None of that surprised those who have been watching her closely.
“Sammy’s confidence is growing, matched by the experience that she gets out there,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. “She’s a dynamic player that can impact a game. And you go to the World Cup, your midfield, you need to have players that can score goals from distance, that can get in the box. There’s versatility in Sam.”
Teammate Julie Ertz was more succinct.
“Sam’s unbelievably powerful,” she said.
Yet, 24 hours before the opener she appeared unlikely to start. A healthy Lindsey Horan figured to team with Ertz in the midfield. But when Ellis decided to sit center back Becky Sauerbrunn because of a quadriceps issue, Ertz took her spot, opening one for Mewis.
An alternate on the 2016 Olympic team, Mewis has played 32 games in the 2½ years since, six fewer than former UCLA teammate Abby Dahlkemper, who made her World Cup debut Tuesday as well. Mewis and Dahlkemper, who both play for the North Carolina Courage in the NWSL and became fixtures with the national team at about the same time, have come to lean on one another since their college days.
“It helps having a familiar face in Sam,” Dahlkemper said. “We’ve been through it all together, the ups and downs. So that’s really helpful.”
“It’s been great to have somebody that knows me really well, that I can trust, that is sort of like a confidant,” she said. “Our friendship has been really valuable for me. It’s like a piece of home all the time.”
Mewis and Dahlkemper are two of eight UCLA players or coaches on four Women’s World Cup rosters, a list that includes Ellis, a former Bruin coach, and former player Mallory Pugh, who had a goal and an assist in her World Cup debut Tuesday.
UCLA coach Amanda Cromwell, a member of the 1995 U.S. World Cup team, said asking her to pick a favorite from among her former players is like asking a parent to pick a favorite child. But she admitted she has an affinity for the American players.
“Obviously, playing for the USA, I have that pride. I know what it means to wear the red, white and blue and stand there for the anthem,” Cromwell said. “It definitely feels like a parent moment where I’m just proud.”
When FIFA set a target of 1 billion global TV viewers for this Women’s World Cup, that seemed about as likely as Thailand posting a shutout. Turns out there was reason to think big.
The U.S.’s group-play opener, played in the middle of a weekday afternoon, averaged 2.626 million viewers on Fox, making it the most-watched English-language soccer telecast in the U.S. since last year’s men’s World Cup final. And Brazil’s first game did even better in its home market, with a combined 19.3 million viewers tuning in on Globo and SporTV.
The audience peaked at 22.3 million viewers, accounting for half of all Brazilian TV viewers in that time period. The only Women’s World Cup broadcast to do better with a domestic audience was the 2015 final between the U.S. and Japan, which drew a combined 27 million U.S. viewers on Fox and Telemundo.
Speaking of TV viewers, the early World Cup starts are hardly optimal for bar owners in the U.S., so a Miami restaurant concocted a number of promotions in hopes of luring customers.
It probably sounded like a good idea at the time, but one of the offers nearly drove American Social out of business. The bar offered free shots to everyone in the place for every U.S. goal.