SEATTLE — The training ground has never been where Lamar Neagle has shined.
That might help explain why he was once cut by the Seattle Sounders and failed to get an increase in playing time when he was with the Montreal Impact last season.
“[Practice] is where you have to earn your chances,” Neagle told reporters following Seattle's 4-0 win over San Jose on Saturday. “If I'm not performing in practice, then my chances are going to be slim when it comes to games. Luckily, when I've gotten games, I've done well so my chances keep coming. I have to improve on my practice play and I'll be a stickler in the team.”
With more performances like he had on Saturday, Neagle’s training-ground struggles may not be as big of an issue. The Sounders forward banged in two goals, and probably could have scored a couple more in the big win over the Earthquakes.
“He’s finding his confidence,” said Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid. “He’s always been — I’ve said it before — he’s one of those guys that’s a gamer. Sometimes at practice, you sort of scratch your head and you say, ‘What’s going on?’ But then once he gets the opportunity in the games and he performs well, it’s his game performances that’ll keep getting him on the field.”
Although Neagle has previously shown flashes of his potential — most notably a hat trick he scored in 2011 — he’s struggled to find consistent playing time. Up until his start against San Jose, Neagle had never been given starts in four consecutive games in which he was eligible for selection and as recently as this season, he wasn’t even named to the Sounders’ game day 18 in four of their first five matches.
Neagle’s goal against Santos Laguna in the CONCACAF Champions League was the turning point. Since replacing Eddie Johnson in the 61st minute, he has started every match in which he’s been eligible and created numerous scoring opportunities in each. The only game he didn’t start was when he was suspended for last Wednesday's match against Sporting Kansas City.
“Whenever that happens, you feel like you've let your teammates down a little bit and left them out to dry,” Neagle said. “So, coming back I had a lot of adrenaline and wanted to prove I belonged there.”
Neagle’s improved play has coincided with a move to forward, a position he had rarely played since leading the USL Second Division in scoring while he was with the Charleston Battery in 2010. Now that Obafemi Martins is apparently healthy, he will likely have to maintain this level of play from the midfield if he’s to continue seeing significant playing time.
“Having these guys on the field is just going to be better for the team,” Neagle said. “These guys are experienced and are veterans. Whatever I can do to help the team, I'm there.”