Our countdown to March 8 is back today, with another combination post looking at players number 24 and 25, who just so happen to play roughly the same position in Ben Olsen's tactical setup. Lewis Neal (LEWIS NEAL!) and Jared Jeffrey both appear set to line up as deep-lying or box-to-box midfielders, more willing and able to get forward than a Perry Kitchen but not as creative as a Luis Silva.
Neither one of Neal and Jeffrey appear likely to regularly crack the first XI in 2014, barring a tactical shift or injuries to guys ahead of them on the depth chart like Davy Arnaud and maybe even Nick DeLeon. But one or both of them will be seeing significant minutes due to the congested schedule, as United defend their US Open Cup title through the summer and contest the CONCACAF Champions League come fall. So our question for today is which one is likely to start the greater number of games.
Last year, Lewis Neal was injured for most of the year but returned just in time to score the cup-winning goal against Real Salt Lake. That contribution was enough to see him win the support of 80% of B&RU readers in our Cake or Death poll. Meanwhile, Jared Jeffrey didn't join the team until the summer, managing to score a couple memorable goals - though not so memorable as the USOC winner - including a breakaway goal against Montreal and a long-distance screamer that made noise in the MLS Goal of the Year vote. At the end of the season, fully 96% of readers here wanted to see him come back.
But which of them is going to see more of the field in 2014? Neal is the older and savvier of the two, and seems likely to transition into a coaching role (either here or at his former club, Orlando City SC, as they move into MLS). If he's still got a year left on his 32-year-old legs, he might have the inside track over his younger teammate. Jeffrey, meanwhile, showed some real promise in his half-season at RFK last year, and the 23-year-old former FC Mainz reservist could force Ben Olsen's hand just by improving and coming closer to what looks to be a pretty high ceiling.
So, dear readers, what's your take? Will LEWIS NEAL or Jared Jeffrey get more playing time in 2014? Vote in the poll and let us know your thoughts on the matter in the comments.