says. “She got stronger and got better, and kept pushing.”
She worked out with kids, adults, and Olympic hockey players.
“Anybody and everybody,” Norton says. “Most people didn’t know she was a professional soccer player. Most people felt like she was a very nice person who worked really hard.”
Stephanie McCaffrey, a former opponent with the Chicago Red Stars and Boston Breakers, says Mewis is a working-class hero. Once fierce opponents, they are now best friends.
“Boston needs a female Julian Edelman,” McCaffrey says, comparing Mewis to the Patriots wide receiver because of her rise from humble means through her toughness, spirit, and unselfish play.
Her dad and coach, Bob Mewis, worked two construction jobs, doing estimates to pay for club soccer trips.
“My dad used to get up at 4 in the morning to work this side job at our kitchen counter so that he could afford all these trips,” she says. “My parents both worked really, really hard because playing club soccer was expensive.
“A lot of my friends in Hanson didn’t get to play club soccer. There were girls there that could have been really, really good, and their parents weren’t able to give that to them.”
In high school, Mewis says she worked at the Dunkin’ Donuts in Hanover until her soccer travel schedule made it impossible. She remembers how she and her older sister, now with the Houston Dash, scrounged quarters for gas money.
Mewis is Boston, through and through, and promises to remain so.
“Working hard is in our DNA,” she says. “I’m just like a normal person from here.”
She loves going to championship parades, jaywalking, and telling people exactly how she feels.
“I work hard and I put my family before anything else,” she says.
Her wish is to see a soccer stadium built in Boston.
“I’d like to show people how cool soccer is and how cool women’s soccer is,” says Mewis, who remembers watching the 1999 US victory in the World Cup final as a 6-year-old in her Hanson living room.
“I really, really remember my sister and I being like, ‘We want to be on this team.’ From there on out, soccer was the only thing I ever wanted to do.”
The next stop is a WGBH Boston Public Radio interview at the Boston Public Library, where she is asked about the equal pay movement, which her team championed during the World Cup after filing a lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation.
“If I was a men’s player, and I had just won the World Cup, I’d probably be set for life,” she says. “And I’m not.”
After her radio interview, people line up to take selfies with her, one man darting across Boylston Street traffic to get a jersey signed.
Back in Dorchester, Mewis climbs three flights of stairs eager to take a shower on this hot summer day.
“I still have, like, eyeliner on from the ESPYs, because I can’t get it off,” she says with a laugh, before dashing off to the drug store for makeup remover.
But the World Cup winner can’t catch a break. Water starts dripping from the bathroom ceiling all over the apartment floor. Unfazed, Mewis grabs a plastic kitchen garbage pail, strategically places it beneath the leak, and moves on.
She also has to pack a bag before going to Fenway for her early morning flight on Saturday back to Cary, N.C., to support her current team, the North Carolina Courage of the National Women’s Soccer League.
She nonchalantly shows off her key to New York City, presented to her by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“I was, like, ‘It’s awesome, dude, but I’d rather get the key to Boston,’ ” she says.
Instead, her friend Stephanie gets a City of Boston parking ticket on the windshield of her truck.
Family and friends meet her at the Baseball Tavern. Mewis was blessed by her mother, Melissa Lang Mewis, a former point guard on the Northeastern women’s basketball team, with athletic genes and a world-class determination.
“I used to tell her, ‘Don’t you let them take the ball away from you,’ ” she says.
At Fenway, Mewis gets the red-carpet treatment. Jackie Bradley Jr. brings his daughter into the family room for pictures with Mewis, who also got a hug from Rick Porcello.
Mewis is warned that the worst thing to do on the ceremonial first pitch is to bounce it at the plate. At the moment of truth, Mewis fires a perfect off-speed pitch at Chris Sale so the lanky 6-foot-4-inch lefthander doesn’t have to bend down to catch it.
Mewis retires to a luxury suite at Fenway with her family and friends, and proceeds to enjoy a hot dog with all the trimmings and pizza washed down by an ice-cold beer. Mewis also spends time with Jimmy Fund patients at the game and shares a moment with every wide-eyed kid who comes up to meet her. There’s a long rain delay, but Mewis doesn’t leave.
She’s having too much fun being back home in Boston as a Women’s World Cup champion.