Now before anyone says anything, no, I haven't gone crazy. I am probably one of a very thin minority who still believes that Lewis Neal is a good player. Most people see him in the team lineup and say, "Well, I guess we're not going to win tonight." I, however, still think that Neal has some upside that most fans don't see on a regular basis.
Now to be fair about all of this, I should mention that I have been a fan of Neal's since the first Orlando City season back in 2011. During that season, he was a great winger for Orlando, playing almost every game and having a profound impact for the Lions. I seem to remember the supporters chanting something along the lines of "We all dream of a team of Lewis Neals."
Having said that, he is not the player that he was back in 2011. He's a bit older and his skill may have fallen along with his consistency on the pitch, but he remains an asset when it comes to Orlando. The main reason that he is important to the club is that Head Coach Adrian Heath can trust him. Heath, along with assistant Ian Fuller, believe in Neal to be able to help out the younger players on the team not only by being a veteran in general, but being a veteran familiar with Heath's style of play and coaching. This makes the learning curve for the young guys a bit easier, since he can be on the field with them during games and obviously Heath and Fuller cannot.
Now with Orlando's biggest game of the season coming up on Friday against New York City FC, Neal will most likely be starting and playing in place of the captain Kaká. In the two games that Neal played there last month, Orlando was able to win both games against a good opponent in Sporting Kansas City and a tough road game in Chicago against the Fire.
With this game on Friday being called by Heath "the biggest game of the year for us," it is a game that Lewis Neal will find a way to shine in. Why? Because, historically, he always seems to come up big in big time situations.
Let's go back a few years to when he first came to the U.S. Back in 2011, he scored Orlando City's first ever goal in club history and the game-tying penalty for Orlando in the USL Championship game. In 2012, he scored a game winning goal for D.C. United that sent them into the playoffs. In 2013, he scored the only goal for D.C. United in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final to win the trophy for the Black and Red. The game this Friday is the perfect situation and maybe the old Lewis Neal magic will show itself once again.
Also, check out all those aforementioned goals from Lewis Neal down below.