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Neagle relishes role on hometown Sounders | Charity to help Boys and Girls Club
People always talk about “living the dream.” The difference is, Lamar Neagle is actually doing it.
The 2005 Thomas Jefferson High School grad is getting paid to play the sport he loves for his hometown Major League Soccer (MLS) team.
It doesn’t get much better than that.
But that wasn’t enough for the 26-year-old Seattle Sounders FC forward. Neagle wants to be known as more than just a professional soccer player. He wants to make a difference in the community where he grew up.
Neagle is currently working with the Jimi Hendrix Foundation with the ultimate goal of starting his own in the near future. He hopes the Neagle Foundation is up and running by the time the Sounders’ new season is up and running in the spring.
According to Neagle, the main beneficiary of his foundation will be the Federal Way Boys and Girls Club. It’s an organization that is near and dear.
As a first-grader, he began his soccer career playing for the Boys and Girls Club. And while a lot of his not-as-talented friends moved onto select soccer teams, Neagle remained with the Boys and Girls Club for years.
“I remember I asked my mom if I could play for the club teams and she told me that we didn’t have the money to do it,” Neagle said. “So I ended up going to the Boys and Girls Club and playing soccer, baseball and basketball. It was a place for me and my brother to go when my mom was working.”
Neagle has already met with Shelly Puariea, the executive director of the Boys and Girls Club in Federal Way, regarding what kind of role he and his foundation will have at the facility.
“I want to stop by and hang out and not just give money,” Neagle said. “Anybody can do that.”
According to Neagle, his work won’t end with just the Federal Way Boys and Girls Club. He has done work with America SCORES (where he spoke to the program’s students at their recent poetry slam), the Sounders FC Junior Alliance and was featured at a recent assembly at Lake Grove Elementary School in Federal Way.
Neagle is hoping to take over as the Sounders’ voice in the community, which suffered a huge setback when the team left defender James Riley unprotected during the MLS Expansion Draft. The Montreal Impact selected Riley, who was recently named the Sounders FC Humanitarian of the Year for the second straight season.
“James Riley has done so much for the community and I want to follow in his footsteps,” Neagle said. “James not being with the team is going to leave a pretty big hole.”
The 2011 season was definitely a breakout for Neagle on the MLS stage. The forward finished with seven total goals, including the club’s second-ever hat trick. The three-goal performance against the Columbus Crew earned him MLS Player of the Week, named by the North American Soccer Reporters (NASR).
By the end of the season, Neagle was playing in every game for head coach Sigi Schmid, mostly off the bench. He tallied his seventh goal of the year during the second leg of the Western Conference Semifinals against Real Salt Lake.
The Sounders showed even more confidence in Neagle when they protected him in the recent MLS Expansion Draft. The team was only able to protect 11 total players.
“As one of the guys that was coming off the bench, I was kind of on the radar,” Neagle said. “So I didn’t know who they were going to protect. I think I found out a few hours before the protected list came out and I just started getting congratulations.”
But Neagle’s journey to the Seattle Sounders didn’t happen overnight. It’s actually one of perseverance.
Just one short year ago, Neagle was about as far away from his Federal Way home as possible. He was playing professional soccer in Mariehamn, Finland. The lower-level European league in Finland was actually Neagle’s third stop during his 2010 soccer journey.
He started the year in the Sounders’ training camp after spending the 2009 season on Seattle’s reserve roster. He was waived after the 2009 season, resigned by the Sounders before the team’s next training camp and then eventually cut.
“It was always kind of motivation to me when I got cut,” Neagle said. “It helped keep me going.”
The adversity didn’t deter Neagle. After being let go by the Sounders, he signed on to play with the Charleston (S.C.) Battery of the United Soccer Leagues. Neagle’s team not only won the league championship, but he was named the Most Valuable Player after tallying 12 goals.
Neagle then signed with Mariehamn, where he scored two goals in just five matches for the Finland side before getting the call to come back to his hometown Sounders.
“That is another reason for starting this foundation,” Neagle said. “Seattle is the perfect place for me to do it. If I played in Dallas or something, it wouldn’t be as easy to start up. It’s amazing that I get to play in my hometown.”
But getting cut wasn’t anything new to Neagle.
During his teenage years, he was actually left off select teams in the Federal Way area, before winning a state championship at TJ his senior and earning a scholarship to the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Not making those teams may have been a blessing in disguise, he said.
“I remember one time I tried out for a higher level team and I was with two of my good friends afterwards and the coach called and talked to all of us at the same time,” Neagle said. “Both of them made the team and he said they were letting me go. I was crushed.”
Instead of quitting, Neagle just went back to playing recreational soccer and getting better than everybody playing on the select teams around town. He eventually started playing club soccer during his TJ years, but still relishes his time as a youngster on the rec field.
“Playing select soccer can help out, but there comes a point where a kid can get burnt out,” Neagle said. “When I was young it was just a getaway for me. It was time I really enjoyed. I was just having fun. Some young kids can get pushed too hard by coaches. I thought it was cool to play soccer, basketball and baseball and some coaches don’t like you playing other sports.”
Things have worked out just fine for Neagle. He is literally living the dream.