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U.S. Men's National Team

'Exceptional' Nagbe continues to thrive in playmaking role

Darlington Nagbe has been told by his manager and teammates to be more selfish moving forward for the U.S. Men’s National Team. The Portland Timbers man carries exquisite skill at his feet and it shows with every minute he plays for the red, white and blue.

Although Christian Pulisic received all the publicity for scoring the opener against Trinidad and Tobago on Thursday night, it was Nagbe who set up the opening tally with a terrific run through midfield before dumping the ball off to DeAndre Yedlin, who then fed Pulisic in front of goal.

“The (forwards) just did a good job checking in there and holding the ball and when they receive it, try to spread to us out wide and DeAndre did a great job getting around me and supporting me and like you saw on the goal, he got the assist,” Nagbe said. 

The goal featured a shoulder shake that flummoxed a defender at midfield to create space for Nagbe to run in. That move doesn’t come out often, but it comes from a read on the defender.

“I had him one on one with a lot of space,” Nagbe said. “I took the chance and I got past him. It’s more of a reaction kind of thing and to see how the defender is playing me. If he gives it to me, then I’ll try and take it.” 

One would think some type of alteration in style of play would be needed to be more of a selfish playmaker like the USMNT wants Nagbe to be, but the midfielder doesn’t think it’s that big of a difference.

“I don’t think it’s a big change, but I would say it’s more of a personality kind of thing,” Nagbe said. “I’m looking to help the player next to me. There are moments that I definitely need to be more selfish and I’m aware of that.” 

“I think (Nagbe) is an exceptional player,” USMNT boss Bruce Arena said. “I tell him all the time that he has to be a little more selfish and you saw tonight when the opportunities were there, he’s exceptional. Part of our plan was to give him opportunities one on one and I think he’s a very talented kid. He’s just beginning to get experience at this level.”

Nagbe also appreciates what Arena has brought to the American side, as the experience manager has simply let his creative players work their magic throughout the field.

“He makes sure we’re organized and in the attack puts us in the right position and lets us do our thing,” Nagbe said.

Even though he may have a starting spot locked up at the moment, Nagbe admits there’s always room to get better, especially as the 23-man squad continues to get more talented.

“The thing for me is I have to continue to play like this,” Nagbe said. “There’s a lot of good players here on the bench as well and they’ll get the opportunity to play so hopefully I can keep doing well with my chances.” 

8 comments
  • Mat

    I like Nagbe – he provides a good outlet when we need to keep our foot on the ball and calm things down or when we need a bit of creativity. Also, unlike Bradley, I don’t get nervous about a turnover every time he passes the ball. Nagbe is nothing incredible, but represents skills we rarely have had consistently on the US team.

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  • Twomilerule

    Everyone wants goals and assists aren’t too bad as well. The box to box flipping of the field always helps a team that struggles for possession on the international level. However, one thing rarely noticed and a huge compliment to Nagbe’s game is his awareness to keep shape and balance. A number of times last night Yedlin was caught way up field and Nagbe tracked back to defend at RB. Also, eight duels won is pretty slick

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  • Lost in Space

    By no means is Nagbe a finished product, but he does bring something that the US teams have rarely had. He is a player who can hold onto the ball in tight spaces…can exploit space at speed, and circulates the ball. As the chemistry with the rest of the team improves he’ll become more of a threat in the attacking 3rd.
    Truly believe that this team is moving in the right direction and with a few more games together they could be something special. We’ve got a good starting XI, and the depth is coming along. They may not be to the caliber of the big boys (Germany, Argentina, Brazil, etc….), but in the right conditions they’ve got enough to worry any of the 2nd tier sides.

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  • johnnyrazor

    Nagbe has to be more consistent. Everyone likes him because he does the flashy box to box runs, but often he ends up dribbling right into the waiting backline and loses the ball. Those runs usually end in a foul in MLS, but do not in International play because the defenders are better tacklers.

    I don’t really see a better alternative at this time if CP is going to play the centrally, so I think we just give Nagbe time to learn as he is a better alternative to the guys who would play the AM with Pulisic on the wing. He will be 27 in July so not a long term solution at this position, which also makes a move to Europe less likely as well because teams aren’t going to pay a lot for him and MLS/Portland seem uninterested unless the offer is high.

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    • Twomilerule

      “More consistent…and loses the ball?” Nagbe is always in the high 80% in passing and on the international level in 90%. Good players compliment each other and often make good players great.
      If Nagbe had citizenship as a kid he would have been in Europe long ago! Being a refugee and seeking stability with a green card or passport is a quality of life statement

      On a side note the level of play for the national team will start to exceed expectations when the players start to excel at the club levels. Winning championships and competing for top league honors go a long way in a winning mentality. You can see Pulisic is a winner and expects to win and will not settle for losing.

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      • Johnnyrazor

        One of the reasons his passing is so high is he over dribbles and gets the ball tackled away. Look at his stats coming into this season he averaged 4 goals and 4 assists per season in MLS starting almost all of those games.

        I’m not sure what your point was about his citizenship. I think he wanted to go to Celtic but MLS over valued his worth at age 26.

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      • Twomilerule

        My point about citizenship was Nagbe I believe was on a refugee visa until receiving his citizenship recently. He could not leave the country he was trying to become a citizen in. No USMNT minutes no ability to work in Europe and a US passport helps
        I am not sure where you get he over dribbles? Nagbe has an extremely high passing percentage and high duels won. Not to mention always one of them highest number of fouls committed on him. His detractors wish he would carry the ball further into the offensive third and most of all into the 18 yard box. Too often Nagbe carries the ball Barry Sanders style past midfield and seeks out a pass.

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  • Jonathan Gilbert

    This was his best game for the USMNT. I liked his willingness to give the ball up and keep moving to get it back. Way too many times this team passes the ball and watches where it goes next, Nagbe certainly pushed the tempo. He also is willing to get back and work on the defensive end. I think he still needs to learn to trust the other guys and give the ball up quicker when dribbling, and see the runs and make the pass quicker, but if he can start to gel he will be a nice bridge to the next generation of players.

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