It’s always nice to see a familiar face. There’s a sense of comfort and familiarity, or in the case of Orlando City and D.C. United, a burning desire for vengeance.
For Lewis Neal, though, the faces on the opposing side are extra familiar.
Neal spent three years with the Black and Red from 2012 to 2014. He made 53 appearances over that stretch before being selected by Orlando City with the ninth pick in the MLS Expansion Draft.
It was an obvious choice for GM Paul McDonough and head coach Adrian Heath. After all, Neal played for Orlando City in its first year of existence when the club captured the USL Pro Championship in 2011.
“I was here for the very first year and we had such a successful season in the first year here. I was fortunate enough to get a chance to go play for D.C. for three years, but obviously being brought back to Orlando has been an unbelievable feeling to be a part of this huge project,” said Neal.
Neal started at left mid for the first two games but suffered a neck injury on March 19th that would keep him out for three months and force him to miss both previous matches against D.C. United. After several weeks of increased participation in training, he was brought on as a substitute on May 30th and started Saturday at Chicago.
“It’s just nice to be back out there on a daily basis with the guys and obviously I was fortunate enough to get my first start (since the injury) against Chicago so it was enjoyable.”
Heath won’t let on if the 33-year-old will be in the starting XI on Sunday against his former teammates, but his extra competitive fire could be a useful asset for a team looking to avenge two earlier losses and extend its current four game unbeaten streak.
“I’ve got a lot of friends there, a lot of people that I’m always happy to see and it’s great when they come to town but at the end of the day it’s about a game of soccer and we want to win it.”
The Lions have already faced D.C. twice this season. United stole three points from the first meeting on April 3rd with a stoppage time free kick. Then on May 13th in Washington, United trailed by one for an hour but used two goals just nine minutes apart to take another three points.
Since then, though, the Lions have put together their best string of results (W-D-D-W) of the season. To extend that streak to five, or maybe even create the Club’s first MLS winning streak, they’ll have to avoid the costly errors on which, as Heath said, experienced teams like D.C. United “invariably” capitalize.
“At times, everyone’s going to make mistakes – it’s the nature of the game. It’s how we handle those mistakes and bail each other out. We’ve shown on numerous occasions, especially against Chicago the other night, we’re here to work and fight for each other and we want to succeed as a team.”