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Soccer Great Eddie Lewis Ventures Into Coaching

The left-footed midfielder who delivered one of the most important crosses in U.S. soccer history, spoke with ASN's Brian Sciaretta about coaching, life after soccer, and the 2014 World Cup.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
June 06, 2014
4:14 PM
AS THE UNITED STATES national team prepares to embark on its seventh straight World Cup appearance this month, few will argue that the 2002 team represents the pinnacle of American soccer. The squad advanced to the quarterfinals and delivered impressive wins against both Portugal and Mexico.

Eddie Lewis, 40, a key member of the 2002 team, delivered a brilliant cross to Landon Donovan in the United States' Round of 16 victory over Mexico—one of the top highlights in the history of the program.

The left-footed midfielder enjoyed an impressive career in MLS and abroad—playing for Fulham, Preston North End, Leeds United, and Derby County—and finished with 82 caps and 10 goals for the Stars and Stripes.

After retiring in 2010, Lewis helped start a soccer device business but has now begun to feel the urge to coach. With U.S. U-18 national team coach Javier Perez helping Jurgen Klinsmann in preparations for the World Cup, Lewis was asked to be the U-18 team’s head coach for a tournament in Portugal. In the opening game, United States drew Benfica’s U-19 team 1-1. On Friday the United States will take on Norway and will then play hosts Portugal followed by Sweden.

Coaching the U-18’s has been an eye-opening experience for Lewis who is now eager to join many in his generation to transition to coaching. ASN’s Brian Sciaretta caught up with the former U.S. World Cup midfielder from the U.S U-18 coach in Portugal.

BRIAN SCIARETTA FOR ASN: You're now running your first U.S. youth camp with the Under-18 national team. How did this come about?

EDDIE LEWIS: I was contacted about coming in with this team strictly for this tournament. I had the opportunity for a couple of camps to be one of the assistant coaches—which I think was certainly a valuable experience. But make no mistake, this is a wonderful venture for me but at the same time, without a really strong staff, it would be very difficult to take on this role.

ASN: Since you’ve retired as a player, what have been your ambitions for the next steps in your career? Have you been getting your coaching licenses? It seems like you certainly maintained a good relationship with U.S. Soccer.

LEWIS: I got my B-license right after playing. Certainly as a player, it’s the natural transition to staying connected to the game by getting involved in coaching in some capacity. At the time, I had some ambitions in terms of a company I was starting. But coaching is something I’ve always been interested in and truthfully wanted to just make sure I could begin to detach myself as a player and start to mature into the mindset that is required for coaching.

ASN: What are you first ambitions to begin heading down this avenue of coaching? Is it college, MLS, abroad like Gregg Berhalter did with Hammarby, or through the federations with their teams?

LEWIS: I’ve always been very intrigued by the federation. I lived abroad for 10 years and I’ve always enjoyed the international side of the game—having played for the United States a number of times. It has become a big part of my life and something I enjoyed and kind of missed. To still have the opportunity to help some of our players coming up and at the same time also be involved and enjoy the benefits of the global side of the game is very intriguing.

ASN: While you were a player, was there any coach that had a lasting impact on you that is influencing how you want to coach? Have you begun to think in your head what you want your style to look like and how an Eddie Lewis-coached team will play?

LEWIS: I think it’s a little early to define my style of coaching but I would say that as a player and certainly as a coach, you try and take strengths of a lot of the coaches you had over the years. From my youth all the way up to some of the coaches I had while I was abroad as well as international coaches, there is a lot to draw from. One of the technical directors and first team coaches I had at Fulham was a guy names Christian Damiano and he changed my entire outlook when it came to preparing for games and how to train and just my overall views of football or soccer.

Then there is another side of it when you take a guy like Bruce Arena. As far as a man manager, he has a wonderful ability to bring teams together and pick the right players for the right moments. He can get everybody to believe in a single cause and fight for each other. As any good coach knows, it’s as much about that man management as it is about the X’s and O’s. You have to find that balance in keeping the players motivated is really the secret sauce, if you will.

ASN: Was it Jurgen Klinsmann, Tab Ramos, or Javier Perez who you stayed in touch with that opened this door for you within coaching at the federation? Or was it combination of the three?

