LA MANGA, Spain - Lamar Neagle is starting to develop a reputation for having a flair for the dramatic.
While in Arizona the Sounders were trailing the Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2-0 in the second half when Neagle got his head on a corner kick and knocked it in the net to shrink the deficit to 2-1. Seattle went on to win 3-2 to finish off that leg of training camp.
On Friday, as the Sounders were finishing the competition leg of training camp against Norway's SK Brann in the La Manga Cup, they needed a goal again as they waned into the final moments of the match with a scoreless tie. Who else would they turn to but Lamar Neagle?
Peter Vagenas lined up over the kick in the 84th minute, knocking a low toppling ball into the box from the left side. It skipped past Zach Scott at the near post, then Tyson Wahl right in front of the goal, eventually falling to Neagle at the far post, who poked it past the keeper for the 1-0 lead.
“We have our places to go on corner kicks, and I ended up with back post that time. It came right through a bunch of people and finally dribbled to me,” Neagle said. “It’s good we got the win. It’s good for our confidence. Hopefully we can keep it rolling from here.”
That held and the Sounders earned a fifth place finish in the La Manga Cup with the 1-0 win.
“He’s like Houdini. Every time we get to the end of a camp--and maybe the camp hasn’t gone his way--but he finds a way to score, like he did against Vancouver, and he found a way to score today,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “I think we’re going to name him Houdini. He pulls out his bag of tricks right at the end there.”
The game started with the Sounders FC going on the attack, dramatically outshooting Brann, though they had nothing on the scoreboard to show for it.
One such chance came in the 41st minute when James Riley cracked in a cross and Steve Zakuani crept between two defenders to head a shot toward the net, only to have Brann goalkeeper Hakon Opdahl.
Conversely, Brann got into a scoring possession several times, but late efforts by Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Tyrone Marshall and the rest of the Sounders defense kept any of those threatening possessions from materializing into so much as a shot.
As the second half got underway, the Sounders substitutes started flowing in and by the end of the match 12 changes were made in total. However, that didn’t stall their resolve.
The defenders kept goalkeeper Chris Eylander in the clear for much of the second half and former Washington Husky combined with first-half starter Kasey Keller to complete the clean sheet.
The midfielders were also relentless in their pursuit between the boxes. They just couldn’t manage solid enough opportunities to put a goal on the board. At least not until Neagle subbed on for Freddie Ljungberg, who played a team-high 71 minutes.
“It’s good to get a win again today,” Schmid said. “Obviously it makes the team feel better and we end the trip on a win.”
“I think we identified that our movement off the ball has got to be a lot better. It’s good when you play this competition because they play with a lot of movement off the ball. It’s good for our guys to see that. They play with a lot of endeavor defensively, close spaces quicker than they do if, say, you were in Argentina,” Schmid said. “So from that standpoint it made us address the physical aspects of our game.”
Additionally, it gave the players an opportunity to spend time together while working hard toward the common goal.
“It’s always great to win, but at the same time these trips are so much more than that,” Vagenas said. “It’s important, first and foremost, that guys stay healthy. We did a lot of work. Our bodies are absorbing a lot from running and fitness and what not. The most important thing is to build up our fitness and I think we’ve done that for the most part.”
Through all of the positives that emerged from the two-week trip to Spain that followed a stay in Casa Grande, Ariz., one misfortune came when second-half substitute Taylor Graham reaggravated the hamstring injury that kept him from training in full for most of the time spent in Spain. Graham considered the injury just a setback in his recovery program.
“He felt he could go. He went through a couple trainings, felt he was ready to go,” said Schmid, who had Graham warm up for the game before making his final decision. “The first time he tried to turn, he could feel it a little bit again, so based on that we got him out early. It’s probably a setback for him, but not as far of a setback as the last time he did it.”
The win gave the Sounders fifth place and a 2-1 record in the La Manga Cup tournament, putting a winning cap on the traveling portion of their preseason. They will return to Seattle on Saturday evening and are set to resume training on Tuesday before facing the Vancouver Whitecaps Saturday, March 6 at Swangard Stadium in Burnaby, BC. The MLS season begins with First Kick on Thursday, March 25 with the Sounders against the Philadelphia Union at Qwest Field.
Seattle - Neagle (Vagenas) 84.
Brann - None
Seattle Sounders FC: Kasey Keller (Chris Eylander 46); James Riley (Zach Scott 67), Tyrone Marshall (Jeff Parke 62), Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (Taylor Graham 67, Jamel Wallace 75), Leo Gonzalez (Tyson Wahl 46); Sanna Nyassi (David Estrada 56), Osvaldo Alonso (Stephen King 67), Nathan Sturgis (Peter Vagenas 62), Steve Zakuani (Michael Fucito 46); Freddie Ljungberg (Lamar Neagle 72) , Fredy Montero (Tye Perdido 67).
SK Brann: Hakon Opdal; Birkir Sevarsson, Rodolph Austin, Yaw Amankwah, Bjarte Haugsdal; Erik Mjelde, Eirik Bakke (Gylfi Einarsson 53), Tijan Jaiteh, Jan Gunnar Solli; Erik Huseklepp, Diego Guastavino (David Nielsen 59).