Before Thursday evening, the Delhi Dynamos were the great unknown amongst the teams involved in the 2016 Indian Super League. In this third edition of the tournament, they were coming in with a third different coach. That apart, they were the only team yet to play a game, so while we had caught a first glimpse of each of the other seven teams, we were at square one with Delhi, in more ways than one.
When presented with the opportunity to see what this Dynamos side were all about though, we weren't disappointed. Compact, mobile and slick, the side from the capital comfortably beat the defending champions and home team, Chennaiyin FC, 3-1 to make a superb start to the campaign.
Italian great Gianluca Zambrotta, FIFA World Cup winner in 2006, is the latest man to have been tasked with driving the fortunes of the Dynamos, and his reign got off to a good note. Marcelo Leite Pereira aka Marcelinho took home the Player Of The Match award for his two goals and all-round excellent showing, but another winger was front and centre in this very impressive showing from the Dynamos.
Enter Kean Francis Lewis.
The 24-year-old Indian put in a scintillating display on the wings as he tormented Chennaiyin’s full-backs throughout the game, in the process helping his side open up the opposition defence. Lewis is a product of the Tata Football Academy and has played football in the United States too.
While graduating, he played for the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights and later post graduation, had a spell with the Houston Dynamos’ U-23s, the development side of the Major League Soccer team, where he played for an entire season. Since his return to India last year, he's been with Mohun Bagan and despite limited appearances so far is a player on the rise.
A continuation of good form
Lewis’ showing Thursday night was in fact a continuation of a good run of form starting in pre-season. The Dynamos, in addition to a charity friendly against Premier League side West Bromwich Albion, played three friendlies in Sweden, winning two and drawing one.
The two wins came against Assyriska BK and Skene IF, wins that both saw Lewis get his name on the score sheet with a goal in each game, both strikes being superb solo efforts.
With a silken touch on the ball and a very good handle on his dribble, Lewis had the beating of his marker more often than not yesterday. Every time he got the ball out wide on the left, there was a sense of excitement around.
Be it beating his man to cut inside or go out wide to put the cross in, Lewis was a constant menace and going by last night's performance a lot of defences in this league are going to have their hands full with him. He's also got a good shot on him which provides an added threat as he can go at it alone if his passing options are cut off.
Involved in two out of three goals and in keeping Wadoo out of the game
Lewis was involved in the setup of the second goal. In a quick-passing one-two with Richard Gadze and Marcelinho, he helped set up the ball that sent the Brazilian through on goal. For the third goal, his crossing ability was on display, as cutting in from the left, he picked out substitute Badara Badji with a right-footed cross for the giant Senegalese to head home.
His attacking threat meant that Chennaiyin’s right-back, Mehrajuddin Wadoo, had a tough assignment defensively and as a result of being pegged back deep, was unable to help his side going forward.
It was no surprise when at the end of it all, Lewis picked up the Emerging Player of The Match award. Lewis also accompanied Zambrotta to the post-match presser as we got to hear his take on the game as well.
Lewis compliments work and strategy
“I don't think there was any specific instruction to target any player but we tried playing in the space. That's something we worked on during the practice. The coaches teach us these movements on and of the ball. Thanks to them, we were able to exploit them (Chennaiyin FC) in the weak areas on the wings”, was Lewis’ take on the win.
He also shared his thoughts on his own good form and if he was surprised at how quickly the team has gelled together, especially in the attacking third.
“Yeah”, he said.
“Going into pre-season, our first week we had a big game against West Brom and we managed to keep them close and play really well. So over a month of pre-season and practice in England, Sweden and Delhi we have come back as a team. All of us have worked hard.
“On and off the field we have been a family. So everything has come together and that is why you could see us play so well.”
“Yeah attack, we do practice a lot of moves, on and off the ball movement and that is one of the reasons why we got our goals today. Third man runs and off the ball movements catch them by surprise. That's what we have been practicing”, Lewis pointed out in reference to his team's exploits in the attacking third.
In an earlier interview, immediately following his signing with the Dynamos, Lewis had mentioned that the ISL couldn't say no to him for too long. Confident, talented and keen to keep churning out more of the good stuff, the Mumbai man has made a bright beginning to his ISL career. With performances like these, Kean Lewis and his side the Delhi Dynamos are going to be ever less of an unknown going forward.