BRIAN SCIARETTA - Monday, June 10, 2013
As Lamar Neagle walked off the field on Saturday night after putting on one of the best performances of the week in MLS, it marked the latest accomplishment in his career that is on the ascent.
Neagle freely acknowledges that his career has been a rocky road with many peaks and valleys. He is currently in his third stint with Seattle. After finishing his career with UNLV in 2008, Neagle signed with with the Seattle but was waived by the club after his first season without making a first team appearance.
He then moved to the USL with the Charleston Battery and enjoyed success scoring 12 goals in 19 games before transferring to Finland with club Mariehamn for the remainder of the 2010 season. When he returned to the U.S, he signed again with Seattle but was traded to Montreal after earning mostly substitute minutes in 2011.
After another season in 2012 where he came mostly off the bench for Montreal, Seattle traded for Neagle for his third stint with the club.
The third time is proving to indeed be the charm for Neagle who has blossomed this year. In the Sounder's 3-2 win over Vancouver on Saturday, Neagle was easily the most dominant player assisting on the opening goal, drawing a penalty for the second, and scoring the match winner late in the game.
"I think my entire career has been surprising to me," Neagle said. "If you had told me in college what my career would have been like, I would have laughed. It's definitely a crazy ride. Still, I'm playing for Seattle in front of my hometown and my family. I couldn't be asking for anything more at this point."
To start 2013, Seattle began off the season poorly and was mired in last place in the first month. By middle April, the club's fortunes have changed and it currently has just one loss in its last nine games. Neagle is confident that the early struggles were simply a case of the team having several new players which required more time to adjust.
"It looks like we're one of the scariest teams when you put it all on paper," Neagle said. "I think we've shown with the last streak of wins that we can be very dangerous teams and that it's all going to come together. The team we can put on the team is going to be great."
Neagle has been an important part of Seattle's turnaround and he currently has five goals in all competitions including one in the CONCACAF Champions League against Santos Laguna. On a team that includes Obafemi Martins and Eddie Johnson, Neagle is one of the team's best attacking players.
The Tacoma native credits his success for finally being given a chance to earn consistent minutes with a club which has allowed him to be more comfortable on the field.
"I don't think I'm surprised at where I am right now because wherever I've played extended minutes in whatever league, I've done well," Neagle explained. "In my career as a professional, I haven't really been able to do that. I've bounced around so many times and haven't been given the minutes or the faith that I think at times I've deserved. Now, getting starts and getting a lot of minutes with the same group of players has accounted for a lot of my comfort and confidence when it comes to playing. I think it's all just coming together now; unfortunately a little bit later for me."
Neagle may not be a young player anymore by soccer standards but he is still only 26 years old and could be a case as simply a late bloomer. As one of the engines of the Seattle's attack, Neagle is now playing like a league all-star.
When asked about playing in the all-star game, Neagle is slightly taken back and surprised by the question. Still trying to get over his reputation as a journeyman player, being named as one of the league's best players is an usual topic of discussion.
"It's not something that I've never even really thought about," Neagle said. "Going into this season, I thought I was going to be a sub off the bench like in 2011. Just to have my name brought up in the discussion is an accomplishment enough. That would be amazing. I obviously want to be one of the best players in MLS."
Looking back at his career and the struggle to get to this point, Neagle admits that there were times when he thought of giving up the sport and questioning his career in the sport. His days playing a bench and reserve-team player were tough to make ends meet.
Even when starting the 2013 Seattle, he was unsure of his future. A big driving force to keep him going was the fact he was returning to his hometown team and the opportunity to play in front of family and friends.
"We're not making the millions that a lot of people that don't really know American soccer think that we're making," Neagle recalled. "They just look at us as professional athletes in the U.S who make hundreds of thousands of dollars, and not making minimum wage. When I first came to the Sounders, I was living with my dad and that's saving me so that I don't have to pay rent."
Neagle added: "Going overseas, I still wasn't making that much and I'm getting older but I see my friends buying houses and settling down. They were points when I was playing limited points, I'd ask if this was the right choice and if I'm still doing the right thing. I definitely had my doubts. There has been a lot of highs and lows for me."
As for his future, Neagle does not want to think too far ahead knowing that while he enjoying his best run of performances in his career, the low points of his career are also fresh in his memory and he simply appreciates where he is at right now. His goals right now are simply to help Seattle this year make a deep run into the playoffs.
"This stretch has obviously been the best time of my career but it's happened so fast that I'm trying to take it as slow as possible," Neagle concluded. "I've had a long career up to now where I haven't been playing as much. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself. I know at any moment it could happen all over again. I could get traded, go somewhere else, and not get the minutes. But I love where I'm at right now. Playing in front of 50,000 people doesn't even seem unusual anymore. It's unbelievable."
Neagle and Seattle will return to action on June 22 with a visit to Real Salt Lake.