The MLS SuperDraft is an increasingly imperfect mechanism for the league’s clubs to acquire younger talent, but it is still an event that draws attention to itself. It is rare to see every team in MLS make player acquisitions that hint at their current and future personnel and tactical plans. Even rarer is the MLS SuperDraft being worth watching for no other reason than one of the draftees said something worth hearing - but that is what we got this year, when the New York Red Bulls’ first round selection, Zeiko Lewis, walked up to the podium and told almost every other team in the league that he would make them regret the decision to let his talent fall all the way down to the 17th overall pick.
That is the former Boston College and current Bermuda International midfielder Zeiko Lewis putting the entire league on notice. Not only is he ready to go and eager to take on all comers, but he is particularly keen to take it to that team that plays in the big ballpark in the Bronx.
The traditional MLS SuperDraft speech is a former college player saying he’s happy to be there, thanking parents, friends and former coaches, and being suitably excited to prove himself to his new MLS side. But not Zeiko. He thanked those who deserved to be thanked, but made clear that he’s exactly where he expects to be and is ready to show those responsible for letting 16 picks go by without calling his name that they have made a mistake. I’m already enjoying this brash, chip-on-the-shoulder midfielder who thinks he should’ve been drafted in the top five spots of the first round.
And in case we thought he might back away from his comments from the podium, he told mlssoccer.com:
"I didn’t feel dissed by any club that didn’t pick me. I’m not gonna lose sleep over it at the end of the day. But it’s definitely encouraging for me to see other clubs pass up on me, because then when I play them, they’re gonna look at the scoreboard, and they’ll know they made the wrong decision."
Strong words from a player who has yet to kick a ball in MLS - and, honestly, it felt pretty good to hear him say those things. When he puts on a New York Red Bulls kit, I’ll be rooting for him.
Of course, the Red Bulls didn’t draft him for his attitude, they drafted him for what they think he could on the field. He just happens to think he can do what they want him to do, and he isn’t afraid to confront that challenge and say he’ll do it.
Lewis is not unknown to those who follow the game in the places he has played it. Nathan Carr covers Caribbean soccer closely and extensively at his site the home of Caribbean Football. He sees Lewis very much as a what-you-see-is-what-you-get sort of player, with his hot-fire intro to MLS no surprise to those who have watched him play:
“In terms of his player profile/characteristics on the pitch - diminutive build, left-footed, can play wide right cutting in or in behind the striker. Good dribbler with the ball and prolific assist maker. He has a personality, too, as you may have seen from his SuperDraft speech. A chip on his shoulder, something to prove to his doubters. You can tell when he plays that he's trying to prove a point all the time to people who doubt him.”
Lewis looks like he should fit right in to Jesse Marsch’s RBNY. He has a style of play that suits the Red Bulls (cutting inside is almost mandatory for RBNY wingers), and a confident, I’ll-show-you mentality is pretty much exactly what Marsch has sought to foster within his squad since he arrived.
Lewis is a different man but perhaps not so different type of player from Derrick Etienne Jr, who isn’t quite so outspoken off the pitch, but is visibly confident and demanding on the field. Etienne’s goal celebrations are memorable, but he is no less expressive when a shot goes wide or he suffers a hard foul on the field. He has moxie too, and if had ever made the sort of statements Lewis just made (he hasn’t, far as I know) he would be seen as having backed them up quick in a rookie year as a pro that has included the USL Championship title and his first senior international caps and goal.
Jesse Marsch is packing his squad with the type of players and personalities he thinks the team needs to succeed. They won’t all make it - not at RBNY, since there aren’t nearly enough spots on the field for all the attacking talent Marsch is stockpiling - but maybe we will be treated to the sight of a Red Bulls Caribbean Connection in the near future: Etienne Jr (a Haiti international), Bermudian Lewis, maybe Jamaican Junior Flemmings - an all-Caribbean attacking trio. Different men, for sure, but the sort of players who could make the future very bright for RBNY if they fulfill their potential.