The Orlando SeaWolves, Central Florida’s new Major Arena Soccer League team, announced the signing of former Orlando City midfielder Lewis Neal on Tuesday afternoon during a press conference at the Broken Cauldron Taproom and Brewery in downtown Orlando.
Neal became the first player signed by the club as they prepare for their inaugural season this December.
“This is obviously not my first rodeo, being introduced to a new franchise,” said Neal. “I’ve been involved in the Orlando area, going from Orlando City in the USL and into MLS, then joining the OCB ranks. This is obviously a really exciting opportunity for both Luke [Boden] and I. Playing with my good friend again for maybe one more year, that’s going to be really exciting.”
Neal, who played for Orlando City in their inaugural 2011 USL season and their 2015 inaugural MLS season as well as Orlando City B from 2016-2017, is familiar to many Orlando soccer fans that have followed the team for a long time. Neal scored the first ever goal in Orlando City franchise history, earning an MLS contract with D.C. United after his first stint with Orlando in 2011.
Another former Lion that played most of his career with Orlando City, Luke Boden, was also on hand for the press conference. SeaWolves General Manager Chris Kokalis announced that Boden would also be joining the team later in the year, once his contract with the USL expires.
Boden previously played for the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the USL.
Neal, who accrued 96 appearances for Orlando clubs over the four years he spent with the Lions teams, still wants to continue playing, for at least another year or two. The midfielder will turn 37 years old this July, but his passion for the game of soccer is unwavering, pushing him to continue his professional journey that he started 18 years ago.
“I never wanted to end up finishing from OCB,” Neal said. “That was out of my hands. I wanted to continue playing, it was never something I wanted to stop doing, but I didn’t want to have to move a million miles to do it. I’ve got a young family who have spent the last 20 years moving around with me, so I need to have some stability for my children’s sake.”
For both Neal and Boden, players who were with Orlando City at the start of the soccer revolution in Orlando, this is an opportunity to take the groundwork they helped build and expand it into a new venture in the Central Florida area.
“We understand it’s never going to be another Orlando City,” said Neal. “We want to get some butts in seats and bring some excitement, because the indoor game is exciting and fun to watch. Hopefully, we can help create that excitement and bring that to the offseason for the outdoor fans.”
The SeaWolves GM Kokalis also announced a partnership with his team and the Professional Soccer Academy, Neal and Boden’s new business venture, providing professional soccer training to students in the Central Florida area. Their goal for the academy is to help students bridge the gap between education and athletics as well as coaching kids to become better soccer players.
A driving reason for the two former Lions to continue their careers with the SeaWolves was the team’s commitment to help grow their new academy business in the greater Orlando area.
Currently, the academy is based out of New Smyrna Beach with about 12-14 kids signed up with the academy still in its early stages. With the new partnership with the SeaWolves, Neal and Boden look to expand their range to the Kissimmee area and Osceola Heritage Park and create a more diverse area to help grow soccer in different communities.
For more information on PSA, visit www.theprofessionalsocceracademy.com and for more info on the SeaWolves and their upcoming open tryouts on May 19 and 20 at XL Soccer World, visit www.orlandoseawolves.com/player-tryouts
(Photos By Austin David / Orlando Soccer Journal)
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