Carolina Challenge Cup
CAROLINA CHALLENGE CUP
Where: Blackbaud Stadium
Who: D.C. United vs. Houston Dynamo, 5 p.m.
Charleston Battery vs. Seattle Sounders, 7:15 p.m.
Lamar Neagle can't believe it's been four years since he played soccer in Charleston.
Time has passed quickly for the former Charleston Battery striker, who was named the USL Second Division MVP, won the Golden Boot award for leading the league in scoring, and helped the Battery win the USL-2 league title.
"Honestly, it seems like yesterday," Neagle said. "It's so nice to come back to Charleston and I've got nothing but fond memories of this place. I brag about this place all this time. It's funny to think about where I was four years ago and where I am today."
Today, the personable 26-year-old plays for the Seattle Sounders FC in the MLS.
It will be a homecoming of sorts for Neagle when the Sounders take on the Battery on Saturday night at Blackbaud Stadium in the opening round of the Carolina Challenge Cup at 7:15. The Houston Dynamo will face D.C. United in the first game at 5 p.m.
"I've definitely come a long way in the last four years," Neagle said Thursday after a 90-minute workout at the College of Charleston's soccer stadium.
"I don't think there were a lot of people back then that would have believed I would be in the position I am today, and it started for me in Charleston."
After sitting on the Sounders' bench for all but two friendly matches in 2009, Neagle arrived at a crossroads in his professional career in 2010. He could remain with the Sounders and hope to get playing time or swallow his pride and play for the Battery, which was two tiers down from the MLS.
"That wasn't an easy decision for me," Neagle said. "You look back at it now and it's the best decision I could have made, but back then coming to Charleston wasn't easy for me."
Neagle thrived with the Battery. Charleston coach Mike Anhaeuser paired Neagle with Tom Heinemann, who would go on to play three seasons in the MLS. Neagle led the league in scoring and led the Battery to the USL-2 title.
"I really found my game here and my confidence," Neagle said. "Coming here and playing here was crucial for my development."
The following season, he signed with the Sounders and played in 23 games, making nine starts and finishing the season with five goals.
Neagle thought he was set, but found out about the business side of the sport when the Sounders traded him to Montreal just weeks before the season opener.
"We didn't want to give up Lamar," Sounders coach Sigi Schmid. "But sometimes you have to give up a good player to get one in return."
He played in 23 games for Montreal, scoring two goals and adding two assists.
"I had just started to feel good about myself, about my game and then they trade me," Neagle said. "It was a blow to my pride, but I tried to make the most of it."
True to his word, Schmid wanted Neagle back and gave up an international spot on the Sounders roster to sign him again.
Neagle had a breakout season in 2013. He recorded career highs in every statistical category, including appearances (30), starts (27), minutes (2,409), goals (8) and assists (4). He was tied for the team lead with 20 points and became an integral part of the Sounders attack.
"Lamar isn't what you'd consider a fluid player, a smooth player, but he's extremely effective," Schmid said. "He's like a pinball where he's hitting all the bumpers, but somehow he comes out with the ball. He's always been a player that's goal dangerous. Lamar goes to areas of the field where other players don't want to go. He'll make that run, he'll get into that space and the ball seems to find his feet."
Neagle isn't sure how he'll feel walking onto the field at Blackbaud Stadium on Saturday night. He'll be in a different locker and sitting on the opposing team's bench.
"Different places have different feels, but Blackbaud Stadium and Charleston will always be the same for me," Neagle said. "It's Charleston, it's the same feeling, it's comfortable. It's like a second home to me. It's going to be nice to look around the stadium and see some of the fans, hopefully a lot of the same ones that were here in 2010."
Only defenders Colin Falvey and John Wilson remain from that 2010 Charleston team. Falvey and Neagle were roommates that summer and went to dinner Thursday night to catch up.
"You can't help but be happy for a guy like Lamar," Falvey said. "No one worked harder than he did to get to where he is right now. That's what I remember the most about him, his work ethic."
Falvey said it will be a little odd to play against his old roommate.
"He knows my tricks and I know his tricks," Falvey said with a chuckle. "I'm sure he's learned a few more since he's been in the MLS. If he's smart he'll stay on his side of the field and won't come near me."
Aug 25, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Sounders FC forward Lamar Neagle (27) crosses the ball while being defending by Portland Timbers defender Alvas Powell (23) during the 1st half at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports×
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