Lamar Neagle has been your pretty standard soccer nomad since graduating from Tacoma's Thomas Jefferson High School in 2005. Almost every year, he's been playing in a new city, doing it for substandard wages and often times while working a secondary job. But if you're looking for a story of hardship and woe, he's probably the wrong person to talk to.
The 23-year-old Seattle Sounders trialist actually takes a pretty positive view of his soccer career up until now. As he sees it, most of the experiences have been positive ones. That's especially true for the 2010 season he spent with the Charleston Battery.
"The facilities were the best in USL," Neagle said of Blackbaud Stadium, widely considered the gem of minor league soccer. "The fans are great. We’d go on the road and have more fans than the home teams. It was good situation to come into.
"They had great fans, great facilities, I played well, we won the championship. I had my own room in an apartment (even claiming the master bedroom). It was all good."
Making him feel even more at home was having family nearby and his own car. Of course, playing as well as he did helped as well. Neagle won the league MVP after leading the league in goals (12 goals in 19 matches, plus two more in the playoffs), and the Battery won the USL-2 championship. That led to him being signed by IFK Mariehamn of the Finnish first division where he scored two goals in five league matches.
"Last year was a great stepping stone for me," said Neagle, who actually made the Sounders in 2009, but didn't didn't play in a competitive match. "When I came into MLS I was kind of lost. I couldn’t really define myself as a player. In college I was pretty good as an outside mide, but when I came here I didn’t really know where I fit on this team.
"Going back and just getting games is big for a young player, especially on a big roster like you have in MLS. There was no reserve league when I was here, I didn’t play a game for like six months. Then I’d play like one game. But (last year) I was playing every week, and doing well, that was big too. We had a really good season."
In many ways, it was significantly better than the year he spent on a MLS roster. That year, he was getting paid about $20,000, working a second job, living with his parents, eating like a college student and rarely playing outside of practice.
The growth Neagle experienced in his year in the minors is a major reason why he finds himself in Sounders training camp for a third straight off-season. Despite making the team straight out of college, he only made one MLS gameday roster and appeared just once with the senior team, in the friendly against Chelsea. Last year, he traveled with the team to Europe before being one of the final cuts.
Neagle is still facing an uphill battle to make the team's final roster, especially now that it looks like the Sounders may only keep 28 players, but this year seems to be the closest he's come to being considered a potential contributor. Coaches have consistently given him high marks for his play, especially as a forward. Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer identified Neagle's speed, footwork, work ethic and versatility as things the team likes about him.
"It is a tough process," said Hanauer, who has until March 1 to finalize the roster. "We try to make it the least painful and hurtful as possible. But given we are in professional sports and some make it and some don’t, we try to find a soft landing for players like Lamar. Charleston was that place for Lamar. Now he gets another crack at a MLS roster."