Jonathan Lewis

Neymar
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Burning question: Best player you’ve ever seen live

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We’ve all had the chance to have Lionel Messi, Mohamed Salah, and others blow our minds on television screens, but there’s something special about seeing the magic in living color.

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So we’re wondering: Who’s the best player you’ve ever seen live? Hit up the comments section with your takes, and allow me to walk you through mine.

International: It’s August 10, 2010 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, and your United States men’s national team is taking the field for the first time since Ghana ended the World Cup dreams of Bob Bradley’s boys with a 2-1 defeat in Rustenberg.

The vibe at the AO tailgate is lively, friends from all over the country gathered in the Garden State to see the hosts welcome a Brazil side that blew a halftime lead against the Netherlands to bow out in the World Cup quarterfinals.

It’s fortunate that the AO seats that wound up in my hands were a few rows behind Tim Howard, because that was the end to see most of the first half.

Brazil left Kaka and Luis Fabiano at home, which begged what they might’ve done with those two pulling the strings. It’s not worth too much debate, because Mano Menezes’ Starting XI included Robinho, Ramires, David Luiz, Thiago Silva, Dani Alves, and Alexandre Pato and a kid making his international debut.

His name was Neymar, and any hopes of the youngster being humbled by the big crowd and his first cap were dashed immediately. While it wasn’t the virtuoso show we’d see so many times in Barcelona, PSG, and Brazil shirts moving forward, it was clear this kid had it.

The thumping header at the back post meant it took less than a half-hour for Neymar Jr. to show us his first of 61 senior goals and counting for Brazil. He was young, naive, unrefined… and electric.

Club: This one’s more difficult, if only because the majority of the senior action I’ve seen in person has been in Major League Soccer, with a few jaunts overseas. There’s always a ‘guy’ who stands out, though, per game, whether a young and gigantic Andy Carroll for Newcastle at Stoke in 2009, Niklas Dorsch running the midfield for Heidenheim in relegating Duisburg from the Bundesliga last Spring, or Frank Lampard and Kaka dueling in Orlando a few years earlier.

But the most dominant forces I’ve seen on a consistent basis have both had ties to Canada. On the MLS side, any chance to see Sebastian Giovinco for Toronto FC at BMO Field was a chance to catch a firefly, but in terms of sheer dominance I’m looking to the ladies.

Christine Sinclair was the best player on a loaded Western New York Flash roster when I was their play-by-play man during the 2011 WPS season. Now the all-time leading scorer amongst women, Sinclair punished teams that season and stood out despite a roster that included Marta, Alex Morgan, Caroline Seger, Ashlyn Harris, and McCall Zerboni amongst others.

Sinclair scored in regulation of a final against Philadelphia that went to penalty kicks, and converted her spot kick, too. If Zlatan is a lion, she’s part of the same pride. A force.

(Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

College/Amateur: Before my alma mater unceremoniously cut men’s soccer, the University at Buffalo played in the Mid American Conference and delivered all sorts of high drama. The highlight was usually the visit of Akron, a national champion who had been neck-and-neck with the Buffalo Bulls in the 2000s before putting a stranglehold on the rivalry. UB was the runner-up to Akron in 2015 and 2016 behind a brilliant team featuring now-USL player Russell Cicerone and a future New Zealand club captain in Fox Slotemaker. The 2016 season gives us our story.

The Zips had a freshman on the right side who was almost always in the right place, with mind-bending pace to help with the times he was caught astray. Jonathan Lewis had spent a season abroad with Bradford City before opting for school, and he was a one-and-done in Ohio after recording 12 assists, one in that game. I’ve seen some incredible college talents, but Lewis was the best by a good margin. He’s now earned six USMNT caps and 48 MLS appearances between NYCFC and Colorado at the age of 22.

USMNT ready for final Gold Cup tuneup

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The United States has one final tune-up for the Gold Cup as the 23-man tournament squad gets set to face Venezuela on Sunday at 2:00 p.m. ET in Cincinnati.

A lackluster performance on Wednesday resulted in a 1-0 loss to Jamaica, the first loss under new head coach Gregg Berhalter. A number of fringe players saw time in that game, but with Berhalter’s camp over and his Gold Cup roster set, so it’s likely there will be less experimentation this time around, instead hoping to give the first-team squad a chance to gel.

That likely means the re-introduction of Jozy Altidore plus Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams are now available as well. The biggest name of all will not be present, however, as Berhalter has already confirmed he will rest and preserve Christian Pulisic to keep him in top shape for the meaningful matches. Michael Bradley is also not available as Berhalter hopes to protect the 31-year-old from a recent hamstring injury, and while he’s been a full participant in practice, he did not play against Jamaica and will again be held out.

These two teams met in a 2017 Gold Cup tuneup at Rio Tinto Stadium in a match that saw Pulisic score a 61st minute equalizer to secure a 1-1 draw. Yet that game seems a lifetime ago, as just two of the starters from that game and four of the 19 players who saw time are on the current roster, including the 20-year-old Chelsea attacker.

