Siblings add spark to U.S. soccer team

Samantha Mewis may have an NCAA title and a few inches on her older sister, but she's still looking up to Kristie, who has a coveted starting role on the U.S. soccer team. Courtesy of ussoccer.com

FRISCO, Texas -- Bragging rights are hard to come by when you're the junior member of the Mewis siblings.

Notwithstanding the growth spurt around the time she started high school that still provides Samantha Mewis with a couple of inches on her older sister Kristie, the former has been looking up at her older sister's achievements for years.

NCAA All-American. National team cap. National team goal. National team starting role. Professional success. Kristie has them all. Two years younger and a junior at UCLA, Sam is still working her way through the list.

So when Samantha helped the Bruins win a national championship in December, a prize that eluded Kristie during her four years at Boston College and also eluded national team standouts like Sydney Leroux and Lauren Holiday at UCLA, surely it offered one small chance to hold something over her older -- and shorter -- sister's head. Not so much.

"I've always looked up to her, so I don't think I would really brag about it too much," Samantha said before Thursday's United States national team training session at Toyota Stadium. "Maybe when we're older."

There was a pause and then Kristie, standing next to her sister, finished the thought as only an older sister can.

"She'll never brag about it because I have more to brag about."

Yes indeed, there is no bond quite like a sibling bond.

The United States begins a new year of competition with Friday's game against Canada, not quite NASCAR starting its season with the Daytona 500 but not so very far off. There isn't anything of consequence on the line Friday night in Texas. This isn't World Cup qualification, which will come later this year. It isn't a major tournament, as when the two sides played one of the most famous games in the sport's history at Old Trafford in the 2012 Olympics. It isn't even last June's game in Toronto, when Sydney Leroux's goal celebration sparked a controversy.

It's just a game in January, a chance to shake off winter rust and lay the groundwork for the months ahead. Sort of.

"The reality of this game is it's a local derby," U.S. coach Tom Sermanni said.

Added Canadian coach John Herdman a few hours later, "It's a derby game; it's our closest neighbor."

Those matter regardless of the stakes, whether its city neighbors like Everton and Liverpool or continental ones like these two. American players from Leroux to Holiday were quick to downplay any hatred between players who are often teammates in National Women's Soccer League and former college teammates, but any meeting is something more than just another friendly.

"Personally, I think Canada has to be our top rivalry," Holiday said.

Germany has its multiple world championships. Japan took the World Cup title away in 2011. Brazil always manages to engender some ill will. Sweden has the former coach. But Canada is like a sibling. It's just a different relationship.

Which is also why there is one part of Friday's game that will matter long after it's over. At least in Hanson, Mass.

For the first time, Kristie and Samantha are teammates with the senior national team. As the only uncapped player selected for the series of games against Canada and Russia in the next two weeks, and one of just two players with college eligibility remaining, Samantha is unlikely to play against Canada, unlikely even to be available as a substitute (the sisters will join Lorrie and Ronnie Fair as the only siblings to appear for the United States whenever Sam does debut).

"There is that aspect that she's here for the experience, she's here for the future," Sermanni said. "She's here for us to have a look at, and it is valuable to have players coming in through our system that get that opportunity to be in here. Being realistic, if Sam were to kick on and make a World Cup squad next year, I would consider that a bolter."

As in a bolt out of the blue.

But she is on the roster. She trains with the team. Thursday she and Kristie jogged side-by-side through warm-ups.

Just as they envisioned when they kicked the ball around as kids in the backyard in Massachusetts or watched old tapes -- literally VHS tapes -- of the team that won the World Cup in 1999. And as they hoped would come to pass when they played together on everything from local club teams to the Under-20 national team.

"It's been kind of a shock, really, to be able to see her on the field with me for these past couple of days," Kristie said.

It is not merely coincidence that the sisters staked out opposite coasts during their college careers, which overlapped for two seasons. By the time college came around, Samantha wanted to escape her sister's substantial shadow, the hometown phenomenon who stayed home, led Boston College all the way to its first College Cup and was clearly bound for the senior national team. It was difficult to be Samantha when she was busy being Kristie's younger sister.

"My high school decision to go far away from home had a lot to do with Kristie," Samantha said. "I think my maturing since then has led me back to Kristie. Now I'm on the other side of it, and I look to bring her up in conversation. I make it known that she's my older sister and I'm just really proud of her. If there's a game on TV, we have to watch the game. I think as I've come into my own, I've come to realize that the relationship I have with her is really important. And I can be my own person while still being her sister. I think I've realized that the past couple of years, being away."

Asked once what they had in common, the two looked at each other and came up with the fact that they play soccer. Nothing more. Leroux, who counts Kristie as one of her best friends and played with both on the U-20 national team and with Sam for a season at UCLA, concurred. Kristie can score seemingly without cracking a smile. Sermanni described Samantha as someone who plays at all times "with a smile on her face." It is perhaps only a slight exaggeration literally and an apt figurative assessment.

"She's more of a caring person," Kristie joked.

It remains clear which one is the elder sibling, especially in a setting in which Kristie is the experienced hand in other ways. A couple of times Thursday she answered a question by using the second person to address Samantha -- 'You kind of struggled with some injuries,' she said at one point of Samantha's early days at UCLA and her growing confidence since. There were a few playful jibes directed at her younger sister. But there was also genuine respect and, yes, affection.

"When we were younger, with the [Under-20s] and stuff, yeah, Sam was definitely the little sister," Leroux said. "But now I think they're both grown up and both doing well with soccer. I think they're definitely equals now."

Kristie wasn't on hand in Cary, N.C., in December when her younger sister won a national championship. She wasn't even watching on television. She couldn't. She was with the national team, literally on the field for a scrimmage in California as her sister played in North Carolina. Presumably she will be there whenever Samantha gets on the field for the United States, with an even better view than Samantha had from the stands in Foxborough, Mass., when Kristie scored her first national team goal in a game against South Korea last summer.

"I was crying, I was so happy for her," Samantha said. "It was one of the coolest experiences ever, getting to witness that. She was so excited. And I saw her after, and I was just so proud of her I was crying. Even when they announced her name during the national anthem, me and my parents were tearing up. I'm just very proud of her.

"I'm lucky that I have such a good role model to look up to."

Or look over to, as the case may be these days. Equal as teammates on the national team.