By NICHOLAS MURRAY – firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, March 17, 2016
Back where it all began for him in the United States, both in league and organization, the 2016 season for Orlando City B midfielder Lewis Neal has somewhat of a “back to the future” feel to it.
The English veteran, who earned USL All-League honors for the Lions in 2011 before joining D.C. United the following year, will provide plenty of experience to the younger group of players that will make up much of Orlando’s squad this season, and a set piece delivery that will likely be a weapon on the field.
Like fellow Orlando alumni like Louisville’s James O’Connor and OBC Head Coach Anthony Pulis, though, Neal is hoping his role this season will help him transition into the coaching ranks when his playing days are done.
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“It’s something that I want to look to do when I finish playing, trying to get into the coaching side of things,” Neal said recently. “This is a great transitional role for me to try and play, and try and help the young guys come through, and be that voice and that little bit of experience for them on the field and try and help out as much as I can.”
That both O’Connor and Pulis are now head coaches in the USL gives Neal optimism he will be able to follow a similar path. O’Connor’s outstanding first season at the helm in Louisville definitely turned heads, and Pulis has similar goals as he leads Orlando in its return to the USL.
“Yeah, for sure, it’s great to see that,” Neal said. “To see guys that have been in the game and done as much as they’ve done in the game, both back in England and here, it’s great to have their experience and their knowledge on the training pitch and on game day on the side of the pitch there.”
Neal was a key figure in Orlando’s first season in 2011, when the side claimed both the regular season title and the USL Championship in a thrilling final at the Orlando Citrus Bowl. After playing for the Lions in their first season in MLS last year, Neal and the organization as a whole are aiming for OCB to continue the success the club had in the USL in addition to providing a platform for young standouts to shine in the professional ranks.
“Orlando has a tradition of being a winning team in this league,” Neal said. “I’ve certainly not come down just to develop players and lose every week, that’s for sure. We’re certainly in this league to try and win silverware and progress and do very well, as well as nurture the good young talent that we have.”
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As has been a common theme from coaches like the LA Galaxy II’s Curt Onalfo, whose side claimed the USL Western Conference Championship a season ago, or Seattle Sounders FC 2’s Ezra Hendrickson, developing the understanding of what it takes to win in the professional ranks is something that is being stressed in Orlando as well.
“Yeah, for sure,” Neal said. “You want to create a winning mentality throughout the whole of the club, whatever level it’s at. For guys to go from this level to the MLS level, they need to have a winning mentality because the standards when you get to MLS are just as high as they are here. We want to win, it’s as simple as that.”Given his continued passion for the game, and eagerness to play a significant role for OCB this season, Neal might be not only at the forefront of success for the club as a player now, but also on its sidelines in the future.