“I feel that football is rising in a big way in this country and will only continue to do so over the next 10 years or so and eventually I believe it will be one of the top leagues in the world.”
Name: Lewis Neal
Previous clubs: Stoke City, Preston North End, Notts County, Carlisle United, Shrewsbury Town, D.C United
Current club: Orlando City
Location: Orlando is perhaps most famous for its Disney Land resort which attracts up to 52 million people every year. Nicknamed ‘The City Beautiful’, Orlando has the 13th busiest airport in the world. The picturesque Lake Eola is a prominent feature of the city, and its fountain regularly attracts tourists to the area. Aside from Orlando City, the other major sports team in the area is basketball team Orlando Magic.
Lewis Neal carved out a successful career on home soil playing with Stoke City and Preston North End among others, but now finds himself playing a big part in shaping Orlando City in Major League Soccer. Whilst Kaka may be the face of the team, Neal has an active role in the development of the B team and the academy.
“My current club is Orlando City who play in the MLS; it's really starting to become a worldwide name with the exposure the club has been getting especially with having Kaka as our captain and face of the team!
I have taken up a new role this season in playing and leading our Orlando City B team which is just like a reserve team they call the development team.”
It was in 2011 that an opportunity to move to USA arose for Lewis Neal, and he has adapted to life in the area superbly having enjoyed three years at DC United as well as his spell at Orlando City. Neal actually played in Orlando before they launched their franchise in the MLS in 2014. He had a short spell with them in the third tier before joining DC United in March 2012.
“My move to the US came purely through Beswick Sports and my agent Gary Mellor having his contacts in the US. With him knowing Phil Rawlins and Adrian Heath helped me big time in getting my foot in the door at Orlando back in 2011. I'm very grateful to all three of them for the opportunity they gave me.”
The former PNE winger’s best moment in USA came when he scored the winning goal in the US Open cup final for DC United in 2013. The Washington based side triumphed 1-0 over Real Salt Lake City to win their 5th US Open.
Despite the obvious flaws in moving so far away from home, Lewis settled into his new lifestyle easily and was happy with the quality on show.
“The only real difficulty as a family we had was missing family and friends but because it's predominantly an English speaking country it certainly makes the transition a lot easier. There weren't too many difficulties adapting to the league but I will say it is a very athletic league.”
“The biggest difference for me was how good the quality was and is here. There are some fantastic players out here and I don't mean the designated players ($335,000 of a designated player’s salary is charged to the salary cap and paid by the league) some really good young talented players as well as guys who have been in the league for 10 years or so.”
With regards to the quality on show at his current club he believes they would be very competitive in the English leagues, something which is usually doubted by English fans and pundits.
“In my opinion Orlando City would be a bottom half Premier League/ top half Championship side.”
Now Lewis Neal is tasked with the objective of helping develop the team further to continue to improve in the future.
“As well as playing and leading the B team, I am doing some coaching with the academy.”
It seems as if Lewis is set to stay within the set-up at Orlando for the foreseeable future and he has also been getting involved with some TV broadcasting and pundit opportunities.
The 34-year-old is made more comfortable at the club due to the fact there is a strong British influence at Orlando City.
“There is a big British influence at the club with owner Phil Rawlins, head coach Adrian Heath along with Orlando City B head coach Anthony Pulis and many more behind the scenes along with two or three more on the playing roster.”
At this stage of his career, he doesn’t believe a return to the UK is on the horizon, but he is more than happy to still be living in Florida, and he would like more Brits to make the move across the pond.
“I think my time in England as a player is well and truly over unfortunately, but there are a lot of British players looking for opportunities to come over, unfortunately as the league grows it isn't that easy for players to come over here.”
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