Bermuda National Team member Zeiko Lewis has recorded four goals and two assists in 10 appearances this season for the Charleston Battery before departing to join the national team for its first appearance at the Concacaf Gold Cup this month. | Photo cour
FRISCO, Texas – To be sure, there’s a tremendous amount of pride running through Bermuda’s Men’s National Team as it competes at the Concacaf Gold Cup for the first time in the country’s history.
But make no mistake, Zeiko Lewis and his teammates aren’t simply there to make up the numbers.
“Yeah, it’s a great honor to take part in the event, but we didn’t come here just to take part,” said Lewis ahead of the Gombey Warriors’ clash with regional power Costa Rica on Thursday night at Toyota Stadium (9:30 p.m. ET | Fox Sports 1, Univision Deportes). “We came to win, just as everybody else did, and we’re giving our best and pushing every day to get a win and to win the tournament, just the same as every other country.”
The Charleston Battery’s playmaker has been one of the figures at the forefront of the rise in Bermudan soccer over the past decade, alongside others like Nahki Wells and Reggie Lambe, who joined Lewis as the side’s leading scorers during Concacaf Nations League Qualifying that saw the side earn its berth at this summer’s tournament.
Maybe more remarkably, all three players can trace at least part of their playing roots back to former USL League Two club the Bermuda Hogges, which competed both in the organization’s professional and pre-professional ranks around the turn of the last decade before dissolving after the 2012 season.
Lewis made his debut for the Hogges as a 17-year-old and made 15 appearances overall for the club in its final two seasons of action, giving him a taste of a higher level of competition before he began his collegiate career at Boston College in 2013.
“The Bermuda Hogges were a nice little stepping-stone for us to see the next level,” said Lewis. “I think everything that we’ve done from the beginning to the end has been a stepping-stone and a building block for us.”
Lewis believes the continuity in leadership and mission provided by current Bermuda Head Coach Kyle Lightbourne – who was among the founders of the Hogges in 2007 – has been key to the arrival of the country at this year’s Gold Cup. The familiarity the team’s current players show has been fostered over the years of competing side-by-side while looking to push to the next level.
For Wells – who scored a pair of goals in nine appearances for the Hogges in 2010 – that has resulted in a path to the Premier League’s Burnley, from which he spent a season on loan last campaign with Queen’s Park Rangers in the EFL Championship and finished tied for the team-high with seven goals and six assists. Lambe, meanwhile, spent the past season in EFL League Two with Cambridge United, while Lewis has been one of the brightest players this season for the Battery with four goals and two assists in 10 appearances.
Bermuda's Zeiko Lewis (left) and Nahki Wells have been at the forefront of the Gombay Warriors' success that led to their first Concacaf Gold Cup appearance.
“For us, it’s been almost like it’s been building and building for our entire lives,” said Lewis. “We’ve been playing with each other since we were kids, so for us this isn’t just something that was built overnight. This is something that we built on our own and something we can really call our own. It didn’t take us by surprise, it’s something we’ve been working for our entire lives and now that we’re in the position we’re trying to make the most of it.”
That collective experience is what Bermuda believes gives it a chance against any side it faces, even one as well-established in the region as Costa Rica.
“Everybody is always thinking we’re the underdogs and underestimating us, but if they’re going to underestimate us that’s not our problem that we have to deal with,” said Lewis. “We go out on the field and its 11v11. It’s country versus country, but it’s their 11 against our 11 and that’s just how we approach every game. We can’t be star-struck or looking at their players and being like, ‘well, they’re doing this, that, and the other’, because we’re all stepping on the same pitch at that moment.”
More games like those against Costa Rica are also in Bermuda’s future. Thanks to its fifth-place finish in the Concacaf Nations League Qualifying stage this spring, the country qualified for League A and a round-robin group with Los Ticos, Mexico and Panama when the new tournament begins this September.
“Playing high-profile games is definitely going to help us grow as a national team and as players ourselves,” said Lewis. “Bigger nations, they play at a high level all the time, so when we play them, we know we have to step our game up, and that also shows us a level of professionalism that we need to maintain and sustain at all times.”
Learning from those experiences will go toward the long-term aim for Lewis and his teammates of making sure that this year’s Gold Cup appearance is followed by another in two years. If it can accomplish that, it could set up a consistent cycle of opportunity for players on the island nation as it looks to build on what has been established since the start of this decade.
For the nine players currently based at domestic clubs in Bermuda, the Gold Cup and Nations League should offer a chance to put their abilities on show as they look to move to higher levels of competition in the future, helping build future cycles of success.
But as serious as business is on the field for Lewis and his colleagues, this summer also serves as an opportunity to embrace the moment and realize how far their team has already come.
“We’re enjoying every little thing, but what makes our team so special is that we enjoy each other’s company, so just being with these guys is a great honor and is always a great time,” said Lewis. “We could be in the worst place in the world and as long as we’re together there’s always going to be good laughs, jokes, and a good time.”