Stephanie McCaffrey and Kristie Mewis returned to familiar turf for this issue’s cover shoot at their undergrad stomping grounds. Both played for the Boston College Eagles, and today they’re Boston Breakers teammates—and roommates. “It’s good to have a sense of comfort in what can be a really uncomfortable profession,” McCaffrey says. Their personalities balance each other out on and off the field: McCaffrey is a playmaker and morning person, Mewis a finisher and night owl. “And we’re not afraid to give it to each other if we think one of us should have done something,” Mewis admits.
Still, they don’t want to dwell on their unsuccessful 2015 season. “When you’re a competitive athlete and you have nothing to play for, it’s hard to stay focused,” says McCaffrey, who played the final four games of her rookie season with the Breakers mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. “A lot of people checked out, myself included.” She remembers thinking they needed a clean start—and they got one with the hiring of coach Matt Beard, an English transplant who brought the Liverpool Ladies FC from the bottom of the league to championship contenders with the help of three current Breakers.
Beard isn’t the only fresh face. Half of the Breakers’ roster is new, and one of the additions is 28-year-old defender Whitney Engen. A member of the U.S. national team that won the World Cup last year for the first time since its groundbreaking 1999 victory, she brings experience to a young group that looks to her as a decision maker. Whether they’re teammates or opponents, Mewis says sharing the field with Engen and other big shots makes players “want to be where they are too.” McCaffrey has also logged time with the national team. “You see people like Carli Lloyd, who’s the first one in the ice bath after every training; you see people like Alex [Morgan] who are rolling out before every single practice,” she says. “It’s cool being in the environment with these superstars to see they’re not just talented—preparation and hard work goes into their everyday routine.” Mewis agrees: “That’s one of the biggest differences from the last person in the league to the top player.”
While the Breakers didn’t notch a win in their first five games this season, all but one of their losses was decided by a single goal, and Mewis sees cause for optimism. “We’re getting better and better every game, which didn’t necessarily happen last year,” she says. There are other reasons for excitement. The National Women’s Soccer League has outlasted its two previous incarnations as it plows through its fourth year. And more eyes are on the sport—last year’s Women’s World Cup finals drew the largest U.S. soccer TV audience in history, and this summer’s Olympics will once again shine a spotlight on the game. Says McCaffrey, “Between the media attention, the amount of fans, how salaries are starting to get raised, people are starting to live like real professional athletes.”