There was a nice little discussion started this week when Aaron called Lamar Neagle a poacher on the latest episode of Nos Audietis. I agreed with Aaron. It was not meant as a slight to Neagle, at all, but there's an understandable negative connotation to the word. This, as well as a longer discussion I had with a friend, highlighted a need to make some effort at explaining what we meant when we said it.
After talking to friends and colleagues in the soccer media world, there seems to be quite a bit of agreement as to what the term means. Essentially, it's a player who scores goals through a combination of good positioning and opportunism. If we were to draw a spectrum of goal scorers, poachers would be on one end and creators would be on the other. Creators would be players who generally scored from longer distances or by breaking down opponents.
To be more fair, though, it's probably easier to qualify goals on this spectrum than it is to label a player this way. With that in mind, I felt like it might be a good exercise to look at each of Neagle's seven goals and grade them on a scale of poacher-to-creator. In order to limit the negative connotation, I'm going to give a perfect score of 10 to a purely "poached" goal (one that comes off a rebound, for instance) and a perfect score of 1 to a purely created goal (an unassisted strike from 30 yards out, as an example).
Goal 1: May 11 vs. Earthquakes
Poacher's score: 7. The strike itself requires quite a bit of work, but this was all about being in the right place at the right time.
Goal 2: May 11 vs Earthquakes
Poacher's score: 2. This is basically all Neagle. He gets the ball near the penalty area, which keeps it from being a perfect 1, but he does all the work. Really a remarkable goal.
Goal 3: May 18 vs. FC Dallas
Poacher's score: 6. This is pretty much in the middle, erring just a hair on the side of being a poacher's goal because he was having to cheat forward a little bit.
Goal 4: June 8 vs. Vancouver
Poacher's score: 8. Another good finish, but this was more about positioning than anything else. How he gets that deep without really being marked is pretty impressive.
Goal 5: July 28 vs. Chivas USA
Poacher's score: 7. Very similar to his first goal against the Earthquakes in that it was mainly about positioning, but he had to strike it from a tough angle.
Goal 6: Sept. 4 vs. Chivas USA
Poacher's score: 8. It takes some serious skill to finish this one, but this is a classic case of a poor defensive play and good positioning combining for a great outcome.
Goal 7: Sept. 7 vs. Chicago
Poacher's score: 8. Quality finish and great positioning, but he's also taking advantage of a scramble.
Total average: 6.6. That feels about right. He's not a pure poacher by any stretch, but he's also not a guy who's creating goals out of nothing. This would actually be an interesting exercise to do for a lot of players. Every team needs guys like Neagle, it should be said, and the reality is that more goals may, in fact, come from poachers than from creators.