Flashback to 2011, when Orlando City was just starting out as a club in the USL. Lewis Neal had come in as one of the bigger signings for the club, with loads of experience from England and some of the second- and third-division clubs. Neal scored only four goals that year, but was a key cog in helping the Lions capture their first regular season and postseason championships.
Fast forward five years later and Neal is back with another iteration of Orlando USL team, this time as a reserve side captain, an academy coach, and a broadcaster for the MLS side. At 35 years of age, Neal only has a limited time left in his playing career, but his current role with the club is very much setting him up for the day he hangs up his boots.
As Orlando City B's captain and a coach in the academy system, Neal is heavily involved in helping prepare all of Orlando City's youngest talents to eventually play at the highest level. His involvement with OCB has been his biggest role in the club, helping with the development of the players right on the cusp of making the jump to MLS.
Neal talked at training the other day about just how important the USL team has been for the development of those players.
"I think it's been crucial for them to get minutes on a regular basis," Neal said. "I think it's been excellent. Obviously at the moment it's been a little bit difficult because of the change of management, new manager coming in and he's gonna have his own ideas of players and what he likes and what he doesn't, but some of our boys -- Pierre Da Silva, Tony Rocha who have been knocking on the door a little bit (and) who have done fantastic this season. But I think it's been great so far. "
While training with the OCB squad and helping with the academy, Neal has also taken on a new venture this season: broadcasting. Neal has been in the booth with longtime play-by-play man Jeff Radcliffe on the Orlando City broadcasts on TV27. He's been there for most of the games, except of course when OCB plays or travels at the same time.
"I'm not gonna lie, it's been tough," Neal said about balancing training and broadcasting. "It's been a tough transition, but it's been something that, as the weeks and the months have gone by, I've gotten to grips with it more and gotten a little bit more of a routine with it, but it's been a real good learning curve for me personally and something that I'm enjoying and continue looking forward to doing."
In only his first season pulling double duty, Neal has taken it all in stride. As far as what the future holds for his broadcasting talents, Neal simply said: "Who knows? I guess it all depends on opportunities that get thrown your way. If there's an opportunity then yes, I wouldn't obviously say no, but if not...(shrugs)"