Photo by Nick Turchiaro/ISIphotos.com
By CALEB SONNELAND
The road to Major League Soccer is never an easy one, and Lamar Neagle will be the first person to say the same thing — from personal experience.
From juggling multiple jobs on top of playing with the Sounders just to make ends meet to snapping Real Salt Lake's two-year unbeaten run at home with an MLS Goal of the Week and currently starting for the Sounders, the Federal Way, Wash., native has been through the ringer to get where he is now.
The 24-year-old Neagle has effectively gone about turning his first full season in the Emerald City into a memorable one after starting duty was thrust upon him following injuries to Steve Zakuani and Alvaro Fernandez. Filling in for either player is a tall order in and of itself, but Neagle stepped up and answered the critics with his explosive work rate and link-up play on the outsides of midfield.
Following his third straight start against Toronto FC over last weekend, complacency could be seen as an potential problem for Neagle. However, with Fernandez coming back to fitness and Zakuani making fantastic progress in his own recovery, it will be a battle for him to hang on to his spot in the starting XI. Emerging from a fight has never been something that Neagle has had an issue with, though.
Since his beginning days with the Sounders, Neagle has had to fight for everything good coming his way, whether it be in Seattle; Charleston, S.C.; or Mariehamn, Finland.
Neagle started his long road at PDL side Des Moines Menace, but 24 appearances and six goals later, he found himself getting a call in 2009 from Sounders assistant coach Brian Schmetzer asking him to come out for a preseason trial with the club. Then a student at UNLV, Neagle jumped at the opportunity.
"[Schmetzer] called me and said, 'Look, if you want to come out, we'd like to have you out,'" Neagle said. "So I told all my teachers, 'I'm gone!' I came out and Sigi [Schmid] ended up liking me and told me to finish my semester and I'd get a trial."
While an ongoing trial at an upcoming MLS team would be enough to direct a player's full attention, Neagle just couldn't do it. In order to make ends meet, he had to work an internship with Wells Fargo and work part-time at a party planning service on top of trialing with the club.
"I'd come into training, work out and right after, I'd shoot back up to Seattle [for work]," Neagle said. "A couple of my friends were working for an event planning company, so I would just come and set up stuff. I'd move couches and things like that, just for the extra money on the side."
The typical summer day for the trialist was certainly not ordinary.
"I would come to training in the morning — probably in a suit — three days out of the work week and then head up to Seattle after practice," Neagle said. "I'd stay there for three or four hours, and then, if I felt like it, I could go into the event planning company and move stuff at like 7 p.m. or so. I could just call them up and start doing the work."
Neagle made an appearance during the preseason against the club's marquee match-up against Chelsea at Qwest Field, but it wasn't on the cards for the local product.
Despite doing everything he could to make it happen and an exhaustive summer, it didn't work out for Neagle that year as he was waived by Seattle in November.
As it could have to many, being waived felt a bit like defeat to Neagle.
"From the beginning, they told me it's kind of a long trial, and I knew I would be fighting for a position. It wasn't that bad. I knew as a young player in the MLS, it's kind of tough. You don't get a guaranteed contract. It was hard, and I kind of knew I was on the chopping block. But it was hard being kept on for so long and then released toward the end."
His mother, Bridget, echoed her son's sentiments on being waived.
"Everything that has set him back has motivated him," she said. "It's always been motivation to push harder and work harder to get to where he wants to be. He's never allowed it to be a let down. He turns it into a positive. He's always been like that."
From there, Neagle swapped coastlines and wound up at then-USL-2 side Charleston Battery. After a successful stint there (14 goals, one assist in 24 games), he ended up making the jump to Finland, settling in at Premier Division side IFK Mariehamn.
"It was a little difficult [to get adjusted] at first," Neagle said. "Trying to get into the swing of things with a new offense is always hard. Plus, there's the whole cultural thing. There wasn't so much of a language barrier, because everybody spoke English, except the head coach, which was weird."
The transition didn't phase him. Despite only playing there for a handful of games, Neagle netted twice and proved that he could make things happen on the field.
With him continuing his good run of form after his time in Charleston, the Sounders ended up calling the local product back for another trial.
"Right after I left Charleston, the Sounders picked up my rights, so if I came anywhere back in the U.S. trying to play MLS, it would be with Seattle," Neagle said. "But I still wasn't sure if I was going to be signing with the team.
"They just told me that they'd call me in December and I was like, 'Cool, I'll go home, and if they don't call me, I'll go in just for a preseason with Seattle.'"
But they did call, and Neagle eventually earned himself a spot on the team, signing on March 2, 2011.
Since then, Neagle has worked his way into the starting XI, scoring goals and looking sharp for a fan base that expects quite a bit from its players. But what can they expect from Neagle from here on out?
"Good things," his mother said. "On top of being such a positive person, he's a positive player. He'll do his whatever he can to play the very best game that he capable of. He'll do all the work that they want to see and come to see. He works very hard, that's just the kind of person he's been forever.
"As a mom, it's hard for me to see him doing so much, but it wouldn't be characteristic of him if he didn't."
It's been said for ages that hard work pays off in the end, and Neagle is evidence to the claim. Only for Neagle, this isn't the end, and Sounders fans can expect to see much more from the Federal Way native.
He seems to be an all around good guy and hard worker. Well-liked by his fans and teammates. Despite their set-backs, the Sounders are shining right now because of these hard working, spirited players like Alonso and Rosales.
I love the quote from his mom, “everything that has set him back has motivated him.” this quality, above all else, is the mark of a champion (having a great mom comes in close second). It seems like he’s still adjusting and finding his place on the team, but his goal a few weeks ago was incredible, and he’s got a good vision for making crosses and setting up plays. He’s a great asset to the team and has potential to be a star once he gets comfortable in his role. I’m excited to see more of him!
Thanks for the article.
I used to give him half-time, goal scoring pep talks when he played in Charleston. Kid lit it up. Down to earth guy.
Great Article about a home town guy making things happen. Thanks for this one Caleb.
I hooked up his cable. He’s a real nice guy.
Agreed 100%. I have been impressed with the articles he keeps putting out.
So much respect for these MLS players. NY Yankees, or heck even Man U players, they aren’t …
He’s had some really neat, tidy touches on the ball. I wish him luck.
Wow. Great article. I knew absolutely nothing about Neagle coming into this.
Caleb, you are quickly becoming my favorite writer on SBI. You consistently put out high quality pieces. Well done again.
Neagle is a great story. I hope he keeps developing technically. I beleive he has a future in league as a starter.