Jonathan Lewis Thrilled to Be With NYCFC and U-20s
January 19, 2017
JONATHAN LEWIS had a pretty big week, it's safe to say. New York City FC traded up to the third overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft to acquire the 19-year-old left winger and on Sunday Tab Ramos named him to the United States U-20 camp ahead of next month’s World Cup qualifying tournament in Costa Rica.
Lewis, a Generation Adidas player and one of the youngest men in the draft, was highly rated ahead of the draft. He met with New York City FC club officials the night before and senses their interest.
“I had a meeting with them the night before the draft,” Lewis told American Soccer Now from U.S. U-20 camp. “I knew they were interested. I didn't know they were going to trade up let alone trade for a lot of money.”
New York ended up forking over $250,000 of General Allocation Money in order to draft him. The decision-makers included two of the biggest names in the league: head coach Patrick Vieira and director of football operations Claudio Reyna.
Lewis was thrilled with the turn of events, as he will join another speedy winger, Jack Harrison, on a team that features David Villa and Andrea Pirlo.
“They play very good soccer,” Lewis said. “I am getting into a team also with a legend like Patrick Vieira.”
Unlike most young professionals in MLS, Lewis did not get serious about soccer at an early age.
“I started late in fourth grade, actually, and I didn't start playing in the academies until a lot later,” Lewis explained. “I had certain abilities that were very natural but I always had to work very hard. I was fast and I was good at dribbling the ball. I had a gift at being able to run at high speeds with the ball. I couldn't shoot, I couldn't pass, I couldn't do anything else but that. I had to learn that, obviously. I did a lot on my own.”
Lewis also moved around a lot during his early years due to his father’s job in logistics management. He was born in Georgia but moved to Los Angeles and then to Florida. While he watched the sport on television from a young age, his love for soccer actually developed when he moved to his father’s native Jamaica for a few years. When he moved back to Florida shortly after, the sport stayed with him.
And then Lewis made up for lost time. While playing for Kenall SC in Florida he scored 20 goals in 22 games. Because he holds a British passport through his mother, he was able to spend time training with Bradford City in England following high school but instead opted to return stateside in 2016 to attend the University of Akron.
And then things began to really fall into place for Lewis. He caught the eye of Tab Ramos for the U.S. U-20 team and began earning regular call-ups—his first involvement with U.S. Soccer. Earlier in the year he had participated in a camp with Jamaica’s U-20 team but decided afterward to discontinue involvement with Jamaica and hold out for a call-up to the U.S. team—which happened just a few months later.
Lewis earned positive reviews during his one season at Akron, scoring twice and adding 12 assists. Instead of returning for his sophomore year, he accepted the Generation Adidas offer and will now join a NYCFC franchise that knows he still needs polishing but is intrigued by his potential and aggressiveness.
“Jon Lewis is a perfect fit for the way we want to play—he’s a proper winger with pace who can come inside and beat people,” Vieira said after the draft. "He can score goals. We will have to work with him as he needs to develop his talent but he will be a really good fit for the way we want to play."
Reyna agreed. Even through Lewis is right footed but prefers the left wing, Reyna believes that his versatility will give Vieira options.
"We strengthened positions we needed to and we got Jonathan, who is a player who can fit into our system well and play on both sides of a 4-3-3," Reyna said. “He brings speed one vs. one and good linking up."
Before Lewis joins New York City his focus will be on the United States U-20 team that begins World Cup qualifying on February 18 against Panama. Since he became a mainstay with the team last year, Lewis his adapted well into Tab Ramos’ system.
“It suits me,” he said of playing for Ramos. “He wants me to show confidence and express myself. I bring a little something different to the team. I can run at players with pace. That's why I like playing in his system. It's a very European system. He's teaching us different styles of play that fit into those countries like Germany, England, and Spain where we can go out there and actually get on the ball and dominate possession instead of the other way around where we are just fighting and scrapping.”
This U-20 team has serious potential. Cameron Carter-Vickers, Christian Pulisic (who is unlikely to join this team but who could push Lewis out of the left wing spot), and Joshua Perez already have made their first-team club debuts. Even without those key players, however, Lewis is bullish on the team’s chances and this generation of American players.
“I think we're going to go in and show people we are one of the best, if not the best team on this side of the world,” Lewis said confidently. “A lot of us have the potential to be players in Europe at the high levels or top players in MLS. We have a very positive attitude and trainings have been really, really strong.
"We've been doing very well as a team. We have the core of the team and we have players looking in that are working very hard to get into the squad. We can be a force to be reckoned with in the World Cup and World Cup qualifying.”