For this section, we usually confine the labeled “superstars” to a rising youth player that has made an impact on the field and has shown the ability to become one of the top stars on the full Men’s or Women’s National Team. At 31, Eddie Lewis is no youngster. But, he is pulling off a feat that we felt deemed him a “superstar” in our book (see “impact on the field”). The MNT vet is making the not-so-simple transition from left midfielder to left back, with the goal of winning the starting position on the back four when the U.S. kicks off the 2006 World Cup next summer. Will he pull it off? Dunno. But, it could help the U.S. cement a wide-open position and get a dangerous, intelligent and accurate striker of the ball on the field. Sounds good to us.
- Eddie Lewis Podcast (Listen Now!)
When you’re a young soccer player, the last thing you want to hear your coach say is your name, followed by the phrase, “left back.”
Left back!? A kid’s first thought is usually, “How am I ever going to score from left back?”
Kids want to be the goal scorer. They want to be the Landon Donovan, the Brian McBride of the team. Kids don’t want to play defense.
But then you grow up.
Eddie Lewis was one of those kids that always wanted to be involved in attack, but now, 20 years later, the lifelong midfielder is actually looking forward to playing defense. The 31-year-old is trying to make the tricky transition from left midfielder to left back on the U.S. Men’s National Team, and hoping it can guarantee him a spot on the 2006 World Cup roster.
“(Moving to left back) is something that, in some ways, I’ve wanted to really have a run at and so far it has gone well,” said Lewis, who has started just two matches at left back since the experiment began towards the end of the summer. “I’m just sort of enjoying that challenge.”
Lewis’ first dive into the back four was during the U.S. Men’s qualifier against Trinidad & Tobago on Aug. 17 in Hartford, before suiting up again for the World Cup-clincher against Mexico on Sept. 3 in Columbus. In both matches, Lewis performed well and put himself directly in the running with players such as Chris Albright, Greg Vanney, Bobby Convey, Cory Gibbs, Carlos Bocanegra and Frankie Hejduk, all of whom have started at left back in the past.
Despite the copious players available to him, U.S. Manager Bruce Arena admits that there is something of a void at left back, which is one of the reasons Lewis has been getting a look. Another reason is the simple fact of trying to keep a player like Lewis – experienced, calm and dangerous going forward – on the field because it appears DaMarcus Beasley may be the first choice at left midfield.
“With Bruce, he’s obviously trying to get all the players he wants on the field at the same time and sometimes with certain players in competing positions it’s not always the case,” said Lewis. “In some ways, he's taking them out of their positions and not always getting the best results, but I think one of the easiest ways to solve some problems, particularly on the left side, is moving me to left back.”
Lewis calls the move a “pretty natural fit” for him, but at the same time he knows there is still a learning curve. One challenge he deals with is that he’s still playing left midfield for his club, Leeds United in England, which means he’s not getting a chance to constantly get a feel for the left back spot.
“It is very challenging, but the game is still the same game and in some ways I’m using the fact that I was a midfielder,” said Lewis. “I know how wide midfielders play, now using that as a left back to guide me through things.”
He admits the tougher challenge has been the mental aspect he has had to deal with to play defense.
“Over the years, playing in a certain position for so long you kind of tend to do things instinctually,” he said. “Definitely, in the back four I’m thinking through a lot more of the plays. It hasn’t really hampered me in the terms of the way I play, but it does make me a bit more mentally tired at the end of games.”
While he may be more tired after a game, don’t expect that to deter him from taking his best shot at winning the left back spot during the USA’s preparation matches for Germany.
“It would be a lot of fun,” said Lewis. “The biggest thing is if I’m able to be on the field to make the U.S. a better team going into the World Cup, then that is a fantastic achievement.”
An achievement that would be realized in early June if Lewis hears Arena utter two simple words: “left back.”
(editor's note: For the full audio podcast of the one-v-one interview with Eddie Lewis, click here)