You might remember Zeiko Lewis for his memorable speech at the 2017 MLS SuperDraft.
Since he told the assembled MLS technical staffs "I'm going to prove you guys wrong for drafting me this late", Lewis has had to settle into the task of adjusting to the system of the team that drafted him. And that adjustment will be the focus of his year: the Bermuda national team player has been loaned to New York Red Bulls II for the duration of the 2017 season.
As such, don't expect to see Lewis in MLS at all this year. While many Red Bulls on MLS contracts are routinely loaned down to the reserve team in USL on deals that allow them to feature for either RBNY or NYRB II, Lewis is on a full-season loan to the II team. The terms of his deal are such that he cannot be recalled: he's a II teamer for 2017.
So Lewis' job for this year is to get comfortable in the RBNY system as executed by NYRB II, and force himself into his club's MLS plans for 2018. To that end, he's off to a solid start.
On April 1, 2017, NYRB II played its 2017 home opener at Montclair State University's Soccer Park. It's a new home ground for the team, which had used Red Bull Arena as its home ground for the preceding seasons of its existence. Lewis made his mark on his new team in his debut appearance, scoring the match-winner against Richmond Kickers.
It was a scrappy goal that owed more to defender Hassan Ndam's unexpected bicycle kick attempt, which flummoxed the Kickers defense and left a ball bouncing in the box for an opportunistic teammate to put away. Lewis proved to have exactly the right instincts at the right time, and got his name on the NYRB II score-sheet.
Your 1st goal in MSU Soccer Park history for #NYRBII belongs to @babypinkz_12— NYRB II (@NYRBII) April 1, 2017
1-0 #NYvRIC pic.twitter.com/uYcZsVxIph
His team won 1-0, and Lewis' career as a pro soccer player will forever include the detail that he was the first player to score for the II team at MSU Soccer Park.
Lewis' Draft Day comments will follow him around for a while, but his post-game comments were those of a man who is focused on new priorities. While many MLS-watchers will forever be grateful to him for enlivening the SuperDraft, Lewis is now simply a pro player seeking to advance his career. In his first post-game interview as a match-winning goal scorer for a professional team, he was quick to put the team's achievements above his own, as most pros do:
I am happy, I scored. Saw it up, made my best shot, went through the defenders legs, I couldn't believe it dropped to me - as soon as it got to me I was just like: don't miss. I am just happy the team got the result today.
His teammate, Florian Valot, was a little more expressive:
The goal, oh my god, I know it was a corner kick and the ball bounced everywhere and Zeiko got the ball so he grabbed it and put it in the goal, a huge goal because we had trouble finding the net today but it was a good win.
It was a frustrating game for NYRB II. The team struggled to convert a lot of possession into clear chances against a disciplined defense. When an opponent is willing to sit back and wait for countering opportunities, it challenges the Red Bulls' RalfBall system, which is at its most comfortable trying to win the ball, not trying to keep it. NYRB II head coach John Wolyniec had been expecting this sort of challenge from Richmond:
They're a tough team to play against, they defend well, they're organized, they work hard, we knew that coming in, and sometimes with a team like that you got to be patient and put your foot on the gas and keep pushing the game and the thing we talked about at halftime was managing our frustrations and we knew it wasn't going to be the easiest task to take them down but we would get those chances and as long as we took them we knew we would get out on top.
Lewis was open about the fact that a deep-lying opponent takes the Red Bulls out of their game plan:
It was definitely a mental thing for us. A lot of times for us at training, we don't really practice staying back that far so playing against a team like that you got to be very patient and take our chances when we got them and that's what we did at the end of the day.
But his goal was illustrative of his team's mindset on the day: stick at it and hope to catch a break.
I think we just kept going, just keep going, and it will come for us. Just being patient and we said we just need a shot to go our way and we did and they got tired and we just kept in and kept in and finally got the breakthrough.
Lewis and NYRB II will play at Red Bull Arena in their next match - against Harrisburg City Islanders on April 5.