Jamaica’s ‘L.A.’ Lewis Looks To Rekindle Pro Soccer Fire In U.S.

Author:  Gordon Williams
HOUSTON, Texas - A Hollywood smile still comes easily to Andre “L.A.” Lewis. Still, it masks a bruising journey the Jamaican’s professional soccer career has taken so far in North America. For Lewis, so much had been expected for such a long time, it’s hard to believe he’s still only 22. His fairy tale run kicked off as a top player at St. George’s College, at that time the best high school team in the Caribbean island. That earned him a starring role at the 2011 FIFA Under-17 World Cup – where he scored a spectacular goal against France - and a call-up to the senior Reggae Boyz World Cup qualifying squad.

Lewis AndreAfter a brief stint with the New York Cosmos, the N.A. Soccer League (NASL) club made famous for signing all-time greats like Pele and Franz Beckenbauer in the ‘70s, Lewis became a surprising top 10 draft pick by Vancouver Whitecaps of Major League Soccer (MLS), N.A.’s top professional competition.

‘BIG WALL’

But what seemed a sweet career climb came to a vicious halt following a nasty knee injury in July 2014. “Yeah, that gave me a big setback, because at the time I was doing well,” said Lewis just hours before finally making his senior national team debut against Honduras here on Feb. 16. “… The injury made a big stop in my life. Like it was a big wall for a lot of people that was looking out for me to say ‘yes, Andre will come up to be … the next great Jamaican player’.”

The torn right anterior cruciate ligament, suffered while Lewis was on loan at United Soccer Leagues (USL) club Charleston Battery from Vancouver, sidelined the silky smooth midfielder for almost a year. But it forced Lewis to beef up his fragile physique. He also built mental toughness, even while accepting he would have to start over in second tier leagues like NASL and USL.

“I learned a lot about myself,” Lewis explained. “Like, it doesn’t matter where you play, there’s always stages where you have to adjust. Because you’re not gonna just walk in and expect to like dominate the league. You have to adjust and adapt to whatever situation it is.” Last season he signed with MLS’s Portland Timbers, which covets his technical abilities – control, passing, dribbling - and composure. It’s the skill set which pleasantly surprised clubs at the 2014 MLS Player Combine. Lewis spent 2016 with Portland’s second team – “T-2” - in USL, making 24 appearances and scoring a goal.

‘BONUS’

Better yet, he finished 2016 hurt-free. “For me to play that season without getting an injury, it was like a bonus for me,” Lewis said. Going into 2017, he was still assigned to Portland’s “T-2”. But Lewis wants to challenge for a role with the first team, where he did spot duty in pre-season. He knows he must wait his turn. “You have to be patient and it will come,” Lewis said. He doesn’t lack belief. Rehab made him stronger, allowing him to be more physical on the field. He’s focused, absorbing the pro game’s nuances.

“I am very confident right now that I can compete at that level,” said Lewis. “But, as I would tell myself, there’s always room for improvement. So right now I’m happy, but I still think I can go more. There is a lot more to learn right now.” He’s eyeing not just club success, where Lewis’s goal is to make his MLS debut in 2017, but international as well. Jamaica’s upcoming assignments include the Caribbean Cup semi-final round in June and the Gold Cup, for top countries in the Caribbean, North and Central America, in July. The Boyz declared they’ll bank on youth, after
another failed World Cup campaign. Lewis wants in. The remainder of his goals he guards closely. “The rest I’ll keep to myself,” he said, easing into a smile. Yet the word is already out: L.A. is back.

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