Since the Sounders FC walked off the field in their 3-2 aggregate goal loss to Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference semifinals in November, the club had parted with nine players before Friday.
In each case, Mike Fucito and Lamar Neagle said goodbye to their teammates who had either retired or moved to a new club.
On Friday night, though, they were the ones preparing to join a new team after being traded to the Montreal Impact in exchange for World Cup and US International forward Eddie Johnson.
“It’s something you think about, and when it happens to you, it becomes more real,” Neagle said. “You’re not just saying bye to a teammate, you’re saying bye to the whole team and the community and, for me, my family.”
The trade shook the team on Friday when they were told shortly before it was announced at about 7:15 pm Eastern Time – including head coach Sigi Schmid, who broke the news to his players at a team dinner.
“I certainly want to express my gratitude and my thanks to Lamar and to Mike Fucito, who have been excellent in service to the club and provided so much for us in our first three years, and are exciting young players. We hated to part with them,” Schmid said. “Saying all that, it was unique opportunity.”
Both players had grown to be fan-favorites in their time with the club, in no small part because of their undying work rates and the dramatic moments they’ve provided.
Before they left the Sounders on Saturday morning, they both made a point to acknowledge the support from the crowds that packed CenturyLink Field and supported the team on the road.
“I have only spectacular memories here. I love it here. I wish I could thank each fan individually,” Fucito said. “I feel like I owe them a lot for their support because that goes a really long way. I’ll miss that, for sure. The way the city has embraced the team, it was an absolute pleasure to play here.”
Added Neagle, “All the support is definitely appreciated. It’s nice to hear it … we’ll see you guys in Seattle some time.”
That time won’t be in 2012, though. With the new unbalanced schedule, the Sounders FC will face the Montreal Impact just once, at Saputo Stadium on June 16.
Although he looks forward to the chance to return to CenturyLink Field, Fucito is just fine with playing just once against the club and players that he grew so close with in his three seasons with Seattle.
“It’s a great team. To not have to play against Jeff Parke and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado … I can’t say I’m mad about that. I’d much rather have them on my team,” he said. “Maybe it would be nice to come back and play in front of the fans again. At the same time it might be a little hard to come out to CenturyLink Field when everyone is rooting against you and not for you.”
Neagle, a Federal Way native who was in his second stint with the club, enjoyed a breakout season in 2011 with the Sounders FC, scoring five goals and two assists in 23 appearances in MLS play, making nine starts for Seattle. He scored game-winning goals against Real Salt Lake, Sporting Kansas City and the Columbus Crew, netting the club’s second ever hat trick against the Crew. He also added a goal in Seattle’s playoff series with Real Salt Lake and one in the US Open Cup.
He originally joined the team as an undrafted free agent in June of 2009, but did not appear in any competitive matches. After not making the roster in 2010, he played for the Charleston Battery of the USL-2, earning MVP honors while leading Charleston to the league title. After a short stint with Mariehamn in Finland, he rejoined the Sounders in 2011 training camp, where he earned a roster spot and significant playing time.
“I’m not going to like leaving my home town, but it’s a new start for me and Mike. We’re on to something new,” he said.
Fucito came to the Sounders in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft when Seattle selected him with the first pick in the fourth round, 46th overall. After finishing off his degree at Harvard University, Fucito joined the team in July of 2009, but did not play in any competitive matches until 2010.
Then, he scored one of the most memorable goals in club history when he came on as a late sub and scored a stoppage-time winner to beat the Kansas City Wizards 1-0. However, it was one of only four MLS appearances he made after suffering a right knee contusion in that match. He was able to lead the club in scoring in the 2010 group stage matches of the CONCACAF Champions League, scoring three goals in four matches.
In 2011, he played a much more plentiful role with the team. In 19 appearances, he had two goals and two assists in league play, starting 13 matches. He scored twice in four US Open Cup matches, both coming in the third round meeting with the Kitsap Pumas when he was named Player of the Round. In Champions League, he had two goals and one assist, scoring both in a 4-1 win over Comunicaciones.
During the expansion draft, Fucito was prepared to head to Montreal if they selected him. When it didn’t happen, he assumed he’d be part of the Sounders in 2012.
“You always think in the back of your mind that there’s a chance, but in getting through that period, to me, it didn’t seem as likely,” he said. “It was a shock, but that’s a part of it.”
In parting from the only MLS club that either player had known, they both had nothing but positive things to say about Seattle and the Sounders.
“From the team up to the front office and everyone in between, I’ve met a lot of good people and made some good and meaningful relationships,” Fucito said. “You figure that in your career you’re going to play for a couple of different teams, that’s just a reality and this is a reminder that it is a business. Seattle was home. And I have nothing but admiration for the fans, the coaches, my teammates, the front office … everyone that I met and worked with.”
Neagle and Fucito flew back to Seattle on Saturday and will join the Impact in training camp early next week.