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For club and country: Sean Johnson mentors Jonathan Lewis

Jul 8, 2018; New York, NY, USA; New York City FC goalkeeper Sean Johnson (1) and teammates salutes the fans after their game against the New York Red Bulls at Yankee Stadium. (Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)

ORANGEBURG, N.Y. — Sean Johnson and Jonathan Lewis were surprise selections to Gregg Berhalter’s first January camp as U.S. men’s national team coach.

Johnson hadn’t been part of the fold in 18 months, since the group stage of the 2017 Concacaf Gold Cup. Lewis had yet to consistently break into the New York City Football Club lineup.

Both both NYCFC players impressed, in different ways, enough so to earn a second straight call-up for a pair of international friendly matches against Ecuador and Chile later this month, much to the delight of their manager, Dome Torrent.

“It’s good news for us when that happens because it’s better for us, for the motivation of our players when they go to play with the national team,” he said after training on Wednesday

In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Berhalter lauded both players, citing Johnson’s calm demeanor and professional mentality being perfect for the team and Lewis’ ability as a game-changer off the bench who has “done exactly what we asked in the first two games.”

Lewis said his January camp was a “lucky opportunity.” There he wanted to prove he could compete against some of the best MLS players.

Now, the stakes are raised.

“Just because I get called into March camp doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “If I go there and lay an egg, then I won’t be getting called back. So I gotta go there to try to do as best as I can, follow the instructions, and then after that, I’ve got to come back here and continue the consistency. It’s all about consistency.”

That’s where Johnson provides valuable veteran guidance for the 21-year-old winger. The goalkeeper is eight years older and in his 10th year as a professional. He’s been part of different USMNT setups, from Jurgen Klinsmann to Bruce Arena and now to Berhalter.

At January camp, Johnson roomed with Lewis and also helped mentor Justen Glad, a 22-year-old defender from Real Salt Lake and 20-year-old Philadelphia Union defender Mark McKenzie.

“I think it’s important when you have young talented players, especially playing at the highest level, representing your country, you’re going to have guys with their first experiences, whether they’re new to the environment, new the atmosphere, just to help them get settled, just reassure them that they’re there for a reason,” Johnson said.

Lewis said Johnson has taken him under his wing since last year. He was constantly in his ear, giving him examples of how to be a better professional. Lewis is now early, rather than on time, for training, and staying after to do extra work. On Wednesday he was part of a small group to get additional running in after training.

“He’s been always telling me you have the ability,” Lewis said. “It’s just about focusing, buckling down.”

Lewis is also being more proactive now, seeking out the coaching staff for video analysis, making sure he’s asking the right questions.

“I think it’s just really part of growing up,” Lewis said. “The national team helped, of course, but I think that it was just really looking inside myself and just growing up over the years.”

Whether its for club or country, Lewis knows he has to prove himself at every turn. The same is true next week when he joins European-based players like Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams when camp opens in Orlando.

And then there’s the raised level of competition against Ecuador and Chile.

“It’s going to be great to see what some of us younger guys can do against some of the best of the best players in Ecuador, and Chile, guys like Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, these are players that I’ve dreamed about playing again,” Lewis said. “So it’s going to be fun to get a chance to see them live on the field and play against them.”

Lewis knows the key to regular call-ups is more than flashes of brilliance in a pair of early-season camps. He needs to raise his level with NYCFC and become a consistent threat.

Lewis started in the preseason and again for the club’s regular season opener at Orlando City SC. He saw limited minutes off the bench Sunday in a 0-0 draw against D.C. United.

“I think I have to try my hardest to solidify myself here first,” Lewis said. “And then I think after that, it’ll be the springboard for the national team.”

Johnson, meanwhile, isn’t looking too much into his second straight call-up. He’s stayed even-keeled throughout his career and this situation is no different.

“For me the name of the game is just holding myself to a high standard no matter what happens,” Johnson said. “I can control what I can control and playing well for the club game in and game out, that’s been my goal every year is to be better than I was last year and keep a level of consistency and professionalism every single day.”

And while Johnson and Lewis are at different stages in their respective careers, it’s still about capitalizing on chances for the veteran goalkeeper.

“I wanted to make sure that when the opportunity came around, I’d take advantage of it. Gregg gave me that opportunity to come into his first January camp and every day I worked and pushed hard,” Johnson said. “When I got opportunities I tried to take advantage of them every single time I got them.”

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