SEATTLE — Lamar Neagle didn't get his first start until the Seattle Sounders' fifth game of the season. He's been on fire ever since.
Neagle's latest impressive performance may have been his best yet. The Federal Way native scored a goal, had an assist and drew a penalty to lead the Sounders to a 3-2 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps in front of 53,679 fans on Sunday. He now has four goals and three assists in his last eight appearances.
"He's playing well," Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said simply. "His running off the ball, his hold-up play tonight was pretty good, it was much, much better than it's been. The connection of passes as a result of that. He's just done really, really well. You can't ask a lot more of a forward than that."
Schmid was also quick to point that Neagle was a key component to the Sounders defense. Neagle was tasked with helping out on the Whitecaps' third central midfielder, Jun Marques Davidson, who was just 10-of-22 passing.
"I remember last year we played in Vancouver once where Davidson had all day and all night to spray the ball around," Schmid said. "And tonight he didn't have any impact on the game. That was Lamar's doing and something that most people probably didn't see."
What most observers couldn't miss was Neagle's offensive contributions. The forward got off to a fast start, feeding a perfect ball to Andy Rose on the Sounders' first goal.
"He’s been doing such a good job dropping into that hole right behind the front man, and his vision and first touch have been incredible," said Rose, whose only other MLS goal came about 10 months ago. "He turned and saw me running through, and when a forward drops off like that there is always a hole. The defender went with him and I was able to get through that hole, take a good first touch, and slot it."
Neagle continued to create chances throughout the match and was finally rewarded for his work when he drew a penalty that set up Servando Carrasco's equalizing goal.
In a rather fitting cap to his performance, Neagle scored the game-winner off an Obafemi Martins cross.
“I saw [Martins] one on one, so once he made his move toward the line to beat his guy I knew I had to get in front of my defender and it would be an easy pass right to the near post,” Neagle said.
The only problem at this point is figuring out where Neagle should play once the Sounders have a full complement of players. Martins and Eddie Johnson seem the natural choices at forward and it's hard to imagine wide midfielders Brad Evans or Mauro Rosales going to the bench, either.
Schmid couldn't say where, exactly, Neagle will play. But the coach did guarantee that his hottest attacker will be out there on the pitch one way or another.
"We'll see, we'll see," Schmid said. "He'll be on the field, I'll find a place for him on the field."