Before he was scoring goals in MLS and being recognized for his accomplishments on the field and in the community for his hometown Seattle Sounders FC, Lamar Neagle had to swallow his pride and drop down two leagues to play for the Charleston Battery.
Now four years removed from that fork in the road, Neagle returns to Charleston with Sounders FC this week to play in the Carolina Challenge Cup as part of Seattle’s preseason preparations.
“It was definitely a challenge to myself and me proving to myself that I could play in a league like MLS with some of the top players. It was a proving ground for me and that’s something that I tell the younger guys coming in,” said Neagle. “You may not see the spotlight right away like a DeAndre Yedlin. You might have to go down and get games and get your confidence up.”
Neagle certainly gained plenty of confidence playing in the USL-2 with the Battery in 2010.
In his first few months with Sounders FC after finishing school at UNLV in 2009, Neagle had trouble finding the field, only seeing playing time as an outside back in friendlies against Chelsea and Barcelona. At the time, MLS did not have a reserve league, so he was left to just work hard in training and hope that experience was enough to help him progress.
It looked like it might be the same scenario for him in 2010 if he made the team in Seattle, but when he was not retained, he was left with a decision. He continued to train under Peter Fewing with the Kitsap Pumas, but decided that a change of scenery may be in order, so he opted instead to play for the Battery.
“That was a tough time for me. As a player when you’re playing in the top league and then you have to go down two leagues, it was pretty tough. I thought getting away from home and having that time to develop would be good for me,” Neagle said. “It ended up being the right decision.”
In Charleston, Neagle scored 12 goals to win the USL-2 Golden Boot and MVP award. The Battery won the 2010 championship and after a brief stop in Finland playing for Mariehamn he returned to Seattle and became an integral part of Sounders FC in 2011.
In his first season back in MLS, he scored five goals, including just the second hat trick in Sounders FC history in a 6-2 win over the Columbus Crew.
Now, after a season-long stint with the Montreal Impact in 2012, Neagle is again a key player for Seattle. He had eight goals and four assists last year, second only to Eddie Johnson on Seattle’s scoring charts – a huge turnaround from the player that left Seattle in 2010 seeking his path in professional soccer.
“It’s great for him. You’ve got to show that you really want to play this game. It was his initiative and he succeeded,” said Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid. “I think Lamar’s progress shows that maybe even if you’re not one of the top 50 coming out of college in people’s minds, there is still an opportunity for you if you continue to work hard.”
That hard work is still paying off for Neagle, who was signed to a new contract in the offseason to keep him in Seattle.
He now enters the 2014 season with a new level of confidence.
“It’s a weight off my shoulders,” Neagle said of his new contract. “I’ve been blessed to be able to play in Seattle and to get the confidence from the coaches and the reassurance of a new contract when there are so many changes with the team, it’s really cool for me.”
On Saturday, he will have a chance to relive some of those critical moments in his career when he returns to Blackbaud Stadium for the first time since 2010. Sounders FC will meet the Charleston Battery in the first of three matches of the Carolina Challenge Cup at 4:15 pm PT, with a live stream at www.CharlestonBattery.com and live commentary on Twitter through @LiveSounders.