A monthly feature about a U.S. Men’s, Women’s or Youth National Team player who demands that bright, shining spotlight.
“I’ll take that cross to the grave with me.”
It’s almost a year ago to the day (June 17, 2002, to be exact) that Eddie Lewis delivered the ball of his lifetime, the assist that would help the U.S. earn its greatest victory in team history and make him a part of the eternal legacy of soccer in this country. And as he would learn, it would define him in more ways than one.
For the 29-year-old midfielder known for his wicked left foot and precision passing ability, the 2002 World Cup was truly about new experiences, beginning with learning the essence of what it means to be a team player.
“Never in my career have I ever been a really overly positive team guy,” said Lewis, who began the World Cup on the bench as the U.S. posted excellent results in their first two games. “I always want the team to do well, but if I’m not starting, or someone else is playing better than me, I‘m really edgy about it. But there was something special about the magnitude of that tournament, and the chemistry of the team. I felt so proud and happy to be part of the team, and I wanted to be able to contribute in any way I could. It seemed to be the same feeling for every player on the team. Whether Bruce wanted you starting every game, coming off the bench, or just being a reserve, everyone wanted so badly for the team to do well. I didn’t start the first couple games, but it almost didn’t matter. And when I got my opportunity, I played well.”
That cross. Recall the scene for a moment: The U.S. is up 1-0 in the second half. Against Mexico. In the quarterfinals. At the World Cup. The Mexicans are desperately seeking the equalizer, while the American attack is patiently awaiting the chance to strike. While the play has been recounted thousands of times – from television replays, to bar room banter, to the privileged recollections of people lucky enough to be in Jeonju that day – Lewis, for one, doesn’t mind going there again.
“The game was starting to open up a bit. We were holding onto our lead, but Mexico was starting to push for the tying goal. I remember at that moment that they had committed a few extra players forward. We got the ball out of the back, and someone played it into John O’Brien. I just saw the space in front of me, and I started to go. John did a real good job. He saw me, then he looked me off so the defenders wouldn’t come over to cut me off. He played the ball back to me right in stride.”
As Lewis streaked down the left flank on a lightning quick counter and the Mexican defenders frantically tried to recover, he managed to spot Landon Donovan out of the corner of his eye. The speedy U.S. forward was flying through the center of the park with the penalty box his final destination. It was time for that patented cross.
“I heard Landon screaming, and I just knew if I could get it in the spot there, he would get to the ball,” said the former San Jose Clash star, who like Donovan after him with the renamed Earthquakes, got his big start scouring the Spartan Stadium midfield. “It worked out perfectly, in terms of the cross and the timing, and obviously it was a great finish by Landon.”
History records that the U.S. held on for a 2-0 victory, earning a place in the quarterfinals of a World Cup for the first time in 72 years while establishing a benchmark moment for soccer in the United States. For Eddie Lewis, it couldn’t have been written any better.
“I almost think it was more valuable and special for me to set up the goal the way I did rather than score it, because really crossing the ball is my best asset. In all my dreams I had envisioned a goal like that taking place. To get it against Mexico in the knockout phase of the World Cup, well that was all the more special. I’d never really felt that patriotic, but in that moment I kissed the crest on my jersey. I was so proud, and really just so happy for all the guys.”
That rededication to the concept of team and his ability to step in and perform when needed carried over into the recently-completed 2002-03 season in England, where he had his busiest year yet overseas. After riding the pine at Fulham for two-plus years, the former MLS All-Star finally had a breakthrough year across the pond, playing in 36 league games and scoring five goals for new club Preston North End.
The hot streak that began with his performance for the U.S. in Korea last summer and continued in the pro ranks is still going strong a year later, as he has registered a goal (in his homecoming to San Jose, a 2-1 win over Wales on May 26) and two assists (in a 2-0 win over New Zealand on June 8) in the two games he’s played in since returning from the U.K.
Now the veteran midfielder is over in France trying to recreate both the team’s and his own personal success as one of just five players playing in their second Confederations Cup tournament. When the U.S. took third place in ‘99, Lewis provided a pair of precise crosses to help the U.S. to a pair of 2-0 wins. But whether the U.S. is able to pick up another bronze or not, Lewis will no doubt keep doing what he does best: cross the hell out of the ball.
Table of Contents
1) Armchair Midfielder (Back in the U.S.S.A.: The Big Six Venues)
2) In Threes (w/ MNT defender Greg Vanney)
3) DeeJay for a Day (w/ U-17 MNT forward Guillermo Gonzalez)
4) Queries & Anecdotes (w/ WNT forward Mia Hamm)
5) Mark That Calendar (MNT vs. Group B – France 2003)
6) Superstar!!! (w/ MNT midfielder Eddie Lewis)
7) FAN Point/Counterpoint (Who will win the 2003 Confederations Cup?)
8) "You Don’t Know Jack (Marshall)" (1999 Confederations Cup Trivia)
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