2017 has already been a very big year for NYCFC's first-round SuperDraft pick Jonathan Lewis. There's a strong chance it's about to get even bigger.
READ: 2017's Five Key Games
After helping the U.S. U-20 squad qualify for the World Cup this past spring, Lewis rejoined City and made his MLS debut on March 18th. Three months would pass until his next appearance, and another until his first start, where he assisted David Villa's goal in a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire.
Lewis has been a regular contributor ever since, scoring two game-winning goals in his four starts and notching 11 regular season appearances. The rookie chose the right time to come on strong for Patrick Vieira's side, and his role in Sunday's big result over Columbus Crew SC showed that he might be ready for the next step: the hunt for an MLS Cup trophy.
Vieira has played no small role in Lewis' sudden success, and Lewis says it's all about trust.
“I just know that they trust me," said Lewis of the coaching staff.
"When I go out there, they give me one job, and I know that. Patrick was telling me before that I need to be running at players at speed. He told me I should be able to beat everyone in this league."
“I have enough confidence, because of him, to do what I can do. He’s given me that type of confidence, whether it’s to try to make a cross to win the game, try to take a shot, or defending. So, I play my part, but Patrick has given me the confidence where, if I have to step up, then I can do it."
Vieira has brought Lewis along slowly, much like he did with Jack Harrison in 2016. Now, Lewis is itching to repay the trust that Vieira is showing in him on the biggest stage.
“It’s a different ballgame now," said Lewis of the MLS Cup Playoffs.
"It’s win or go home. I feel like most teams are going to come out, they’re not going to defend as much, they’re going to leave players high. There’s going to be a lot of back-and-forth, like the Premier League.
“It’s win or go home, and I think one thing that our team is really good at is that we score goals. We have very good goal scorers, so I think that is going to play a very important part in the playoffs.
“We defend very well, but going on the counter, we’re very good like that. I think that’s a big part of games when the playoffs come.”
Lewis understands just how high the stakes are in the playoffs, but the significance of Sunday's result wasn't lost on him either. In his words, it was the biggest game he's ever played in.
“Yes, for sure,” confirmed the rookie.
“Coming into a big game like this, if we lose, we’re playing on Wednesday and we’re in a bad situation. We win, we’re good. So I definitely would say there was a lot riding on this game.
"We had to get a result and we did."