Hat Trick Hero

Lamar Neagle is no stranger to the back of the net and he's starting to blossom into a serious goal-scoring threat in Major League Soccer.

Lamar Neagle experienced a somewhat familiar feeling on Saturday.

Everywhere he’s gone, from Thomas Jefferson High School in Federal Way to UNLV to the USL-2 Charleston Battery, he’s been able to score goals.

At CenturyLink Field on Saturday, Neagle showed that he is more than capable of doing the same thing on the MLS level when he scored just the second hat trick in club history in a 6-2 win over the Columbus Crew.

The biggest difference, though, was that after he scored the 36,364 on hand started chanting his name in unison, paying homage to the hometown hero.

“After the second goal, I was running back on defense and I heard my name being called.  That’s kind of crazy,” he said.  “You don’t normally hear fans yelling, but when I heard the whole crowd going, that was pretty cool.”

The Sounders FC midfielder is in his first full season of Major League Soccer and in recent weeks the game has started to slow down for him and he has been able to show the scoring prowess that earned him USL-2 MVP honors in 2010 while leading the Charleston Battery to the USL-2 championship with 12 goals.  With confidence building from two game-winning goals against Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City earlier in the season, he was due to break through with a breakthrough perfromance.

“It’s been getting easier and easier,” Neagle said Sunday, still grinning after his breakout performance.  “When I played against Dallas it was one of the games that I realized that things are slowing down for me.  I can easily pick out people, get my head up and I’ve been working on my first touch.”

There’s no question that it’s taken a bit of work for Neagle to climb to the standard he’s reached with his 2011 season.  In 2009, fresh out of UNLV where he scored nine goals in each of his last two seasons, he signed with the Sounders in June but played only in the club’s two friendlies against Chelsea and Barcelona.  In 2010, he didn’t make it out of training camp and plied his trade in Charleston with the Battery before a short stint with Mariehamn in Finland.

This preseason, he battled to the last day of preseason before finally earning an MLS contract and a return to his hometown team.

That stint in the USL-2 was just what he needed to get his scoring boots back though and this week he felt the same, unstoppable feeling that had with the Battery.

“As soon as I went to Charleston I knew guys weren’t going to stop me,” Neagle said.  “That’s the mentality I had there and it’s getting to the same point here.”

His two goals in MLS play weren’t his only indication that more would come though.  He also netted three with three assists in the MLS reserve league and added another in the US Open Cup.

Now with five goals in league play, he’s moved even with Mauro Rosales with five goals for third on the team’s scoring chart.  All while splitting time on the left side of the midfield with Uruguayan World Cup vet Alvaro Fernandez, who has six goals to share the team lead with Fredy Montero.

Each score, he says, lifts his confidence even further and encourages him to shoot for more.

“It’s a great feeling knowing that you’re capable.  When that comes along, your confidence is sky high.  You know you can play with any of these guys and with our depth, everybody is getting better and better in training,” he said.  “If I have an open shot, I’m going to take it.  But the way I’m playing lately, they’ve been coming more often.”

Goals aren’t the only thing Neagle has seen more of this year.  After Saturday’s match, he took home the game ball, which he gave to his father.  He also had a slew of voicemail and text messages to answer from friends and family.

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