For lower-paid Sounders FC players, soccer is a labor of love but it doesn't pay all the bills.
Lamar Neagle is a lot like his peers. Fresh out of college, 22 years old, trying to make his way in the real world. Working, but having to juggle different jobs to pay the bills.
But one thing makes him stand out: his job with Sounders FC.
If Neagle played another major sport, he almost certainly wouldn’t need his paid internship at Wells Fargo in Seattle, where he works after team practices three or four times a week. He wouldn’t have to earn extra money on weekends with a moving company, setting up for private functions for $15 an hour.
But Neagle wears the Rave Green of Sounders FC, and as a young player on the developmental squad, he earns a little over $20,000 annually.
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That’s the life of most Major League Soccer players, a far cry from the millions many players make in the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball.
And not just young guys have to find second jobs. Veterans often turn to coaching or training local club teams or appearance money to supplement an income that can be as low as $40,000 per season.
For Neagle and Evan Brown, a rookie Sounders FC defender also on the developmental squad, the spartan college life they left behind only a few months ago has followed them to the MLS. Neagle lives with his parents in Federal Way to save money, and Brown shares a house with teammates Taylor Graham and Roger Levesque and eats “as much spaghetti as you can.”
“I’m living at home, so it’s not as bad,” Neagle said. “I think my dad got used to not cooking as much so it’s still kind of that college thing where I have to come home and eat what’s in the fridge.”
Brown earns extra money from coaching once or twice a week and has invested in the stock market. He’s trying to save every penny he can.
“Conserve, conserve, conserve,” Brown said. “It’s not bad. I’ve kind of become self-sufficient.”
There’s means to an end for Neagle. He’s trying to complete the credits needed for his degree from UNLV.
“You can’t play forever,” Neagle said. “Kids are getting younger and younger, coming in [to the pros] at 16 and 17. We’re already 22, so we’ve got to kind of prepare for the future and get those contacts and everything.”
For Brown, soccer is just icing on the cake after getting his degree from Wake Forest.
“Just do this, have a great time doing it, and go in the real world and get a 9 to 5,” Brown said.
Somehow, the two make ends meet. The team is fine with players supplementing their incomes, so long as soccer and staying fit and practice come first. Some Sounders FC players, like designated player Freddie Ljungberg, goalkeeper Kasey Keller and the seven others making six figures, don’t need to coach or have other jobs. For others, like veteran Zach Scott, making a living is a team effort at home.
Don’t tell Scott he’s in it for money. The 29-year-old defender toiled for seven seasons in the USL First Division for the former Sounders. Now he makes $40,000 in MLS.
Scott and his wife, Alana, have two kids.
“Fortunately my wife works. She’s a structural engineer and she’s able to actually work from home,” Scott said. “We made sure that the house we moved into was big enough so that she would have her own office that was kind of her space.”
The Scotts have a routine. Zach leaves in the morning for Sounders FC practice while Alana stays at home with the kids. Scott gets home as soon after practice as he can, so that Alana can go to work. Everyone is back together for dinner.
“It’s worked out fantastic, actually,” Scott said. “The kids get to spend time with both of us, and that’s really all we could ask for.”
Until this season, Scott had been coaching and working as an accountant in one of Sounders FC owner Adrian Hanauer’s companies.
“If my wife wasn’t working, there’s absolutely no way we’d be able to do this,” Scott added. “Given the fact that we’re able to make ends meet and I’m able to continue playing soccer, we’re going to do it as long as we possibly can.”
The money situation will be a topic of discussion at league collective-bargaining agreement meetings after this season. Commissioner Don Garber said the salary for developmental players was negotiated with the MLS Players Union.
“For those players, it’s a chance to see if they can make it as a professional player,” Garber said. “If they do succeed they have the opportunity to make more money. If they don’t succeed, the expectation is they find another career.”
But while Sounders FC veteran Peter Vagenas believes the salaries aren’t where they need to be, he recalls how difficult it was 10 years ago.
“I think it’s headed in the right direction, and we have a chance to get together with owners at the end of this year and hopefully close the gap between our sport and the rest of them,” he said.
“If you’re in this to make money, you’re not really going to last in this sport. The money’s there. You sort of have to pay your dues and at one point, most of us were there.”
José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or firstname.lastname@example.org