Matt Lewis on returning to Fordham: “There was some good banter between some of the guys a couple of weeks ago on Twitter, saying that if I would score, would I celebrate. So, that kind of funny stuff happening. I expect it to be a fun time.” (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The last time Matt Lewis played a competitive match at Fordham University he celebrated with his Rams’ teammates a big comeback victory in the NCAA Division I playoffs.
When he returns to the Bronx venue on Wednesday afternoon, the center back hopes to celebrate another win — but this time with his new team, the Cosmos.
Lewis can’t wait to see and play against his former teammates as the Cosmos meet the Rams in their fifth preseason match at 4 p.m.
“It will be different. I’m looking forward to it, though,” he said. “I actually met up with a few of the guys over the weekend. We got some dinner and we chatted about it for a bit. It should be a fun game. A lot of those guys I do know very well. I’m interested to see how it plays out.”
After his 2018 season with Swope Park Rangers (United Soccer League), Lewis trained with the Fordham squad near the end of its season.
“There was some good banter between some of the guys a couple of weeks ago on Twitter, saying that if I would score, would I celebrate. So, that kind of funny stuff happening. I expect it to be a fun time.”
Lewis’ primary responsibility will be to make sure no Fordham player celebrates a goal as the Cosmos play in their penultimate preseason match.
“The sole goal is to win the game,” he said. “That’s going to be the first thing on my mind. The friendships and stuff come after it. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Fordham. We had something special there for a while. They’re changing coaches, so it’s going to be exciting to see what he’s got to offer and subtle changes he’s made to the team in terms of formations and pressing and stuff like that. It’ll be cool.”
Carlo Acquista was named Fordham head coach in January, replacing Jim McElderry, who moved to Rutgers University. McElderry guided the Rams through what was a magical run through the 2017 NCAA Division I tournament.
Not given much chance to advance deep in the competition, Fordham won three consecutive games — two on the road in Atlantic Coast Conference territory — because its quest was denied by the University of North Carolina in the quarterfinals.
Lewis and company started their run with a 3-2 comeback win over St. Francis Brooklyn as the center back tallied a late equalizing goal at Fordham.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “I’ll remember that forever.”
Three days later they followed that up with a stunning 1-0 victory at 11th-seeded University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va. before pulled out an 8-7 shootout triumph over sixth-seeded Duke University a week later in the Sweet 16. Fordham’s Final Four hopes were squashed by North Carolina via a 2-1 decision in Cary, N.C., the school’s third tournament game at an ACC school in 14 days.
“It was pretty magical,” Lewis said. “It was like a bunch of misfit guys who got thrown together. We were like family. We were talking about it this weekend when I met up with them. The entire team from top to bottom, from guy one to guy 26, that there was not a single guy left out of the squad. Everybody thought they were part of the team, everybody thought they were contributing, which is huge when you go on a run like that because you need all 26 guys on short turn arounds late in the season.”
The Duke game put supporters on both sides of the ball on one hellacious rollercoaster ride before goalkeeper Rashid Nuhu made three saves in the shootout to seal an historical result, especially after surviving a close encounter at Virginia.
“At Virginia, scoring late, we didn’t have much of the play at all, but stuck to the script,” Lewis said. “We got our chance and capitalized. That was the theme of the whole thing. We’re going to be in these games, we’re going to get our opportunities, we’re going to take a lot of pressure. We’ve just got to withstand that pressure and then capitalize when we get the chance.
“The Duke game was the most surreal. Once we went down 1-0 it was like, ‘OK, that’s the weight of the world.’ We tied it and then we go down again, and it’s ‘Oh no, it’s over.’ Then we get that crazy goal. Once we got into PKs, we knew Rashid, he’s a freak. We were very confident going into PKs in any situation.”
Not surprisingly, the 6-2, 165-lb. Lewis and his teammates had mixed emotions. They pulled off two improbable road upsets and made history as a Fordham sports team never had advanced that far in an NCAA tournament, and were so close to reaching the Final Four.
“Don’t get me wrong. I felt like that, the whole team felt like it was really an accomplishment,” he said. “But when you’re in it, it’s nothing but disappointing. The North Carolina game, we didn’t have a whole lot of the play, but we had our chances. We thought we conceded rather softly, just a couple of tuning out errors. So, when you look back at it, ‘Ah, we’re really close to be in the final four and maybe to getting an opportunity.’ What we learned was anything could happen in those games. That’s what we preached before the game. It was so disappointing. But bringing something like that to Fordham for the first time the community was really pumped about it. So, it was really cool, it was a really good experience. We’re proud of that. We’ll carry that forever.”
Nowadays, Lewis is thinking about helping the Cosmos find success.
Head coach Carlos Mendes has been impressed with the second-year pro’s ability and work ethic.
“He’s excellent,” he said. “He’s been one of the best players in terms of his attitude, mentality. He has grown each training session, each game. He’s a big piece for us. I love the way he plays, the way he reads the game. He’s comfortable and simple on the ball. He obviously got to still grow and tactically, the speed of play, everything’s got to get faster. But that comes with time with a young player. Very happy with him so far.”
And Lewis is happy with the squad as well.
“The team is at a good spot,” he said. “Everybody’s really close. Everybody is trying to work towards a common goal of being a real good team because we have the players and the quality to do so. But there’s some growing pains we’re working through, understanding each other’s tendencies. For five weeks we’ve made a lot of progress and we’re going to continue to make progress. Even when the season starts, we’re still going to be growing.”