NEW YORK — New York City FC forward Jonathan Lewis breached Panamanian defender Edgar Góndola Antioco to set up a Christian Ramirez goal during a recent United States men’s national team friendly.
Six days later, the Florida native added another one-on-one surge past Costa Rican fullback Keysher Fuller Spence to assist Sebastian Lleget’s tally in the second friendly of the team’s January camp.
Lewis supporters all nodded their heads and wondered aloud or internally – “Why doesn’t he play more for NYCFC?”
“I’m sure this year Jona (Lewis) has more possibility to play with us because he’s right now a better player,” New York City FC coach Dome Torrent told reporters in a conference call Thursday.
The clamoring of supporters and other outside observers for more frequent sightings of Lewis is based on the third-year winger’s output in limited minutes.
In 2018, Lewis had 14 reserve appearances with one goal and three assists in 219 minutes – a goal or assist in every 54 minutes of activity. For his NYCFC career, the 21-year old has averaged a goal or assist every 80 minutes in 25 matches.
Add to that his pair of assists in 44 minutes while earning his first two USMNT caps, and the appeals to Torrent and his staff have become more fervent.
“You’ve seen it the past two years when he gets his chance he can cause a lot of trouble,” teammate Alex Ring told Pro Soccer USA on Thursday.
However, Torrent warned that two positive moments in a reserve role at the international level does not provide assurances with the first team in the Bronx.
“It’s not enough to do two amazing actions – it’s not enough.” Torrent explained. “He was able to assist two amazing goals – I agree – but I expect about him more and more in every single game. Soccer is about what happens when you have the ball but also what happens when you don’t have the ball. We need to improve about that.”
Torrent and two other prominent figures in the club – sporting director Claudio Reyna and newly-elected captain Ring – mutually agree the formula for Lewis is a controllable adjustment that is unrelated to talent — discipline.
“Ultimately, it’s up to him,” Ring said. “He has the talent, no question about it. It’s all about your mindset – are you ready to put in the work? Be smart, put in the work, be humble, and I don’t see why he couldn’t help us.”
Reyna suggested Lewis needed an enhanced, professional approach – and there are indications that a more mature Lewis is entering 2019.
“I think Lewis has gone from someone who perhaps didn’t take responsibility in terms of why he didn’t play to holding himself accountable now and demanding more from himself, not only in games but in training day in and day out,” Reyna told ESPN FC. “It’s part of being a young player and growing up, and you could see that growth.”
Torrent, who has trained many of the top players in the world at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City, concurs with the observations of Reyna and Ring.
“He can become a top player if he has focus in the training session, in the private life and every single second in soccer,” Torrent said. “If you want to become the top player you have to be focused every single day in your life.”
Lewis has an acute focus on his deficiencies – defensive organization and possession in tight spaces – and he told Pro Soccer USA prior to his initial USMNT experience that year three as a professional will be an opportunity for him to break the playing time barrier.
“I have to try to get games so I can shore up the defensive ability, because sometimes the tactical aspect is not always learned in practice,” Lewis said. “The last two years have been a learning experience. It’s good to learn but now I think it’s time to show my stuff and get the chance to show my stuff.”
Torrent listed Ismael Tajouri-Shradi and Lewis as wingers when describing a 4-3-3 shape for his side, and said he expects Lewis “will help us a lot when we have problems, and if he’s able to play well and train well, he’ll play the XI of course.”
“I think he came back with us much better than the last year,” Torrent added.
The former MLS Combine MVP, who played on season at the University of Akron before turning professional, has a full evaluation to assess from the decision-makers within the club plus encouragement from team leadership.
“He has to get his chance more often and that requires hard work and dedication and all these little things that come together,” Ring said. “He’s in a good place right now and I’ll do everything I can to support him.”
The next opportunities for Lewis could come in the third preseason friendly for New York City on Saturday, February 16 at Orlando City followed by an exhibition against Minnesota United on Wednesday, Feb. 20.
“I’m excited,” Reyna said. “I think he’s come in after the Costa Rica game and the January camp looking really sharp.”