Colorado Rapids Executive Vice President and General Manager Padraig Smith said it best: “I think the recognition at the international level just speaks to what the players have done at the club level. And that’s really a critical, important thing for us to understand and for the players to understand. You can only get selected for your national team when you’re producing week in and week out, when you’re showing consistent performances.”
And that recognition of Jonathan Lewis, Sam Vines, and Kellyn Acosta was earned last night during a fast-paced match that resulted in a convincing 7-0 USMNT win over Trinidad and Tobago.
Their solid performances last season and personal commitments to excellence earned the teammates not only invitations to the three-week USMNT evaluation camp in January, but more so, starting roles in the international friendly.
While Kellyn Acosta managed the midfield box-to-box, fullback Sam Vines overlapped and overloaded the left side of the pitch with ease. At the head of the pitch, an energized Jonathan Lewis made lightning runs from behind and into Trinidad’s box.
Lewis and Acosta played the full 90 minutes, while a sweat-drenched Vines came out at the 64th-minute mark.
Three USMNT players score multiple goals in a match for the first time since 1993, including Lewis who found the back of the net twice. And the timing could not have been more perfect as his family drove three hours from his hometown of Plantation, Florida to catch the game at Exploria Stadium in Orlando.
In the 2nd minute of play, Lewis put the Yanks up 1-0 when FC Dallas Toro Jesus Ferreira found the unmarked 23-year-old in the box. Ferreira offered up the ball to Lewis who smoothly drilled into the goal. That goal will make long-lasting memories for Lewis and kin, as it was his very first international goal.
A couple of firsts!@Jesusfcd27 generates the chance. @Jon_lewis710 with the FINISH.— U.S. Soccer MNT (@USMNT) February 1, 2021
First international goal for Jonathan Lewis. First international assist for Jesús Ferreira. pic.twitter.com/HqfjrCUlzI
Seven minutes later, Sam Vines returned the favor and offered up an assist to Ferreira. The goal started with Acosta stripping the ball from a Soca Warrior. Acosta fed Lewis just as Vines was making a trademark overlap run. Lewis put the ball to the foot of Vines who almost ran over the end-line before he volleyed the ball to Ferreira standing alone six yards out near the left side of the box. He sent then sent ball sailing past the left post. 2-0 USA.
In the 55th minute of play, Acosta had the ball and looked up from his deep position, and saw Lewis downfield on the run in the left flank. Acosta launched the ball to Lewis. The forward timed the ball’s landing perfectly, dribbled to his right, and got a rocket-shot off from the top of 18-yard line. 6-nil, USA.
When it was all said and done, the USMNT put in seven goals to TnT’s zero (thanks to a fantastic penalty save by New England Revolution ‘keeper Matt Turner).
Lewis has long spoken of his aspirations to become a starter for the USMNT and back in Colorado, Rapids head coach Robin Fraser has offered Lewis plenty of advice. The most salient pointers: ”Do it from the start. Play like you don’t care,” said Lewis after the match, meaning just play free, enjoy it, and don’t think too much. “That is when I am at my best.”
Soon after the final whistle, Lewis received a congratulatory text from Fraser. Lewis relayed that message to the Burgundy Wave during the post-match media conference.
“Looks like you are not afraid to start!” wrote Fraser. Lewis laughed and replied, “I just let it come and enjoyed it today.” With his mom and dad and some good friends onsite, enjoy it he did. “That is how I took [on] this camp, as an opportunity to go out and play the game I love. And when I think that way, I play my best soccer. Just have a fun mentality,” he added.
Berhalter doled out plenty of credit to Lewis. “Jonathan had an outstanding camp. His development throughout the camp, his improvement throughout the camp, just kept going upwards. He put a great effort in, and it was great to see him get the results tonight.”
The head coach and his staff liked the organic chemistry between Lewis and Ferreira. “We worked on a lot of [attacking] combinations in this camp. What we are working on with all the guys is to develop that chemistry. What we saw today was examples of two guys really sticking to the game plan, and really executing on things that we’ve been working on. Credit to them,” said Berhalter.
As part of the Yank’s overall game plan against Trinidad and Tobago, “our wide players have been extremely important to us and they are excelling in wide areas. Our fullbacks did a great job for us tonight,” Berhalter said. “We talk to our fullbacks about being relentless, getting up and down the field, continually attacking, continually defending, stamping their authority on the game, not being passive not having passive performances. And Sam did just that. Very aggressive. And we are happy because that is what we ask.”
The entire Rapids organization and their fan base must be feeling rather proud after tonight’s performance by the threesome. Padraig Smith expressed that rewarding feeling during a recent interview with the Burgundy Wave. “We’re proud anytime a Colorado Rapids player puts on the national team jersey, for whatever country that is — it’s fantastic. For us, there’s obviously the added incentive of having homegrown players represent their country.”
The USMNT will return to action during the March international window. The U-23 squad will compete at the Concacaf Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship from March 18-30 in Guadalajara, Mexico. Both Lewis and Vines are of age to make the camp and hopefully the team’s roster.