Berhalter will want to see a much more organized and electric attacking display to give fans hope ahead of the Gold Cup, and while Josh Sargent’s omission from the squad is a head-scratching decision that could sap the attack of a late-game option, it’s not likely to affect the overall game plan for Sunday or throughout the tournament.

Predicted lineup

— Steffen —

— Adams — Miazga — Long — Lovitz

— McKennie — Trapp — Holmes —

— Morris — Altidore — Lewis —

The head man will want to get a mix of players on the field while still deploying the same tactical approach he will ask of his players in the Gold Cup and hope as many first-team players as possible can be on the field. Still, with a long summer ahead, it’s unlikely he will take too many squad risks. Omar Gonzalez played the full 90 minutes against Jamaica and could sit in favor of Aaron Long. Tyler Adams has been excelling in midfield since his move to the Bundesliga, but the USMNT has shown no signs of detouring from the plan to play Adams at right-back at the international level.

Berhalter may look to again deploy Tim Ream after playing just 60 minutes against Jamaica, but the 31-year-old is a known quantity and the coach could look to give Daniel Lovitz another chance to prove his worth against a difficult opponent. With Bradley out, Wil Trapp is again the man in the middle, without any fitness worries knowing that Bradley will take over once the Gold Cup arrives. McKennie is back in the fold while Duane Holmes should get another chance after proving one of the few bright spots against Jamaica.

Paul Arriola got 72 lackluster minutes the last time out, and Jonathan Lewis will have an opportunity to show what he can do out wide, with Jordan Morris possibly taking over on the other side. It’s possible that Morris could start the game on the bench with the aim of coming on to spell Jozy Altidore in the second half, in which case Tyler Boyd could see his name in the starting lineup.

Whoever starts at the back for the United States will have the tall task of marking MLS superstar Josef Martinez, a player coming off a record-breaking club season last year and – slow start aside – is back on track this year as well, with six goals in his last five matches for Atlanta United. He will likely be supported on the flanks by Real Salt Lake winger Jefferson Savarino and Jhon Murilla who plays in the Portuguese top flight. In the middle for Venezuela is a familiar face in Yangel Herrera, a midfield destroyer formerly of NYCFC who played the last six months at Spanish side Huesca on loan from Manchester City.

Venezuela is coming off a pair of disappointing performances and has won just once in its last five matches, a surprising 3-1 victory over Argentina in March. They dropped 3-1 to Mexico last time out on Thursday in Atlanta in Gerardo Martino’s return to Atlanta, wasting an early 1-0 lead via Murillo. Before that they drew 1-1 with Ecuador, again coughing up a first-half lead.

A win isn’t necessarily a must for the United States with the important matches to come, but an improvement from the Jamaica defeat is required to give the U.S. any kind of confidence and good vibes heading into the tournament this summer that will define Gregg Berhalter’s early head coaching days and set up the squad to begin vital World Cup qualifying on a high.

Jonathan Lewis added to USMNT training camp roster

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CHICAGO (AP) Colorado forward Jonathan Lewis has been added to the U.S. training camp roster ahead of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, leaving coach Gregg Berhalter to make eight cuts before submitting his final 23-man group on Wednesday night.

[ MORE: USMNT’s 28-man roster ]

Twenty-nine of the players will be in camp ahead of Wednesday’s exhibition against Jamaica at Washington, D.C. Midfielders Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams will miss the match and are expected to report later in June.

Two players on the roster have been sidelined in recent weeks. New York Red Bulls defender Aaron Long has been sidelined since injuring his left hamstring on May 8 and Seattle forward Jordan Morris has been out since hurting his right hamstring on May 15.

Report: NYCFC set to offload another fan favorite in Lewis

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According to a report by The Athletic writers Paul Tenorio and Sam Stejskal, NYCFC is closing in on a deal to send USMNT winger Jonathan Lewis to the Colorado Rapids for a “substantial” amount of allocation money.

At just 21 years old, Lewis is considered a promising young talent after making his USMNT debut in January, but is still finding his way at the club level. After recording an assist in the opening day draw with Orlando City, Lewis has failed to make an impact in the NYCFC squad, making just one start since then and failing to see the field in the last three matches.

Still, Lewis is a favorite of NYCFC supporters who have come to appreciate his work rate and passion at such a young age.

NYCFC sits in the middle of the Eastern Conference table in what could shape up to be a crowded playoff battle. With the Eastern Conference leaders sitting on 20 points, NYCFC is on 15 points with a game in hand on those at the top and plenty of the season to go. There are five more teams below NYCFC within five points. Colorado, meanwhile, is bottom of the Western Conference with just two points through ten matches, yet to win a game this season.