LEWIS: Javier was really the first to invite me to join the U-18s and certainly he thought that I could have a positive impact on the team. He also said he thought I would get something from it as well. I enjoy it and he was spot on. Six months later he called me again and asked me to join him for another camp for a couple of games. I said OK and I thought this was intriguing. It was really in that camp where we had a bunch of games I found these feelings and excitement that I only really had as a player. Now, I could reengage them as a coach. For me that was definitely the first time I realized that this is going to be part of my life in some way for quite a long time. It was like "I like this feeling and I miss it."

ASN: Now that you have had a chance to be around young American players for a few camps, what is your take on how advanced American players are now at this age compared with how they were when you were a young player? What is your take on the status of youth soccer now in the United States?

LEWIS: I’ve expressed this a number of times with the players here this week and in other recent camps. They are technically more advanced, certainly, than guys at this age during my time. I think tactically they’re smarter as well. With the globalization of the game, they see consistently every week the best of the best playing around the world. That gives them an opportunity players of my generation didn’t always have.

I remind them that they’re a lot better than they give themselves credit for sometimes. I just remind them that they have skillsets that are, across the board, a very good standard in any county in the world. They need to start to believe in those skills and in that tactical knowledge. They should kind of graduate from this federation from a good team that puts in solid performances and gets some results into a team that looks to win things and establish dominance in certain regions.

ASN: What is your take about how your generation of national team players is going to do in the transition from playing to coaching? When you were growing up, there were few American coaches at any level. Now we have guys from your generation like Gregg Berhalter, Pablo Mastroeni, and Ben Olsen heavily involved. How much is this going change the soccer landscape?

LEWIS: The reality is that my generation, for better or worse, is always going to be a generation that is trying to clear the past and sets the future for others. Certainly a number of players enjoyed individual success but it’s always been about helping establish and grow the reputation of soccer in America. That is now transitioning from the playing side to the coaching side. You now have a crop of coaches going to start to emerge in the next 5-10 years who have all played at very good levels who have all seen and been around some very good soccer in their career. They’re now going to be in a position to lend all that to the younger players starting to coming through the system. I can’t help but believe that is going to lead to anything other than advancing to other milestones for U.S. Soccer history.

ASN: With the World Cup now a week away, what are your thoughts on the current U.S. team and the task ahead of them in this difficult group that awaits them in Brazil?

LEWIS: Everybody knows it is going to be a very difficult task, for sure. We’ve been put into a group that on paper is one of the toughest. At the end of the day, the best teams on paper are not always the ones that get out of the group. It’s always the teams that manage to stay together which put together three good results on paper that manage to get out. I think there will be some upsets and some surprises. I’m just kind of nervous like everybody else and like I was as a player to get this thing started and hopefully get off to a great start.

ASN: Your assist to Landon Donovan against Mexico at the 2002 World Cup was one of the most iconic moments in U.S. Soccer history. What does that moment still mean to you and what was its significance in the history of the sport in the United States?

LEWIS: Without any question it was one of, if not the greatest, moment of my career. Not just from a personal standpoint, but it kind of cemented this defining moment in the growth of U.S. Soccer and the federation. It was a goal that sealed that game and took us to another level and a place we haven’t been before in a World Cup. Then all of a sudden it turned into more recognition for players, better opportunities abroad, ultimately greater awareness, and more sponsorship dollars for the federation. For me that was kind of U.S. Soccer’s shot heard around the world if we had to pick another after Paul Caligiuri’s goal in Trinidad.

ASN: U.S. national teams always seem to play better when they have chips on their shoulders with an “us vs. the world” approach to the game. That 2002 team seemed to play that way. Do you think that is a hallmark of U.S. teams?

LEWIS: Absolutely. I think we’re always going to be kind of fighting to earn the respect we probably deserve given that we’re kind of late to the party. We’re still a young soccer country nation trying to establish itself. I don’t mind that position. I think we’re comfortable in an underdog role slot at the minute. There are a couple of other teams in our group with some serious expectations put on them but with those expectations comes a lot of pressure.

ASN: So after you run this camp in Portugal, what is next for you?

LEWIS: I launched a company called Toca that builds training devices for players. We have a number of locations opening in Southern California. I have a full-time role as the founder of Toca and we’ve had about three years of research and development. We’re launching the product this summer. We also have these centers that we’re opening that are almost batting cage setups for soccer. We have individual training. It’s great.

I’m not sure if I’ll be on a coaching staff again for a little while. But at the same time, I’ll always want to keep that door open because of the enjoyment and hopefully the experience.

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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