Over the past ten months, COVID-19 has had its way with humanity and brought a new definition to how amateur and professional sports are played.
FIFA and Concacaf have altered 2020 schedules for both women’s and men’s national teams numerous times since the pandemic broke out. The pandemic nixed numerous friendlies, both the U-23 2020 Olympics qualifiers and summer Olympics play in Japan, the conclusion of the inaugural Concacaf Nations League tourney, and the start of the senior men’s Qatar 2022 World Cup Gold Cup qualifiers.
In early September, Concacaf announced that it intended to suspend all competitions during the month of October.
“Many parts of the region continue to have very challenging public health situations, and that has been a key factor in this decision,” Concacaf and FIFA said in a joint statement. “Additionally, several countries across the confederation have travel restrictions and quarantine requirements, which would make international football involving 30 national teams extremely difficult.”
U.S. Men’s National Team General Manager Brian McBride added, “After extensive conversations about holding a Men’s National Team camp in October, we (US Soccer) ultimately determined the unique challenges created by COVID-19 as it relates to hosting international opponents and getting our players together wouldn’t allow us to move forward.”
This leaves the month of November, a long shot, as the last remaining international window for the U.S. senior men’s team to gather up, compete in camp and play in friendlies, and so, most likely in Europe, where camp and play would be closer to our top European-based players and available prospective opponents.
The last time the Yanks played was on February 1 against Costa Rica. That winning squad was packed with USMNT Head Coach Gregg Berhalter’s and U-23 Skipper Jason Kreis’ favorite youngsters, including Colorado Rapids wingman Jonathan Lewis and leftback Sam Vines.
Quest for delayed gratification
You would imagine that between the month-to-month postponements to match play and the constant threat of COVID-19, Rapids forward and USMNT hopeful Jonathan Lewis would be feeling deflated. In fact, he feels optimistic and rather self-confident.
Lewis recently spoke at length with Burgundy Wave. He reflected on this anxiety-provoking year and described what he sees a bounty of opportunities to join a formidable young squad, and hopefully, play in the rescheduled 2021 Japan Olympics, and even make the elite senior team’s roster that is aiming to will win one of the top three qualifying Concacaf slots (or win inter-confederation play-off slot) and play in the 2022 Qatar Men’s World Cup.
Prior to the Rapids’ departure for the MLS is Back Tournament in early July, Lewis had an infection that prevented him from joining the team, but after fully recovering and traveling to Orlando, the 23-year-old hoped to impress Jason Kreis and Berhalter, who were both on-site at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
Despite the Rapids making a quick exit in the tournament after just three games, Lewis impressed.
In the team’s second match of the tournament against I-70 rival Sporting Kansas City, the fleet-footed winger went on the attack late in the match. From within the 18, he drilled a shot into the lower right corner of the goal.
⚠️⚠️⚠️ SUPER SUB ALERT ⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️— Colorado Rapids (@ColoradoRapids) July 18, 2020
DOWN TO 9 MEN AND JONATHAN LEWIS COMES TO THE RESCUE! pic.twitter.com/yWJVm3K4Eb
In the team’s final match, Lewis found the back of the net again verse Minnesota United with a laser shot into the upper left corner of the net.
.@Jon_lewis710 strikes again!!!— Colorado Rapids (@ColoradoRapids) July 23, 2020
2-2 | #COLvMIN | #Rapids96 pic.twitter.com/30ELQWuyQu
His dynamic play earned positive feedback from Kreis and Berhalter, who said they thought he had a good showing in the tournament, coming off of the bench and scoring twice. The twosome stated that he should keep working hard and that one of the big things that they saw was how he has improved the “defensive understanding” of his game, something that Colorado Head Coach Robin Fraser has also praised the young player for.
In a media call in September, Fraser said that Lewis’ “pace is his lightning, he’s very, very quick and what he’s turning into is a really good finisher in some pretty difficult situations. So if he can continue to get behind his defenders, he’s a handful to deal with once he does. And out of that, like I said, he’s become a really dangerous finisher.”
A compact 2021 schedule leads to more opportunities
Assuming this once-in-our-lifetime pandemic permits, the 2021 schedule for a trio of U.S. Teams will be filled to the capacity with camps and competitive play. Here is how the competitive play calendar currently looks:
- U-20 Men’s World Cup: May 20-June 12
- Concacaf Nations Cup Semifinals, Final and Third Place match: TBD June
- Concacaf Gold Cup: July 10-August 1
- U-23 Tokyo Olympics: July 22-August 7
- Concacaf World Cup Qualifiers: TBD September, October, November
Following the Gold Cup Draw on September 28, Berhalter addressed media both about his team’s group draw against Canada, Martinique plus a third, to-be-determined foe, and the forthcoming sequential schedules.
“There are a lot of competitions, and what that means is that it’s an opportunity for players. It’s an opportunity for them to show they belong, that they should be part of the first team. No matter what competition we’re in, every time the players step on the field they prove that they can wear the jersey, that they can be part of the group, the squad, whatever that may be.” He added, “The Concacaf Gold Cup represents the premier tournament in our confederation and it’s a chance to win a trophy. This is a young team that hasn’t won a trophy yet, so we’re certainly going to be trying to accomplish that in this tournament.”
Lewis believes that the compressed schedule means plenty of opportunities for everyone. “I think that definitely there will be loads of rotation because especially since making the Olympics is something that we are going to take very seriously, I think there will be lots of rotation between the senior team and the U-23 team. I think that this going to be an opportunity for a lot of us, and not just myself, but the guys who are on the fringes of the senior team play in some of the games and rotate a lot between the Gold Cup games, some of World Cup qualifier games against the smaller teams,” he explained. “There are going to opportunities to prove ourselves. For me, it will be an exciting time. With [potential for] injuries and such, and players in my positions, I think there will opportunities that I can showcase myself, and get a chance to prove that I belong on the national team level.”
The young player was excited to be a part of the Olympic qualifying games, saying he “couldn’t wait.” But he believes that they have a really good team that can compete on that level and “we will be back out there and show the world the US has and the talent that is coming through.”
His ultimate goal is to become a start with the senior team. Lewis admits that will take some time, but he plans to put in the work. “I just need to keep proving myself. I think for me, the U-23s are a great stepping stone to prove myself, and that I am ready to play in the senior team, and also to just have eyes on myself and the team. Again, it is a big opportunity to play in the Olympics qualifiers and possibly the Olympics with some of the best young players in the world. It provides me with opportunities to showcase myself to the world.”
Fraser is betting on Lewis finding a home within the U.S. program. “I think if you’re talking about what his potential value to the national team is, I think anyone who has a winger who can beat people one on one and certainly run in behind and finish, he offers a skill set that most people would be interested in.”