The news is another blow to NYCFC supporters who have seen the team offload Kwadwo Poku and Tommy McNamara, both fan favorites during their time in the Big Apple. To be fair to the club, neither of those departures proved mistakes, as Poku failed to earn playing time at Miami or Anzhi before landing with the Tampa Bay Rowdies, while McNamara has made appearances in every Houston match so far this season but mostly as a substitute, without a goal or assist yet this campaign.

Stock up/stock down: USMNT January friendlies

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Given the impressive group of USMNT players and prospects abroad, this January camp was of monumental importance for the all-MLS squad assembled by Gregg Berhalter.

Aside from goalkeeper Zack Steffen, himself headed to Manchester City in the summer, and perhaps LAFC’s Walker Zimmerman, everyone had something to prove to Berhalter and his staff: Even former longtime captain and 143-times capped Michael Bradley.

[ MORE: USMNT 2-0 Costa Rica | Player ratings ]

Consider this list of players not called into January’s camp and wins over the mostly “B teams” of Panama and Costa Rica.

Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Matt Miazga, John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin, “Timo” Weah, Josh Sargent, Bobby Wood, Ethan Horvath.

And those are just the “must” call-ups for March’s visits from Ecuador and Chile.

So keeping in mind the staff had a dozen non-friendly chances to evaluate the players on a myriad of levels, here are those who raised or lowered their stock in the matches versus Panama and Costa Rica.

Stock up

Jonathan Lewis, New York City FC (21) — Personal anecdote: I watched Akron play the University at Buffalo a couple of  times during Lewis’ lone season with the Zips, and Lewis’ electric talent leapt off the pitch. That’s a nearly essential sign if a college star has an international future.

Lewis was an impact sub for Berhalter in a similar fashion. In addition to the unteachable pace he possesses, Lewis stood up a cross that Sebastian Lletget finished for the difference-making goal against Costa Rica.

But Lewis’ pro career has been a slow burn (Dominic Torrent deployed him much more than Patrick Vieira, but still zero starts). Even with David Villa leaving NYCFC, Lewis is behind Jesus Medina, reported $9 million buy Alex Mitrita and 2018 revelation Ismael Tajouri-Shradi. He needs an outlet, and maybe former (ages ago) Akron coach and current Columbus boss Caleb Porter would be up for it?

Sebastian Lletget, LA Galaxy (26) — Lletget left the United States for West Ham United in 2009, so we saw very little of his development. He became, in fact, a curiosity thanks to his making just one senior appearance in West London.

Upon his MLS debut with LA, though, it became clear there was something very good here. Lletget scored for the USMNT in his third cap before suffering a Lisfranc injury and missing 18 months. He scored on Saturday — in the same venue in which he was hurt — and was perhaps the most composed player in a U.S. jersey.

His ability to play anywhere in the midfield is huge, and Berhalter will love what he’s seen from the veteran.

Michael Bradley, Toronto FC (31) — The short- and long-term future of the midfield runs through Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie, but Bradley’s performance against Panama — as poor as Los Canaleros were — shows he’s going to be someone who has in him at least another World Cup cycle as a contributor. Think a rich man’s “Kyle Beckerman in the 2018 qualification cycle.” Even if he is not starting, his experience and engine combine to make for a tremendous asset.

Bonus positives: Djordje Mihailovic, Chicago Fire (20). Steffen (23).

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Stock questionable?

Let’s first put a list of players who, unless there were unreported injuries, couldn’t get many minutes, if any, for Berhalter: Reggie Cannon, Auston Trusty, Marky Delgado, Mark McKenzie, Keegan Rosenberry, Justen Glad, Kellyn Acosta, Tyler Miller.

Most of this bunch is quite young, so it’s hard to say they aren’t for the future. Delgado, Acosta, and Rosenberry are the biggest eyebrow-raisers given their age and importance to their current clubs.

Stock down

Corey Baird, Real Salt Lake (23) — A lot of astute soccer minds love Baird because he’s very good positionially, and that’s true, but this is also a player who was the 18th rated Real Salt Lake player last season despite producing eight goals and five assists. It’s one of those “arguments against analytics,” but he has to get goals and assists against this opposition. Instead, he was just okay. You could easily argue that the team Panama put out there would finish dead last in MLS. I need my wingers to feast on that.

Gyasi Zardes, Columbus Crew (27) — I hate the idea of piling on, and it’s silly to write off such a tantalizing and industrious talent when so many coaches have failed to do so, but Zardes just isn’t on the level and hasn’t been for some time outside of MLS.

While thriving in MLS usually is a gateway to torture CONCACAF, Zardes hasn’t scored in his last 13 caps. Eight of those caps were 45 minutes or more, so it’s not like he hasn’t a chance to score (He has pitched in an assist). As a center forward, hold up play is important but not as much as goals. Jozy Altidore will need to get a chance to show he should be in the group with Josh Sargent, Timothy Weah, Bobby Wood, and even Andrija Novakovich (and Jordan Morris). Not good for Gyasi.

(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)