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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Neagle, Fucito shipped off for former USMNT Johnson


Sadness would be the feeling that best describes Sounders fans today, as fan favorites Mike Fucito and Lamar Neagle were traded to the Montreal Impact for Eddie Johnson, a former US Mens National Team star whom has disappeared in Europe over the last five years.

Johnson will be called upon to play the same role that Nate Jaqua, Blaise Nkufo, and O'Brian White all filled over the last three years; as target forwards, they are expected to hold the ball up and create space for Montero's golden boot. And in that role, Johnson has excelled despite not scoring much himself  through his time in Fulham and other English and Greek clubs. If he can play this role and return to the torrid scoring pace he set his last go-around in MLS ( 15 goals, 24 matches, Wizards, 2007) then this trade will be an excellent one for Seattle.

But issues abound. Johnson hasn't scored a professional goal since 2010. He has been shipped around to several different clubs since signing with Fulham. Some rumors say that he is not a good clubhouse guy. He also allegedly showed up to his fitness examination at Puebla (his last club) horrendously out of shape (on the contrary, Sigi said he will be a factor in the Champions League series against Santos Laguna).

Not to mention what was given up for him. Mike Fucito was one thing; he developed something of a cult following after scoring a stoppage-time winner in 2010 and recreating Dawn of the Dead, but he frequently missed open shots and had seemingly hit his ceiling. But Lamar Neagle...

I had high hopes for the Federal Way kid (who was the only remaining Washingtonian on the roster). He had shown a unique gift for the long shot, something this Sounders squad lacks. He had two corner-of-the-box blasts (one against RSL to seal a win, and another against Columbus to cap off a hat trick) that demonstrated a real eye for the goal, especially from long range. He also had a killer instinct, Scoring the tie-r in Kansas City in 2011 and the first goal in Seattle's attempted playoff comeback. The stats guys don't believe in clutch, but if there is such a thing, Neagle was probably it.

Neither of these guys were projected as starters, since Fucito didn't fit the mold of Sigi's offense and Neagle was stuck behind Zakuani, Fernandez, Rosales, and possibly new signing Sivebeck. But that doesn't mean he couldn't have been part of this team's long-term plans. In a short period of time, Neagle became only second to Zakuani as my favorite player on the Sounders. I saw him as having Edson Buddle-type potential. Now, he gets to realize that potential in a city as far away in MLS as can possibly be. Where we'll only see him in Seattle once every two years.

But back to Johnson. There's a lot of people down on him, and for potentially good reasons. He will constantly be compared to what was traded for him until he far surpasses what Fucito and Neagle do. And he has every oppourtunity to do that in Sigi's system. The Sounder's offense has always performed at it's best when Montero is on form, and Montero is on form when he has a target man. He was great alongside Jaqua in year one, next to Nkufo in year two, and with White (between White taking the starting job and being diagnosed with blood clots) in year three. Having White or Nkufo last year probably would have resulted in a Seattle Supporters Shield. If Johnson can fill that role in 2012, Seattle will be the team to beat.

I have maintained faith in our front office. I believe that they know what they're doing. They've shown it time and time again with guys like Hurtado, Alonso, Rosales, Fernandez, and yes, even Neagle. He's only 27 years old. He might be that last piece.

No matter what happens, I'm going to miss Lamar Neagle. But I won't miss him as much if Johnson replaces him with an MLS Cup.

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