Sooner or later, Lamar Neagle was going to score his first MLS goal. It was just a matter of time.
It was anything but unlikely or unexpected that he would score it against Real Salt Lake in a 2-1 Sounders FC victory to end RSL’s 29-game home undefeated streak.
He had scored in the USL with the Charleston Battery, earning the 2010 MVP award for his 12-goal season for the championship winning club. He had scored in Finland, tallying twice for Mariehamn in just five matches in the winter. He also scored twice in three matches in the MLS Reserve League. Not to mention his play in training that first earned him a roster spot with the Sounders, then earned him the trust of head coach Sigi Schmid to play him off the bench in five previous matches when Seattle needed a late goal.
Saturday, that faith paid off as Neagle scored what proved to be the game-winner in the 84th minute after coming on for Alvaro Fernandez in the 18th minute when the midfielder suffered a right hamstring strain.
He got the ball in space and rang a shot off the underside of the crossbar and into the net for a 2-0 lead with his first career MLS goal.
“You always remember your first goal. It's definitely nice,” Neagle said.
With Fernandez’s availability uncertain as the pre-game warm-up concluded, Neagle began preparing to enter the game. On two separate occasions, he got up off the bench and did work on the sideline, readying for the possibility that he would have to replace Fernandez.
Then, in the 18th minute, he was called on by Schmid when Fernandez was downed with the hamstring strain.
“It’s tough to come into a game when you really haven’t had an appropriate warm-up and get your feet wet against a team that knocks the ball around well,” Schmid said. “I thought he did a good job for us defensively. In the second half when the game opened up I thought he had some good offensive moments as well. Obviously that’s a Goal of the Week candidate.”
Though he was able to get some running and stretching done, he didn’t step in and immediately blend into the match.
“It definitely took awhile,” he said. “I think I did alright in the first half, but definitely when I came in the second half I was a lot more calmed down and I was able to play my game.”
While he may not have been as physically prepared to enter the game as he would like, he was certainly ready for the moment when he scored in the second half. Thanks in large part to his tireless work ethic this season that has seen him extending his training sessions well beyond the end of the team’s session.
Neagle frequently joins his road roommate, James Riley, in post-training drills to hone his technical skills and make gradual improvements along the way. 15 minutes here and 20 minutes there have helped the 24-year-old Federal Way native stay sharp while fighting for playing time.
“I think that just helps me keep focus, just being with the older guys,” he said. “During the regular training sessions you are working as a team, really. It’s after and before trainings that you can work on your own abilities.”
He wanted to do extra work and Riley told him to join him in his post-practice sessions and the two have since been nearly hand-in-hand away from the field.
That made the defender even more proud to see Neagle celebrating his first goal.
“He’s a good young player. He’s definitely put in the work, so we are very happy for him,” Riley said. “It was a fantastic goal, he got a fantastic look. We’re just very happy for him.”