Patrick Vieira has been in charge of New York City FC for two seasons and in both MLS SuperDrafts he traded up to draft a winger. In 2016, it was Jack Harrison out of Wake Forest. In 2017, it was Jonathan Lewis out of Akron.
In his rookie season, Harrison didn’t face much competition for playing time. So once he was healthy, he slotted right into the lineup. By comparison, Lewis had to compete with Harrison, Rodney Wallace, and Khiry Shelton. In the end, Lewis ended up playing about 20 percent of the minutes that Harrison did in his rookie year. On a per 90 basis, however, Lewis’ production actually surpassed Harrison’s output in most categories during their respective MLS debut seasons.
I compared them offensively in five different per 90 categories: goals per 90, expected goals (xG) per 90, assists per 90, expected assists (xA) per 90, and offensive actions (shots, successful dribbles, and key passes) per 90.
(Expected goals and assists are an average of how many goals/assists a player would have based on the quality of those opportunities. For an in depth explanation of expected goals, look here or here.)
Lewis was significantly better in both goals and xG, as well as offensive actions per 90. While Harrison slightly edged out Lewis in assists and xA per 90. Going by Lewis’ limited sample, as a rookie he was a stronger scoring threat than Harrison and was only slightly worse at assisting his teammates’ goals.
I also looked their distribution, examining three categories: overall pass success, aerial duel success, and advanced passes (long balls, through balls, and crosses) completed per 90. Harrison slightly edged out Lewis in overall pass success, but Lewis was stronger when it came to advanced passes. In addition, despite being two inches shorter than Harrison, Lewis managed to win 20 percent more aerial duels. Lewis is clearly more athletic and has more success with the advanced pass.
Although he was on the pitch for less time than Harrison was as a rookie, Lewis was a better contributor to the squad in that short span — out of the eight aforementioned categories, Lewis was superior in five of them. If Harrison does move on, Lewis could prove to be a more than capable replacement. NYCFC just need to see the same second-year improvement in Lewis that they saw in Harrison, albeit with a little more consistency. And even if Harrison doesn’t leave, Lewis and Wallace could platoon in the left wing position. Need someone more defensive? Play Wallace. Looking for added offense? Play Lewis.
What do you think? Were you more impressed by Harrison or Lewis in their rookie seasons? Will Lewis get more playing time next year? Leave your comment below.