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Saturday's X-Factor: Where Will Lewis Neal Play?

The 33-year-old veteran could factors in as a defensive midfielder, center midfielder or winger for Orlando City tonight. But where will manager Adrian Heath put him?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Lewis Neal is not Kaká. And Lewis Neal will be the first person to tell you that.

"Kaká is Kaká. None of us can try to copy what he does," Neal said after Friday's training session at Sylvan Lake Park. "You just have to play to the best to your ability and if that's the case I would just go out there and try to do what I can for the team."

But Neal might find himself filling in at the same position that the aforementioned Brazilian would play had he not been suspended for tonight's match due to a red card last week at Real Salt Lake.

With Orlando City being down several players due to injury, the lineup that Adrian Heath will submit is up in the air, but one thing is fairly certain: Neal will be forced to play a large role if Orlando City wants to come out with three points.

"He hasn't really (told me where I'll be)," Neal said. "We're just all preparing as if we're playing and we'll just get there tomorrow and do what we can do to go out there and get the three points."

Neal practiced in full Friday despite having what he defined as a "little niggle," as did Pedro Ribeiro, after Heath named him as an injured player on Thursday. Heath wasn't clear on if either player would be available tonight but said the club is stretched as thin as it can be.

Neal chalked his achilles injury up to overuse, after the 33-year-old has played a large part of the past four games for the Lions. In most circumstances, Neal would likely sit tonight's game out, but without Kaká, rookie sensation Cyle Larin, Bryan Rochez and a couple of other Orlando City players available, these are no ordinary circumstances.

"If we had a full roster I'm sure gaffer would probably be a little more reluctant to put you out there if he had his choices I'm sure," Neal said. "But, I'm 33 now and there's not many games you're playing where there's not something that you're feeling."

Looking at the possible lineups, there are three potential spots for Neal to line up tonight where he could be effective.

Defensive Midfield

Neal has played an unexpected role as a defensive midfielder this season for Orlando City, but he filled in in that role well at D.C. United as a player who was reliable off the bench to stifle the attack of the opposition. This is the position he has most commonly played in his career and if Orlando City wants to play defensively we might see Neal playing with teammate Amobi Okugo or Cristian Higuita as two defensive midfielders.


Neal's versatility makes him an option for not just being in the midfield, but he also can be outside on the attack where we might see Heath use him.

Heath admitted Friday he was going to "sleep on it" before determining what the team's shape might be for tonight's game. But it's very possible the team could go into a 4-3-3 formation that would probably cause Neal to play on the outside with a player like Carlos Rivas or even Pedro Ribeiro in the middle of the attacking third. Or he could play left wing in the 4-2-3-1, depending on who Heath slots in at center mid -- potentially Ribeiro or Rivas.

Center Midfield

This is the position that is perhaps most likely to have Neal in tonight. The veteran has shown he has solid leadership on the field this season and has the ability to control the midfield, while someone like Okugo could play in the defensive midfield in Darwin Ceren's usual spot.

We could see Ribeiro in the center midfield position and Neal back on the wing again, but having a veteran guy like Neal manning one of the most important positions on the field when a team is playing shorthanded may be the wisest decision for Heath to make -- as the coach said yesterday, "especially with the position we're in at the moment with injuries and suspensions. It certianly helps when lads can play one, two or three different positions."

It's been like that for me for the last three or four years now," Neal said. "When I was with DC, it was that way. I played out wide, I played in the middle. It honestly doesn't really bother me. I just want to be out there."

We'll find out tonight where Heath wants Neal.