The North Carolina Courage have been a force in the National Women’s Soccer League for the past few years. They are the current holders of the NWSL Championship and NWSL Shield which are given to the winners of the playoffs and regular season respectively. They have been able to achieve this due to the incredible strength of their squad. Their defence is anchored by the partnership of USWNT mainstay Abby Dahlkemper and their captain, New Zealand’s Abby Erceg who also captains her national side. USWNT star Crystal Dunn provides creativity and spark alongside Brazil’s Debinha. Jessica McDonald and Lynn Williams provide dynamism and goals going forward.
Amongst all these names it is easy to miss a player that glues it all together. In midfield, Samantha Mewis has been one of driving forces next to McCall Zerboni or Denise O’Sullivan. This tactical analysis will serve as a scout report of her well-rounded game. The analysis will focus on what makes her such a vital part of this North Carolina machine and their tactics.
Sam Mewis is the younger sister of Houston Dash’s Kristie Mewis. She gained prominence with a successful high school football career. During her college years as part of the UCLA Bruins, she helped her side to their first NCAA Championship and was the winner of the 2015 Honda Award which awards the best collegiate athlete in their respective sports. She began her professional career in 2013 with the Pali Blues in the W-League where they would win the national championship. Mewis first entered the NWSL with the North Carolina Courage which, at the time, was the Western New York Flash in 2015. She has won two NWSL Championships during her time with the club as well as two NWSL Shields. She was also a member of the USWNT squad that won the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, appearing in six of their seven games.
North Carolina system
North Carolina manager Paul Riley has been fairly consistent in the systems he deploys. The most common is either the 4-4-2 or the 4-2-2-2 formations. The 4-3-1-2 has also been used at times. Mewis is a midfielder who usually appears in the double-pivot. In this system, the fullbacks usually advance high up the pitch during buildup which leaves them building with the two centre-backs and the double-pivot in a sort of 2-2 block. This, coupled with the fact the NWSL sides usually press the Courage as they build up, requires the players to have certain characteristics. They need to have great quality in possession of the ball, especially under pressure. They also need to have good defensive instincts as the inevitable errors in build-up or quality opposition counter-attacks will lead to challenging defensive scenarios.
Role at North Carolina
Mewis predominantly plays in that double-pivot role mentioned above. She possesses both the attacking and defensive qualities that make her a complete midfielder and warrant much of the praise she has received during her career. Due to the disrupted nature of her 2019 season, the stats will be from her accumulated from the 2017 NWSL season to the present. This comes to three consecutive seasons including the ongoing one and amassed to 52 NWSL games of stats in total. And the images will be from her games for both the Courage and the USWNT during this period.
Mewis scored 10 goals and got 6 assists in total during the aforementioned 52 games. The vast majority of her goals have been in from inside the box. Mewis stands at a reported 1,80m and this makes her one of the tallest players in the league. It comes as no surprise that of her goals, three have been headed goals. She is an aerial threat that the opposition must take precautions against. But her goals come not only from her height advantage but also from her intelligent movement. The following images detail a sequence that highlights this trait of hers.
Mewis has also shown flashes of being a scoring threat from distance. The following images show two of her goals from range and if she can produce efforts like this more often then she will be virtually unplayable.
North Carolina is a side that looks to dominate possession in most of their games. As part of the double-pivot, Mewis would often drop deep to help the centre-backs build up the play. Mewis positions herself intelligently between the lines, offering options for her teammates. And always with a body shape that keeps her a step ahead of opponents. She played an average of 48,7, 51,5 and 51,6 passes per 90 minutes, showing her heavy involvement in the side’s possession-based approach. This level of involvement requires her to able to not only retain possession but also progress the ball up the field. This is especially the case for a team to avoid being stale in possession and to threaten their opponents. Mewis is exceptional at this task.
Mewis has a wide array of passes at her disposal. She can split lines looking to stay compact and also produce accurate long balls to her teammates. When looking at the direction with which she passes, there is a clear emphasis to move the ball up the pitch. The percentage of her total passes that have been played forward have been 49.5%, 45,9%, and 46.3%. Now, not all forward passes are equal. Some are more beneficial than others but come with the caveat of being tougher to execute. The following images show that Mewis not only attempts the more difficult and rewarding passes but has the quality to pull them off.
Passing isn’t the only way to progress the ball. And in addition to her progressive passing abilities, Mewis can also carry the ball past opponents with great ease. It is not uncommon for bigger players to be cumbersome on the ball and to lack pace. Mewis suffers from neither of these issues. She has plenty of pace despite her frame and still uses her size to bully players off the ball. This is a result of not only her close control but also her decision-making. She chooses the right moments to take risks with her dribbling and rarely charges into the danger of losing possession.
The Courage’s commitment to sending players forward often leaves Mewis and midfield partner needing to recover and help the centre-backs. This is especially key during transitions as the usual 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 formations that opponents employ mean that there are usually three or four attacking players ready to transition towards the backline. North Carolina on the other hand usually have around four players back. She has demonstrated that she can also do the dirty work along with her attacking contributions.
The stats truly speak for themselves. In the last 52 games she has featured in, she has amassed an impressive 84 interceptions, 75 clearances and 12 blocks from her midfield position. Her tackling success has been 77.8%, 72.2% and 75% in the last three seasons.
There is a case to be made that Sam Mewis is the most important of all the Courage players. Mewis is a consistent performer who can steal the ball from the opposition. She can then quickly move it to the dangerous forward options that the Courage possesses. Not only that but she can chip in with a goal or two herself. Mewis represents the complete midfield player and is certainly one to watch as the NWSL season heads closer to the all-important playoffs. She may very well have a major say on whether North Carolina retains their title.
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