Before we get too far into this - really before we begin today's post in the countdown - I would be remiss if I didn't again point you to this video,
and this gif (via media.washingtonpost.com).
Okay, onto the actual content. Despite providing some very useful minutes, and the playoff-clinching goal for D.C. United last year, Lewis Neal doesn't figure to be a first-choice contributor this year. In fact, he might be the last guy into the 18-man gameday roster. During the last off-season, in one of Martin's "Player Approval Ratings" posts, commenter dccal proposed The Stephen King Standard:
I've enjoyed thinking about the roster this way, and I've been grappling for a reasonable standard for evaluating players. What is the minimum level of soccer ability that can make you a long-term asset to this roster, reserve roles included?
I think you should be as good at your position as Stephen King, or better. We'll make allowances for promising young players rapidly improving, obviously. But if you can't meet the King level, I just don't see any utility going forward, and too much complacency on the part of management if you keep your roster slot.
I liked da Luz in a couple games, and I thought his one-on-one defending was actually pretty good. But he's slow, and not what I would call dependable playing either way. He does not meet the King standard. So I said "disapprove." We should be doing better, even for off-the-bench/reserve roles.
This was self-evidently a wonderful idea, and the B&RU community embraced it. But with ties being cut with King this winter, we need a new The Standard. Lewis Neal is that standard. During the 2011 season, King's standard was the bar to clear to make the field. In 2012, the roster's improvement had outpaced King, and he became the standard to make the roster - and he didn't see much of the field. The old King Standard had become the Neal Standard.
Coming into 2013, will we see a repat in the Standard being replaced, or will Lewis Neal again be the last name on the list of significant contributors? Until the roster is finished - and reports are that there will be more signings as the season gets closer - it's a tough question to answer. Neal provided some needed veteran guile and journeyman determination last year, qualities that tell me he should stick around the 18 this year. But with United's shift to a double-pivot (but with a more attacking lean) and with guys like yesterday's subject, Lance Rozeboom, possibly coming on strong for a midfield role, he could be relegated this year.
I will say that if the 31-year-old midfielder doesn't regress this year but gets pushed to the fringes of the 18, it will probably be a very good sign for the Black-and-Red. But it's not guaranteed to happen by any means.
So, it's your turn. Where do you see Neal fitting into the 2013 edition of D.C. United? Let us know in the comments, but keep in mind that all comments will be required to include "LEWIS NEAL" in the subject line.