“The last year has been a little hectic,” Lamar Neagle said on Tuesday, reflectively grinning about his adventure that has brought him back to the Sounders FC after a year spent far away from his hometown of Federal Way.
He’s also the first to admit that the year away was good for him and was vital in helping him earn a contract with the Sounders FC, which the club announced on Wednesday.
March 16 of 2010 was Neagle’s last training session in Seattle before he learned he would not make the 2010 roster. At the moment, he was crushed. After spending the second half of the 2009 season playing for his hometown team – the one he was a ball boy for while growing up – he was pinched and woken up.
He didn’t sulk though. He didn’t decide it was time to pursue other ventures, like the work he had done at a bank while playing with the Sounders in 2009.
He tightened up his boots and went to Charleston, South Carolina, to play for the Battery in the USL-2. It was a humbling experience to drop two levels just to continue his pursuit of a professional soccer career.
“It definitely hits your pride having to move down,” Neagle said.
The benefits with the Battery far outweighed those of other opportunities that presented themselves. Most important was the chance to move back to a forward position. In Seattle, he played defender because that was where the Sounders needed depth and his athleticism allowed him to be a versatile enough player to fill that role.
In Charleston, he rediscovered his passion for scoring goals and creating havoc on the offensive end.
In leading the Battery to the USL-2 title, he earned MVP honors with his league-best 12 goals.
When a college teammate who also played in the USL made the move after the season to Finland, his club, Mariehamn looked into adding more American players. Neagle was the perfect fit, scoring twice in five matches for the First Division club, but he wanted a chance to prove that he could play in MLS, so he returned to Seattle at the start of training camp.
Now enforced with the boost of an MVP season and a return to his more natural position of forward, he was beaming with confidence as he made another effort to earn a spot on the Sounders FC roster.
This time around, he wouldn’t be a mere wallflower though.
“I was always trying to make sure I didn’t mess up and I was content just being at home, but in the last year I’ve grown a lot,” Neagle said. “Getting released made me hungrier. It was probably a good thing because I might have stayed content where I was. I think right from the first game in Charleston, I felt like I had something to prove. I had the mentality going in that they couldn’t keep up with me. I had to go work harder than everyone and that’s a mentality that I’m trying to bring back to Seattle.”
His confidence on the field has been noticeable and head coach Sigi Schmid was among the first to take notice.
“Confidence makes a big difference. For him now he’s played and had success and he knows that he can do the job. Then his self-confidence grows,” Schmid said. “For us he can play on the flank or play up top for us and his one-touch layoffs and his movement around the goal have definitely improved because of his confidence.”
With a busy schedule ahead of the Sounders in 2011 that is congested with regular season matches, the US Open Cup and the CONCACAF Champions League, Neagle, 23, could get even more opportunities with the MLS reserve league, which will play ten games in 2011.
The regular season kicks off March 15 when the Sounders host the LA Galaxy at Qwest Field, but the Sounders have three preseason matches remaining before that. They play against the Portland Timbers on Friday and the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday at Starfire in the inaugural Cascadia Summit. Then next Wednesday they will host the Colorado Rapids in the Community Shield match, presented by adidas. Tickets to the Community Shield match are available at SoundersFC.com, with proceeds benefitting the Sounders FC charity partners.