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Lamar Neagle finds scoring touch for Sounders

SEATTLE – When Sounders FC’s Lamar Neagle played at forward last season, he starred – collecting eight goals and four assists. The 20 points were tied for the team lead with more heralded teammates Obafemi Martins and Eddie Johnson.

When Neagle played as a wide midfielder last season, the production vanished. No goals. No assists.

“I was just kind of in the zone when I was playing up top,” he said of the disparity. “I was really comfortable.”

Fortunately for Seattle, the scoring touch has followed Neagle around the field this year. He has goals in back-to-back weeks and three assists, all as a wide midfielder, heading into tonight’s home game against the Philadelphia Union.

With forwards Martins and Clint Dempsey dazzling in the Sounders’ MLS-leading attack, Neagle is looking the part of a steady third option.

“It’s just a matter of Lamar understanding the position a little bit better,” said coach Sigi Schmid, who noted Neagle has improved the timing of his runs. “It was tough for him last year because he played so many games up front, and then when the adjustment came in playing wide, it felt like a different animal to him.”

Seattle, over the years, has often featured leading men at forward – guys like Fredy Montero and Johnson – while also boasting a scoring threat out wide. Steve Zakuani was the main attacking midfielder in the franchise’s first two years (10 goals in 2010), a role assumed the next couple of seasons primarily by designated player Alvaro Fernandez (nine goals in 2011).

Neagle added five goals as a midfielder in 2011, and that history gave him and the team confidence his form would return despite last year’s drought out wide. The 26-year-old noted this season he has been given more freedom to push forward in the position and that he’s also benefiting from the defensive attention paid to his high-profile teammates.

“Whenever playing with Oba and Clint, all I have to do is just stand by the back post and I’m going to get six or seven (goals) a season just by doing that,” Neagle said with a laugh.

Teammates know there is more to his success than that.

“He has a good engine on him and he’s in the right moments at the right times,” said Dempsey, also praising Neagle’s quickness and commitment to defend. “It’s good that we have that type of quality on our team.”

The Sounders recognized that quality over the offseason, giving Neagle a raise to $110,000 that more than doubled his salary.

“You want to make sure you earn it,” said Neagle, whose efforts are often rewarded with a chant of “2-5-3!” from fans, an ode to his area code.