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For Jonathan Lewis, the Future is Now

After months of riding the bench, the NYCFC rookie is making his star turn

MLS: New England Revolution at New York City FC Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

From the day he was drafted in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, Jonathan Lewis was already writing history: in the first trade in MLS history that disclosed how much allocation money was used, New York City FC got their man, selecting Lewis third overall. Sending $250k in General Allocation Money sounded like a lot to give up at the time, but Claudio Reyna and Patrick Vieira were confident they were making the right move in acquiring the Akron standout.

In the early going, Lewis’ notoriety continued to grow, as he was shortly thereafter called up to join the United States U20 squad. But after failing to impress in January camp, and finding himself unable to even break the 18 with NYCFC, the player faced an uphill an uphill battle which culminated in him missing out on making the final roster cut for the USMNT in the U20 World Cup. Lewis took the disappointment in stride, using it as motivation to focus on breaking into the first team in the Five Boroughs. After an inspired substitute performance against the Philadelphia Union in June, he began making his case for more playing time, an opportunity he wouldn’t have to wait much longer to have.

With the club forced to make do without key talent during the U20 World Cup and CONCACAF Gold Cup tournaments, plus a long list of injuries that followed, minutes were suddenly available. As Vieira was running short on attacking options in his front three, Lewis’ opportunity finally came as a surprising addition to the starting XI on July 22nd against a difficult Chicago Fire side. Despite going down to 10 men early after Yangel Herrera grabbed to yellows, the team was able to pull out a 2-1 victory, with Lewis putting in an impressive 72 minutes, including his first MLS assist.

That dime was just the beginning for Lewis. Since the win over Chicago, he has appeared in NYCFC’s last five matches, starting in three of them. In that time, Lewis has scored two goals and notched an assist. When speaking to his goals, the flair for the dramatic does not elude the young rookie, with his latest goal proving the game winner over New England in stoppage time:

Lewis played all of five minutes, but his presence and impact were immediate; his second game-winner in as many tries earned him a spot on the MLS Team of the Week. And above all else, that appears to be what Lewis is learning to do on a more consistent basis - making the absolute most of his time on the pitch. After spending much of the season locked away, the 20-year-old has been unleashed over the past month, adding depth, quality, pace, and a killer instinct to a New York City side that could surely use them all as they make their playoff push— and nip at Toronto FC’s heels for the Supporters’ Shield.

While Lewis is still going to need to rely on his game breaking speed, he is showing flashes of evolving from a straight line player. His first-ever professional goal highlighted this fact, as he made space for himself by cutting back inward to his dominant foot before uncorking this laser-guided effort that tucked just under the crossbar:

Early returns aside, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine for Jonathan Lewis. He still needs to keep working on his game and is by no means a finished product. His first touch needs improvement, and it still remains to be seen if he can consistently produce when given more time on the pitch. He also has to keep fighting for minutes in a front three that still has Jack Harrison and David Villa as stalwarts, with Rodney Wallace looking back to full fitness now. That leaves Lewis as more of a super sub as he tries to state his case over guys like Ugo Okoli, Khiry Shelton, and Tommy McNamara. But so far, Lewis has shown flashes of becoming the impact player Reyna and Vieira believed he could be when they drafted him. And while patience is still the word when it comes to Lewis, the good news is that we may not have to wait much longer.