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SOCCER: TJ grad Neagle up for MLS Comeback Player of the Year
By MATT GASCHK
Lamar Neagle has been doing a lot of moving since he finished school at UNLV in the summer of 2009.
After making five stops along the way, though, he has found himself back in his comfort zone playing forward for his hometown Sounders FC, breaking out with eight goals in his fifth professional season and earning recognition as a finalist for MLS Comeback Player of the Year. This after feeling like he regressed in his one season with the Montreal Impact in 2012.
“I took a step back in Montreal and that was frustrating. But once I got regular playing time, it built my confidence and I was finally able to put a few in the back of the net,” said Neagle, who graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School. “I keep going back to my confidence and my belief. I was moved around so much and when that happens, you start to question yourself and if you’re able to play. Once I started playing, there was a different kind of freedom about how I was on the field and that helped me a lot.”
Neagle struggled to find that rhythm at the start of the year, playing just nine minutes in the first four matches of the regular season.
In the first match that he registered more than two shots, though, he injected an offensive burst, scoring two goals in a 4-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes.
That sparked a stretch of four starts that saw him tally four goals and three assists.
While his personal confidence was at a peak, one contributing factor to that self-assurance was the confidence of another well-traveled teammate – Obafemi Martins.
An international star who had played with some of the top clubs in the world, Martins saw something in Neagle that assured him that they could succeed together and Neagle cherished the opportunity to learn alongside a player of his caliber.
“Right away, we connected. I was going to work for him from the start and I knew he was going to work for me,” Neagle said. “He genuinely wanted me to do well and that made me want to work even more. That kind of partnership made it great playing with him.”
In 14 matches that the duo started together, they combined for eight goals and six assists while Seattle went 8-3-3.
It wasn’t the first time that a player of international renown saw something special in Neagle though. When he was with the team in 2009 and in training camp in 2010, Freddie Ljungberg also spoke highly of Neagle’s practice habits, though they never saw time together in games before Neagle went to the Charleston Battery, where he was the 2010 USL-2 MVP and Golden Boot winner.
“He was constantly giving me pointers,” Neagle said of Ljungberg. “I don’t know what it is, but I’m grateful every time I can learn from these guys that have had such great careers. That gives me even more confidence – connecting with these players and knowing they believe in me.”
In 2011, Neagle scored five goals for Sounders FC, including a hat trick at home against the Columbus Crew. In the offseason, he was dealt to Montreal along with Mike Fucito for Eddie Johnson and struggled to regain his form from 2011.
Now back in Seattle, he is more comfortable than ever playing in front of friends and family.
How comfortable? Neagle scored all eight of his regular season goals at CenturyLink Field, drawing chants of his native telephone area code “2-5-3” from the Emerald City Supporters.
As rewarding as that is, Neagle knows that if he can find similar success away from home he can continue to climb the MLS ladder.
“It’s great to hear the whole ECS chanting ‘253.’ It’s nice to have that backing,” Neagle said. “To get to the next level, I need to expand that comfort zone. This year has shown me that I can be one of the better players in the league and that’s what I want to be.”
In his three seasons with Seattle, Neagle is fifth on the list of all-time scorers with 13 goals.
A perpetual workhorse, Neagle hopes to improve his technical ability in the offseason as he looks to climb higher on that list.
“I think a lot of this year, I relied on hard work and my speed got me through a lot,” he said. “My first touch and finishing and decision-making need improvement. In the offseason, I hope to work on that.”
Neagle is up against Conor Casey of the Philadelphia Union and Kevin Alston of the New England Revolution for Comeback Player of the Year. The award will be announced on December 2.