Jonathan Lewis deserves a chance
It was a lovely shake-and-bake move. Receiving the ball on the left flank, Jonathan Lewis, in true winger style, had one thing on his mind: get to the byline and deliver a dangerous cross.
He stood up the defender, feigning to go inside, and then suddenly shifted the ball to his left, darted down the line and fired a low ball across the six-yard box. Christian Ramirez was duly on hand to tap in the easy finish.
It is a move that every great, direct winger has in his arsenal. Leroy Sane is the master of it: he holds his opposing defender for that crucial split second, forces them to split their feet, becoming square to the ball and then explodes down the outside.
Lewis then followed this brilliant assist with another classic winger play in the USMNT’s 2-0 win over Costa Rica. This time, instead of trying burst to the byline, he paused, waited for the supporting runs in the penalty area to materialise and picked out Sebastian Lletget with a nice, right-footed cross to the far post. These two moments are wonderfully illustrative of the threat that Lewis poses.
The 21-year-old has struggled to forge a role for himself at New York City FC. Last season, he only played 14 matches. All 14 were as a substitute. And yet, in just 219 minutes of MLS action, he was still able to score one goal and assist three more, yielding a direct involvement every 54.75 minutes. That is a sensational return.
And now he has started his 2019 brilliantly with two assists, both coming from off the bench. New York City FC head coach Domenec Torrent stated last summer, ‘I prefer [taking it] step-by-step because he’s a young player, and I am here, my staff is here, to improve the young players.’ That is a rather conservative approach to take with a player who is clearly having an impact when he takes to the pitch.
This is not to say that Lewis deserves to be starting each and every week without fail. The New York squad is deep, especially in the attacking midfield positions, and competition for places is fierce. Lewis must prove himself worthy of regular starts.
But he has, across a limited sample size, admittedly, displayed a talent that is deserving of more chances. And 419 minutes in a season is not really a chance. Not starting a game all season is not a chance. Torrent should be handing Lewis the opportunity to truly flourish. He has the natural ability, now he just needs the opportunity.
Whether Lewis can win a starting job remains to be seen. Whether Torrent will give him the opportunities he needs, no one knows until the season gets going. But the talent is there. Now, it is time to give him the chances he deserves.