Over a nine-game stretch, from June 20 to Aug. 11, the Seattle Sounders looked to Lamar Neagle and Chad Barrett to shoulder more of the goal-scoring load.
Top strikers Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey were mostly unavailable, and it was time for the new pairing to step up. However, the Sounders went 1-8 over that stretch, going scoreless in six of those games. Neagle and Barrett contributed just one goal each — the same as right back Tyrone Mears.
Coach Sigi Schmid turned to the combination again Wednesday — Neagle at midfield and Barrett at forward alongside new designated player Nelson Valdez — and got considerably better results. Neagle scored two goals, both assisted by Barrett, and the Sounders rolled to a 3-0 win over Vancouver that clinched Group F in CONCACAF Champions League play.
“It’s a different situation because you’ve got Valdez between them,” Schmid said. “He had a goal and two assists, so it allows Neagle to play a more comfortable role of coming up the flank. Obviously he finished his goals really, really well. It’s just easier. You have more veteran guys. You had (Erik) Friberg on the field as well with Barrett. Even though Leo (Gonzalez) hadn’t played in a long time, you had an experienced back four with a lot of games under their belts in this league. That just makes it easier to play.”
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Barrett had said something similar immediately after the match.
“It’s nice we were able to field such a good team,” he said. “If you look, it’s a lot of the starters from last year. … It was good to have so many healthy guys, because this was important.”
Neagle admitted it felt good to get back onto the scoresheet, especially contributing to a win.
“After having nine goals last year and not having nine goals this year yet, it’s nice to get two in a game — especially a game as important as this one,” he said. “And especially after we went up there (in a 3-0 MLS win Saturday) and I wasn’t able to go up to Vancouver, and we were able to score three goals against them. It was nice to be able to do the same thing at home.”
Schmid said Neagle’s reduced role over the last month may have helped him in a variety of ways.
“He’s played too many minutes,” Schmid said. “(Time off allowed) his legs to be a little bit fresher. I think also his mentality becomes fresher — you also wear down psychologically. Sometimes the bench is also a good motivator.”
In this MLS regular season, Neagle has four goals and two assists in 29 games, while Barrett has four goals and no assists in 15 appearances. Last season Neagle had nine MLS goals and Barrett seven.
“It’s a 10-month season and you going to go through your dry spells and your good spells,” Barrett said. “You can’t get on that roller coaster. You just have to know it’s going to come back around. Now is a good time to be playing really well.”
The Sounders went through light training Thursday. On Friday, they will fly to Kansas City, Kansas, for the Sunday match with Sporting Kansas City. … Midfielder Osvaldo Alonso participated fully after coming off the pitch with an apparent leg injury in the match at Vancouver. … The Sounders 2 USL team will meet the Colorado Springs Switchbacks in a Western Conference quarterfinal match at 6 p.m. Friday in Colorado. S2 went 1-0-1 against the Switchbacks during the regular season. The game will be streamed on SoundersFC.com.
SUNDAY: Seattle at Kansas City, 2 p.m., ESPN, 97.3-FM