In his first season with D.C. United, Lamar Neagle went from starting 18 games in a row to sitting on the bench with the arrival of two major mid-summer transfers.
When forward Patrick Mullins and midfielder Lloyd Sam arrived, Neagle’s role on the wing shifted from starter to super sub. Despite the shift in position, Neagle ended 2016 as United’s leading scorer.
“It is different,” Neagle said. “During the week, I am conscious of going 90 minutes on the weekends. On weeks when I’m not doing that I am thinking maybe 15 or 20 minutes, so I go a lot harder.”
With the recent string of injuries to United’s roster, Neagle has once again found himself contributing to the starting lineup. He has started the past two games.
“I don’t know how long I am going to be in the starting lineup,” Neagle said. “It’s a long season, we will see a lot of injuries.”
In addition to being ready during training, game day mentality is something that Neagle has had to change from game to game.
“Your mentality is different,” Neagle said. “As a sub you have to react to how the game is going already … During the game, as a starter, you have to mentally already know what your role is and you want to more force your will on the game.”
Neagle hasn’t been the only player to step up for United during the early stretch of injuries. While Neagle is playing on the wing in place of Patrick Nyarko (hamstring), MLS veteran Sebastian Le Toux has taken up the role of striker in United’s 4-1-4-1 formation. Le Toux stepped up in place of the typical number nine Mullins, who has been out since late March with a hamstring injury.
Mullins has finally returned to the game day roster, but he may be a couple games away from the starting lineup, coach Ben Olsen said. Fortunately for United, Le Toux has stepped up and produced. He has scored in the last two games for United.
“Le Toux is very different from Mullins,” Neagle said. “Le Toux runs more whereas Mullins plays more of the traditional number nine, staying up top. Le Toux plays a little more like how I would play if I was up top there. I understand the runs he makes. He understands what I do when I’m up there. That’s why we switch so often. It’s easy.”
The chatter around the locker room is that Le Toux and Sam add big personalities to the United locker room. Switching lineups means more than adjustments on the field, it also means adjusting to a new group of personalities blending together.
“Le Toux and Sam do have big personalities and I think that is one of the fun things about this team,” Neagle said. “We, as a group, get along very well. All of the guys have little things that do they do together. It isn’t just like four guys that stick together.”
Around the MLS, there are several teams with Designated Players — players whose salaries do not go against the team’s salary cap. Guys such as Andrea Pirlo at NYCFC have multimillion-dollar contract alongside teammates that make as little as less than a quarter million dollars. United doesn’t have that problem.
“It’s us that have to stand up, rather than if you get a guy that is making $8 million, $10 million and thinking that that guy needs to step up,” Neagle said. “ You think, ‘I am making peanuts compared to this guy, he needs to score.’”
The lack of big-ticket players in the United locker room actually helps the team during stretches like the recent injury rut because it is up to each and every player to step up.
“I think there is a little bit more camaraderie just from the outside looking in,” Neagle said. “It’s just us. We don’t have a savior coming in. I think that is one reason that the entire group has a good relationship.”
This relationship makes a big difference, especially during losing and injury stretches.
“If you go on a losing streak then guys start pointing fingers,” Neagle said. “I think that we have always done a really good job of pulling each other up.”
After three road games, the team collected four points. Despite being disappointed in the draw result in New England, Neagle said he was happy United picked up a win in Atlanta. United will play at home in their next three matches, but they aren’t ready to relax and take their foot off the gas.
“We really want to perform at home now,” Neagle said. “This is a huge building block where we can actually put some wins together in a row.”
United will start the home-stretch against Montreal Impact on Saturday, May 6 at RFK Stadium at 6 p.m.
“It’s not so much a sigh of relief [to be home] as it is ‘alright let’s get after these guys,’” Neagle said.
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