TUKWILA — It’s been a long road for Lamar Neagle to end up where he started.
The Seattle Sounders forward/midfielder grew up in Federal Way, began his professional career with the Sounders, and six season later, is wearing rave green. So clearly Neagle has had a simple hometown-guy-makes good career, right?
Well, not exactly.
While Neagle is playing for the same team that signed him in 2009, he’s hardly had a smooth road to get to this point, where he’s a key member of one of the league’s top teams. In fact, in his sixth year as a pro, Neagle is just now playing for the same team in back-to-back seasons for the first time. Now, Neagle hopes that little bit of continuity will pay off in the form of a big 2014 season.
“It is nice getting some stability for once,” Neagle said. “That’s nice seeing somewhat of the same group of guys. It’s nice to be in one place for a while, kind of get in a groove and find my place on the team.”
After Neagle’s rookie season saw him play in exactly zero regular-season games, he was released by Seattle and signed with the Charleston Battery, a USL Club that had developed previous Sounders success stories, most notably Osvaldo Alonso, who is now one of Seattle’s three designated players. After a successful season there, Neagle briefly played in Finland, then re-signed with Seattle for the 2011 season.
In his second go-around as a Sounder, Neagle made an impact, scoring five goals in 23 games, nine of them starts. Finally, he thought he was on his way to a successful career with the Sounders, was going to stick with his hometown team.
Then he was traded to Montreal as part of the deal that brought Eddie Johnson to Seattle. And just like that, Neagle the nomad was back on the move, this time to an expansion team that never found a big role for him and that eventually traded him back to the Sounders prior to the 2013 season.
In 2013, Neagle blossomed into one of Seattle’s top attacking players, scoring eight goals and assisting on four more while starting 27 games. Even better, he re-signed with the club in the offseason giving him the most continuity he has known as a soccer player since he played for UNLV.
“Once you have it down on paper and have it signed, it’s a load off your shoulders, so it’s definitely nice,” Neagle said, noting that he feels like a different player than the one that twice left the Sounders earlier in his career. “I feel like I’m more of a leader, one of the older guys now. It’s nice to have some stability and be on one team for a while.”
Of course for that stability to continue, for Neagle to stick around even longer, he’ll have to build off of the success he had in 2013.
“Obviously last year was a good season for him, a confidence building year for him, and he’s got to build upon that,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said last week. “I think he’ll be the first to say that he wasn’t probably as sharp as he would like to be in his first two games (of the regular season), so hopefully that sharpness will come along.”
Neagle agreed with his coach’s assessment, saying “I want to be more consistent on the field, want to be more consistent with my passing, keeping the ball — I lost it quite a bit — but that’s all part of the game, ebbs and flows.”
But in the third-regular-season game — Seattle’s 2-0 win Sunday over Neagle’s former team, Montreal — he looked more like the dangerous goal scorer who helped power Seattle’s offense in 2013. Neagle scored one goal, had another shot denied by the post, and was trouble for Montreal’s defense throughout the game.
“I think getting that goal helped his confidence,” Schmid said. “He was a little more dangerous — he was unlucky with the shot he hit off the post — and he’ll continue to grow.”
Just how Neagle grows in 2014 remains to be seen. At full strength, the Sounders have a lot of attacking options on the wings and at forward, the two places he plays, which means he’ll have to consistently play well to stay on the field. But whatever transpires, Neagle is sure of one thing: it’s good to be back home. Again.
“It has been crazy,” he said. “I’ve been a few places… It has been a crazy ride. It’s good to be home.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.