When a player is in control of the ball, he is in control of the game.
With the ball at his feet, he can dribble or pass, but more importantly, change pace. In possession, a player can speed forward to beat a defender and then come to a stop, pull the ball back, and leave the defender sliding off the pitch. If the ball is stuck to his foot, kept on a leash, and alternatively yo-yoing back and forth, it becomes even harder to win possession from the man with the match at his mercy.
The second Zeiko Lewis won the ball off a Boston University defender and received the second half of a one-two with Cole DeNormandie, he was about to dictate where the match was headed. After a couple of slick drag moves past BU defenders, the sophomore was alone with the keeper, but took the ball by him with ease. With the match tied at 1-1, Lewis made no mistake, and passed the ball into the back of the net. In those six or seven touches on the ball, last season’s ACC Rookie of the Year had announced his return.
Tuesday night’s 3-1 win for the Boston College’s men’s soccer team was about finding itself, as the team was lost in a stretch where it had won just once, against No. 1 Notre Dame, in an eight-match stretch. For Lewis, it was about finding last season’s form.
Coming into the match, the Bermudan was having difficulty finding the back of the net and getting teammates into scoring positions. His friend and teammate Isaac Normesinu had been carrying the load for the Eagles by scoring five goals in 12 games. Normesinu did not suit up for the match against the Terriers, though, due to injury.
The absence of Lewis’ teammate did not necessarily give Lewis more freedom, but it did see him get more opportunities as a forward. Head coach Ed Kelly elected to play in the diamond against BU, a formation that requires two forwards. One would think that Lewis’ creativity and vision for the killer ball would make him the perfect fit for the attacking midfield position behind the two forwards, which he started in on Tuesday, but that has not been the case this season. Lewis supplied just two assists in the Eagles’ first 12 games. With three games to play last season, he had already dished out nine of his league-leading 11 helpers.
Part of his struggles stem from injury. Starting in all 13 games, Lewis has played through a shoulder sprain, as well as knocks to his ankle and back. Against BU, he was moved up to forward to start the match, and instead of dropping into the hole for long periods of time, Lewis stayed up front, and it brought him back to his comfort zone.
“I did feel like there was a lot more space and time for me up top,” Lewis said. “I could drift a little bit more and come back and get the ball a lot more than when I was in the midfield.”
Players in the mold of Lewis need space to exploit to be dangerous. Forwards with the ability to dribble and get forward are more threatening to defenses when they have space to exploit on their way toward the goal. A target man can be effective, but in theory, he is less of a threat, because if he turns, he’s going away from goal instead of straight at it.
As a forward Lewis had space, so he drove at the goal, fooling defenders that lunged in with ease. With license to move up top, he got into areas where his teammates could find him as well, instead of him wasting his energy trying to find the game.
Drifting to the left, he found space for himself and got on the end of a diagonal ball that was smacked deep in the box by right back Matt Wendelken. Lewis settled the long ball and cut it back to Nick Butler, who padded BC’s lead with a calm finish in the 78th minute.
Had Lewis been put in the hole, the attacking midfield position Kelly mentions, the player would have been pressured to go and find the game, and that goal would not have happened.
“I thought he was great,” Kelly said. “I said to him after, ‘I think that’s your position to play,’ because usually he’s the attacking midfielder guy.”
Diego Medina-Mendez is the not the team’s most skillful player, but he is tireless in his efforts. Unlike Lewis, the senior will not dribble past three opponents by doing scissors and a Maradona, but instead he’ll disrupt the back line by running full-steam at them. On the defensive end, Medina-Mendez can exhaust the rest of his energy pressing players from the front in order to win the ball back. None of that is to say that Lewis lacks the effort to try to win the ball back, but rather that his energy is better spent when it comes to the attack.
“Not to be talking bad about him, because he’s a great player, but the energy is just not there,” Kelly said. “He can go up there and do all that stuff, and then he can take a break. That’s the way his brain works. A thing of brilliance, and then he stops.”
Lewis must use his smarts going forward to find a mean in the way he attacks. The sophomore often gets after players by trying to dribble through them, but that is very difficult to do. Even though players with the ball can change the match, they are rarely successful. It’s easy to mess up when dribbling, as powerful of a position to be in as it is.
“Coach wants me to mix it up a little bit more, so I’ve been trying to balance it between my dribbling and the last ball as well,” Lewis said. “It’s just a matter of when it comes. It’s whatever I feel comfortable doing.”
That killer ball is something Lewis has in his arsenal, and it is something he can use to get his team going. Even if the through ball isn’t successful, the idea can spur others and get confidence going.
In BC’s period of panic, it dealt with a stagnant attack. After lacking ideas this season, the sophomore seemed to rediscover them and himself on Tuesday. The question is: did this match and reboot come too late, as Kelly’s team sits out of ACC Tournament qualification with just two conference games left on its schedule.
Featured Image by Mike Trummel / For The Heights