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2022 Season Review: Jonathan Lewis

Lewis failed to build upon an impressive 2021 campaign.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Colorado Rapids Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

This is part of a series of individual player reviews by Joseph Samelson. You can follow him on Twitter @jspsam and read his work elsewhere at josephsamelson.com.

Role: Forward

Squad Status: Regular Starter

Season in a Sentence: Lewis failed to build upon an impressive 2021 campaign and was the team’s most wasteful attacker in 2022.

Grade: C-

The stage was set for Jonathan Lewis. The young winger had just completed his best-ever season in burgundy by hauling in seven goals and an assist across 1,308 minutes for the club in 2021. He was electric when starting and deadly as a substitute during the team’s record-breaking year. Lewis parlayed his performances into multiple U.S. National Team call-ups during the season and looked like he had the potential to become a franchise player for the Rapids.

The swift-footed dribbler was primarily used as a super-sub during his first three seasons with Colorado, and Lewis came off the bench in 15 of his 27 league appearances in 2021. Unfortunately for the Rapids, all changed after the club crashed out of the playoffs.

Colorado loaned versatile homegrown midfielder Cole Bassett to Feyenoord and let Dominique Badji walk during the off-season, decisions which opened up a consistent starting role for Lewis in the 2022 Rapids attack. The club appeared to further their vote of confidence in the Georgia native by off-loading Andre Shinyashiki and Nicolás Mezquida during the regular season, leaving plenty of minutes up for Lewis’ taking.

The Rapids continued to utilize Lewis as an outlet for most of the team’s long balls and transition play, but the winger’s production didn’t scale with his increase in responsibility. While Lewis’ minutes nearly doubled in 2022, the forward contributed to fewer goals in his expanded role. That wasn’t due to any lack of opportunity: Lewis’ expected goals (xG) average of 0.33 per 90 landed him in the 90th percentile among MLS attacking midfielders and wingers in 2022, and only Diego Rubio took more shots for the club throughout the season.

As a result of his play style, Colorado’s attacks often lived and died with Lewis’ ability to finish. He consistently got the ball into the final third by recording 2.28 successful dribbles per 90 (93rd percentile) in league matches, but looked lost after carrying the ball through opposition defenses. Lewis averaged less than 14 completed passes per 90 (2nd percentile), just under one key pass per 90 (17th percentile), and 0.73 passes into the final third (8th percentile)—a function of his attack-or-bust role in Fraser’s offense. As a result, the winger’s utility dwindled when he left his goal-scoring softened.

Advancing possession into the final third is a critical objective for any club, but Colorado’s inability to turn Lewis’ dribbles, pressures, and chances into goals was one of the team’s biggest tactical blunders of the year. He went on to finish the year with three fewer goals than his xG predicted (-3.1 G-xG)—the lowest total on the team and the 5th-worst figure in the entire league. It’s not like most of those efforts were speculative—his average shot distance during the year averaged out to 16.5 yards. Lewis’ primary issue was that he got into a nasty habit of sending his close-range efforts either directly to the keeper or comically off-frame. He still did well to draw defenders away from Diego Rubio and Gyasi Zardes during moments of transition, but his lackluster finishing meant that teams rarely treated him as a significant threat.

Looking Forward

2022 was supposed to be a breakout year for Lewis, but the forward didn’t meet expectations and looks to have reached a ceiling in MLS. Like Michael Barrios, there’s a case to be made that Lewis would fit better in his old super-sub role. His $435,000 annual earnings represented a significant chunk of Colorado’s yearly wage bill last year, and—barring any additional offloading—Lewis will remain a Rapids player through the 2024 season.

The same can’t necessarily be said of Lewis’ USMNT future. The 25-year-old didn’t receive any further call-ups from Gregg Berhalter after he struggled against Haiti in the 2021 Gold Cup, and it’ll probably take multiple career years for him to grab the attention of the Nats again.

Unless Lewis can come to grips with his hot-and-cold play in front of goal, his future in Colorado will hinge solely on the club’s ability to effectively utilizing his elite dribbling. Few players possess his speed and skill with the ball, but the team needs to see an improved end product in his fifth year. Getting the most out of the forward could require a tactical shift, but it’s not entirely clear where he fits in the team following the club’s acquisition of French forward Kévin Cabral. No one would complain if he returned to his 2021 baseline of average of one goal every 180 minutes (92nd percentile), but Lewis has never put in a consistent year as a starting forward. If he gets stuck in a finishing rut again next year, moving on might be the best move for all parties.

Stats via FBref.