Despite losing in the quarterfinal of the US Open Cup to bitter rival Seattle Sounders FC, Darlington Nagbe showed flashes of the talent that makes him one of the most dynamic players currently in MLS along with the potential to be a key contributor for the United States national team.
One thing stands in the way of Nagbe getting his feet wet in the international game right now, and that is the fact that he still has yet to become a United States citizen, and won’t until 2015.
Nagbe was born in Liberia, but moved here just five months later. His father, Joe, currently is employed as a coach in the Liberian youth national ranks. However, even though Nagbe has yet to come out and say for sure that he will elect to play for the country in which he currently plays his club soccer, it has become more and more clear that he feels more like an American and relates to them more than Liberians.
Perhaps Caleb Porter, Nagbe’s college coach at Akron and now with the Portland Timbers, who also coached the U.S. U-23 side in the last Olympic qualifiers, will be enough of an influence alone for the up-and-coming superstar to put on the stars and stripes in the future.
With all of the citizenship issues aside, it is easy to see why Nagbe is so coveted by Porter. His unique combination of unbelievable pace, technical ability, playmaking, and finish make him a prospect that most countries would love to have waiting in the wings. Although he struggled a bit earlier on in his career in the No.10 role as a true creator and distributor under former head coach John Spencer, Nagbe has flourished as an outside attacker. His dynamic ability in 1v1 situations as well as his unmatched speed wreaks havoc on opposing defenses, and isolating him in wide areas has done wonders for the 23-year old.
When current USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann was hired, he set out to change the style of play that the Americans had stuck with for so many years. Tournament after tournament, our national teams sat back and absorbed all the pressure that they could take while looking to counter attack periodically. Regardless of whether Bruce Arena, Bob Bradley, or anyone else was in charge of the team, they lived by the “bend but don’t break” principle.
In recent years, the United States had made some strides, in large part to American soccer legends such as Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Tim Howard, but they still failed to impose a style of play on their opponents, regardless of their caliber.
Jurgen made changing the style of play his No.1 goal, and while during this World Cup, it was similar to years past, you could see some changes for the future coming by the personnel he elected to take to Brazil. For instance, Julian Green, DeAndre Yedlin, and John Brooks were three youngsters in particular that received very little recognition from the fan base prior to their contributions during the United States’ run through the “Group of Death”.
It was still clear that even though this personnel may not have had the quality on the ball that Klinsmann would like, he was striving for a more attractive brand of soccer moving forward.
With that said, Darlington Nagbe fits exactly the type of team Klinsmann has in mind. Whether it be his speed, skill, finishing ability, or pure athleticism, the Timbers’ star has shown enough throughout the early stages of his development to expect great things from him on the international level.
If you haven’t been sold yet, just look back to his goal in 2011 that took home MLS Goal of the Year. It is by far one of the best individual plays that I have ever seen in MLS, or the world for that matter.
In Portland’s loss to Seattle in the US Open Cup, Nagbe was featured as a substitute, and drew rave reviews after scoring another absolutely superb goal in the final seconds of regulation to equalize after his team fell behind 1-0 in the second half. After some nifty footwork got him into a dangerous area, he was able to combine with Steve Zakuani at the top of the box before putting it low in the far corner, the only spot where Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei could not get to.
Just in case you missed it, here is a glimpse at the Twitter world following Nagbe’s goal.
So Darlington Nagbe will be called up to the US national team in September right?
— Cristian Nyari (@Cnyari) July 10, 2014
Nagbe’s goal? Sensational. #mls
— Inside MLS (@InsideMLS) July 10, 2014
TIMBERS AT THE DEATH. NAGBE WITH HIS FIRST GOAL OF THE 2014 CAMPAIGN. US OPEN CUP MAGIC.
— MLS Multiplex (@MLSMultiplex) July 10, 2014
I think the only thing that could get me to turn on Klinsmann is if he doesn’t call up Nagbe when he’s eligible.
— Üsry (@RobUsry) July 10, 2014
Can you get us Nagbe, @J_Klinsmann?
— Swanny (@SwannyArsenalFC) July 10, 2014
As you can see, others are out there just hoping that Nagbe is a part of the final 23-man roster in 2018, and rightfully so. His ability with the ball at his feet is good enough to drop some jaws, but add that to his explosive athleticism and uncanny ability to never seem off-balance, and you have a special talent.
Darlington Nagbe at 23 years old is far from the finished product, and he is still learning to be more assertive and dangerous as he develops under Caleb Porter’s eye, but he has shown us just a glimpse of the type of player that he will turn out to be, Portland may have themselves one of the best players that this country has trotted out onto the field.