TUKWILA, Wash. – When the Seattle Sounders take the field on Saturday in their first of three matches at the Carolina Challenge Cup, it will carry a little added significance for Lamar Neagle.
It was four years ago that Neagle’s professional soccer career was in desperate need of a boost. He had just been cut by the Sounders – after making the team as an undrafted rookie the year before – and the Charleston Battery offered him a second chance of sorts, even if it was in the third division.
“That was a tough time for me,” Neagle told reporters at training this week. “As a player, when you’re playing in the top league and you have to go down two leagues, it was very tough.”
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The blow to his ego aside, Neagle made the most of the opportunity, scoring a league-best 12 goals, earning USL Second Division MVP honors and leading the Battery to the 2010 league championship. Since that confidence-building season and after several months playing in Finland, Neagle has blossomed into a solid MLS contributor, accumulating 15 goals and eights assists over the past three seasons (eight goals, four assists last year) and establishing himself as one of the Sounders’ top offensive players.
“He made that step, it was his initiative and he succeeded,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said of Neagle’s time in Charleston. “He played well there and from there continued to move on. Lamar’s progress shows that maybe if you’re not one of the top 50 coming out of college in people’s minds, there’s still opportunities for you if you work hard, if you fall into a good situation, play for the right coach like Mike Anhaeuser and continue to develop.”
For Neagle, ending up in Charleston was especially fortunate. The Battery’s facilities and organizational structure are exemplary by lower-division standards, and the Battery also have had a good working relationship with the Sounders, sending Osvaldo Alonso to Seattle prior to the 2009 season and hosting current Sounder Alex Caskey for a season.
“It was good for me – also getting away from home and getting that experience,” Neagle said. “Just being in a completely foreign place, [with] nobody that I knew, I think it was a great experience for me. Playing anywhere else in the USL-2 might have been a bit more discouraging. If we hadn’t had a successful season or [were] playing on high school turf, it would have been pretty devastating.”
Returning to his old stomping ground as an established MLS player, Neagle is hopeful his experience can help some of his younger teammates who may find themselves in similar situations.
“It was definitely a challenge kind of proving to myself that I could play in a league like MLS with some of the top players,” Neagle said. “It was definitely a proving ground to me and something I tell the younger guys coming in: You may not see the spotlight right away like a DeAndre Yedlin; you may have to go down and get games and get your confidence up.”