After a couple of solid seasons with D.C. United, Chris Pontius made his name known around the league in 2012. That year, the former first round draft pick scored 12 times in league play, making the All-Star team for the first time, and generally seemed to be on a course for an appearance with the US national team.
But with Pontius' production waning over the past three seasons due to injury, United made the move this offseason to ship Pontius off to the Philadelphia Union, while taking in Lamar Neagle from the Seattle Sounders.
Both players are the same age -- Neagle was born just five days before Pontius -- and Neagle's move to the nation's capital actually saves United a decent chunk of change on the salary cap. And just like Pontius, Neagle is capable of playing out wide on either side, or top, all of which he'll likely play with United in 2016. Neagle, who spent five seasons with the Sounders, saw time at all of those positions in Seattle. Neagle has spent more time in the midfield, but feels more comfortable up top as a striker.
"I can play on the left or the right. I've been doing that for a long time, but I enjoy playing up top," Neagle told B&RU on Wednesday. "It's more of a free role. Any defense is extra work. When you're an outside mid, you have to get back, in addition to getting forward as well. But as a forward, it's nice to be able to chase defenders down, and kick them for a change. "
While a healthy Pontius was a sure-fire starter with the Black-and-Red, Neagle had plenty of competition for a spot in his five seasons with the Sounders, especially towards the end of last year. With a partnership of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins up front, Neagle had to compete with the likes of Nelson Haedo Valdez, Marco Pappa, and Andreas Ivanschitz for playing time on the wings in 2015. Despite that, Neagle appeared in 31 MLS games last year, starting 23 times, and contributing 4 goals and 2 assists as the Sounders got knocked out of the playoffs at the Conference semifinals stage.
Pontius struggled with injuries in the three seasons since his breakout 2012. By contrast, Neagle has been solidly contributing in the Northwest, appearing in 109 games across all competitions, contributing 25 goals in the process. On the other hand, Pontius has played in just 67 games, scoring 8 times.
Neagle has a slightly different pre-season than the rest of his teammates, as he is ineligible to play in the CONCACAF Champions League for United, having already played in the group stages for the Sounders. So while the rest of the team has two weeks to ramp up for the first leg against Queretaro F.C., Neagle has two more weeks before he can play for United.
For Neagle, there are pros and cons to that situation.
"It would be nice to be on the same page. Whether I'm on the field or not, I think the whole team needs to be on the same page, and have the same mentality," Neagle told B&RU. "I have a longer time to ease my way into a new team, but then again, if someone is playing well, and I'm the one out, that's what it is."
And once he gets on the field, Neagle believes that he is the perfect fit for Ben Olsen's system.
"I think that was one of the reasons why I wanted to come to DC - because of the style of play. I know Ben asks a lot of his players, and whenever we played them, you could tell they were a hard working group, that they fight for each other," said Neagle. "That's what you ask for in a team, and especially, I think that is my style. I think that's why he brought me in, I'm one of those guys that's willing to that."
Making fans forget Pontius won't be an easy task. The longest serving player for United at the time of his trade to the Union, Pontius was a fan favorite, providing numerous great moments despite his struggles with injury. But if Neagle can continue the solid play that he showed he was capable of with the Sounders, Neagle might help United fans move on from "Party Boy" quickly.