Lamar Neagle unquestionably had a breakout season last year in MLS after returning from a year spent languishing in the great white north. His transition from a versatile wide midfielder to a lethal threat in front of goal was a welcome addition to a Seattle Sounders team constantly plagued by offensive instability. The Federal Way native scored 8 goals and added an additional 4 assists, cementing his spot as a fan favorite among the Rave Green fans. It was a theme that carried over to the season ending rankings where on Friday it was revealed that Sounder at Heart had voted him the 6th most important player of the campaign. But was Lamar Neagle really as good as we remember?
That question clearly starts at the goals for any striker. Lamar Neagle scored 8 goals which was about 6 more than anyone probably expected coming into the season. The obvious caveat is that goals are hardly the model of predictability. Instead it behooves us to take a look at shots per game where Lamar Neagle actually ranked 31st in MLS. A ranking surrounded not by striking brethren from across the league but by Tim Cahill, Graham Zusi, and Will Johnson; all central midfielders who aid their teams by adding production and content in ways other than scoring goals or generating chances. Furthermore, Neagle at home averaged nearly 3 shots per game, while on the road averaged just above one. While home/road splits exist for other players in the league, such an extreme split is a significant reason to further question his goal-scoring ability going forward.
The next question comes from his assists: 4 assists in league play. The same caveat applies here that applied to goals in that key passes are better predictors of future performance. It's here where Neagle actually provided much of his value as he ranks 30th in MLS in key passes per 90. That was enough to see him tied for second on the Seattle Sounders (with Eddie Johnson). Considering that key passes are a statistic that compresses quite a bit, such that the difference between 1st and 14th in MLS is four times the difference between 14th and 30th, that placement is actually much more valuable given the context of the overall league. That same home/road split seen in Neagle's shots per game is present, but this time to a significantly smaller degree.
While both of these offensive performance indicators are better (only slightly though) than Obafemi Martins, the fact that the 28-year-old Nigerian was consistently hurt in some capacity for much of the season should be noted as an important and limiting factor in his performance.
The real questions start flying when one digs beyond those base level statistics for evaluating strikers. A 70% passing percentage that was the worst on the Sounders among all outfield players not named Dylan Remick, who was hardly a regular. That 70% passing percentage was actually worse at home than it was on the road. That fact in conjunction with being the best offensive tackler on the team by a country mile, along with averaging twice as many interceptions per game as the next highest striker (and four times more then Johnson or Martins) makes Neagle appear as a defensive wizard at the front of the park, yet simultaneously a liability in possession.
While some of the inconsistency is certainly due to the constantly re-configured strike partnerships in which the 26-year-old featured, with a full season of data the true reality of his play should have risen to the top. The reality is that Lamar Neagle is an enigma on the pitch. We rated Neagle as the sixth most important player on the Sounders and part of it is certainly due to the myopic effects of the 253 connection. Rooting for a player who frequented the same establishments that many of us did growing up carries with it a vicariousness. Just as his triumphs are magnified, so are his weaknesses glossed over. It's a bias we need to remember when we think about whether Lamar Neagle should really be a starter on this Seattle Sounders team given his performance last season.