TUKWILA, Wash. — By any metric, this has been a breakout year for Lamar Neagle.
The Seattle-area native has already scored more goals this year than he had in his previous three MLS seasons combined, will likely end up playing at least 1,000 more minutes than he ever has before and is poised to start a 16th straight match when the Seattle Sounders visit the Colorado Rapids on Saturday (10 pm ET; NBCSN).
But most of his best moments – all eight of his goals and all three of his assists, in fact – have come while he’s playing at forward. With the Sounders nearing full health Neagle is most likely to see more time as a left midfielder, where he’s started each of the past two games.
“I like playing up top more, getting more chances at scoring goals,” Neagle said. “But I’m really comfortable playing on the wing.
“I don’t think there’s really an adjustment. I’ve played there most of my life. I knew that it was going to happen. We have so many forwards.”
Prior to this season, most of Neagle’s MLS minutes had actually come in the midfield. His last stint with the Sounders in 2010 saw him score five goals while playing almost exclusively on the left. He scored two goals last year while moving from side to side with the Montreal Impact. So unfamiliarity is not the problem.
As comfortable as he may be, the numbers haven’t been there yet this year. Aside from goals and assists, Neagle has also averaged just 1.17 shots per game in his past six starts at left mid. By contrast, he’s averaging 4.17 shots per game in his last six starts at forward.
“Playing up top you have a lot of freedom and the defensive work that I do up top is more of a plus,” he said about the biggest differences between the two positions. “You have a lot more responsibilities when you play out wide, a lot of checking over your shoulder, like working with [left back Marc] Burch in the last game. You have to listen to him as much as possible.”
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Still, the Sounders seem committed to keeping Neagle on the field and have been reasonable with how he’s looked in the midfield.
“I think outside midfield is certainly a place he can play,” head coach Sigi Schmid said. “We starved him a little bit of the ball. In the first half we could have gotten him the ball a little bit more. I know he can score goals from that position as well. I know he’s only scored goals when he’s played up top, but I think he’ll score as we move forward.
“I just think we need to get him the ball a little bit more in opportune situations, open our game up a little wider on that side at times and I think he’ll be all right.”