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MLS Spotlight: Nagbe developing a flair for the spectacular

DarlingtonNagbe (Getty)


Darlington Nagbe may only have five MLS goals to his name, but he has sure made the most of them.

Last year, the Portland Timbers midfielder-forward saw his first career strike — a spectacular juggle-and-volley effort against Sporting Kansas City — claim league Goal of the Year honors. And this season, during a 3-2 loss to Real Salt Lake on March 31, the 21-year-old notched about as stunning a brace as one will see, using a deft touch and driven shot to score the first goal before setting himself up for a wicked volley on the second.

As Jeld-Wen Field erupted, Timbers TV analyst Robbie Earle may have put it best: "MLS has found a new star."

"It doesn't surprise me at all," said D.C. United midfielder Perry Kitchen, Nagbe's teammate at the University of Akron. "He would do that in college all the time in practice, hit upper-90 shots and just walk off like it was no big deal."

After hernia surgery slowed the start to his rookie campaign, Nagbe went on to record two goals and three assists in 28 appearances (21 starts) in 2011. But in six matches this season, Nagbe has already netted three tallies to surpass that goal total.

While he only went the full 90 minutes once all of last season, Nagbe has gone the distance in Portland's past four games, playing on the flank or as a withdrawn forward for coach John Spencer.

In handling his increased success and the attention that has come with it, Nagbe said, "I just try to be modest."

Adding fuel to Nagbe's fire has been his deep desire to experience the playoffs after Portland was eliminated from contention in the final week of last year's regular season. With the Timbers sitting at the bottom of the Western Conference with a 1-4-1 record, Nagbe knows he and his team need to pick up the pace if they are going to achieve that goal.

"We've had a rough couple of games, but as a team we're not looking back — we're just looking to move on, turn things around and make the playoffs," Nagbe said. "Watching the playoff games on TV, it's a bad feeling. You want to be out there competing."

For Nagbe, his hot start is an indication that he may be ready to live up to the expectations that made him the No. 2 overall pick in last year's MLS SuperDraft after he led Akron to a national title in 2010, claiming the Hermann Trophy along the way.

"He's a young player that's stepped into a big league in MLS and done well for himself," said Portland midfielder Freddie Braun, a good friend of Nagbe's off the field. "I still think there's a lot more to see from him. And we're definitely going to see it."

Nagbe's flashy play has naturally led to speculation about his international prospects. A Liberia native who moved to the United States at age 11 but is not yet a citizen, Nagbe said he recently has had minimal contact with the Liberian federation and none with the U.S. program. Perhaps further tilting the odds in Liberia's favor is the fact that Nagbe's father, Joe, is a former captain of the West African country's national team.

Nagbe, however, noted he hasn't spent much time thinking about the international game just yet.

"I've just been trying to become a better player," Nagbe said. "But definitely, it would interest me down the road. I think it's everyone's dream to be in a World Cup."

It's a focused-on-the-field mentality that is clearly evident in Nagbe's approach to the game. While he's a calm, somewhat withdrawn personality away from the pitch, there's little doubt about his competitive nature once game time rolls around.

"He's just a real nice, chill kind of guy," Braun said. "But he definitely brings the right attitude. When everyone looks at Darlington, everybody knows that he wants to win."

To make that happen more often, Nagbe said his personal objective remains what it has been for most of his career: "Be more dangerous and create more chances."

If he succeeds in doing so, consider the rest of MLS properly warned.


  1. It was a fan voted poll. So Hassli made a great miraculous kick that went in. That is wonderful. More fans thought Nagbe’s tap tap shot was better due to more skill rather than luck. It’s hilarious. Using your logic John McCain should be president since less votes means they should have won. Bottom line: Both goals were awesome. Nagbe beat Hassli in a fan poll…probably only because nobody from Seattle had a chance because they dominate online polling.

  2. I respectfully beg to differ. Nagbe was able to score that goal because nobody closed him down, while Hassli did it with a defender on him and his momentum carrying him away from goal.

    Don’t get me wrong; Nagbe scored a great goal, but a lot of people have a strong argument that Hassli’s is better.

  3. … and hopefully his fiancee is a citizen.

    This guy is a real talent.

    I don’t know if he can supplant our superstars, but we can always use a guy like Nagbe who has skill, vision, and knows how to compete.

    From the TV screen it looks like Portland play on a relatively small pitch, which makes his ability to find space to launch shots all the more impressive.

    And for the record, I was one of those guys who voted for Hassli. And I’d do it again.

  4. How would moving overseas affect his citizenship? I’m not well versed in citizenship laws but it seems like his longtime residency and marriage should allow him to continue on the path even if he moves abroad. Is there anyone out there who could shed some more light on this?

  5. This is an incredibly stupid statement. If Hassli deserved it more people would have voted for him than they did Nagbe. It’s simple.

  6. 3 years after he gets married…but if he’s not getting married until sometime this year, and we think he has had his green card since last year, he’ll only end up saving maybe a year or so on the regular 5 year process.

  7. I remember he didn’t want to be picked by Vancouver in the draft because it would mess with his citizenship elegability status. Nagbe is the real deal and hands down the best prospect for the USMNT.

  8. Well, blame all the people that voted for Montero and siphoned away votes for Hassli. 3-way races don’t always go the way you’d expect.

  9. I don’t think you can get your green card until you start working, right? So I assume that’s why guys like Nagbe, Mwanga, Movsisyan, etc weren’t on the path to citizenship sooner.
    For those inquiring about Nagbe’s citizenship, he’s engaged to an American and then I think it’s like 3 years to citizenship after he’s married. Plenty of time for him to focus on his game at club level before he needs to decide on a national team.

  10. he’s lived here since age 11 and isn’t a citizen? how the hell is it so hard to get citizenship in this country? in know this is a topic much larger than national team eligibility and should be discussed at a much higher level than sports, but that is something that needs to change in this country, for a lot of reasons. that would suck to lose yet another bright prospect, especially to a country where he would never play in a World Cup

  11. Anyone know how long he’s had his green card?

    Probably not gonna see a WC unless he becomes a US Citizen, and our pool of attackers could always use a bit more padding.

    He’s been here since age 11 and went to college here, so one has to assume he probably associates more closely with the States.

  12. I’ve wondered about his possibility of joining the USMNT. He could be another possible replacement for Dempsey or Donovan as either a winger or a withdrawn forward. His performances so far this year would place him somewhere between Shea & Rogers as wide midfielder. Hope he gets a chance to chose the US…more depth is needed in the National Team Pool.

  13. “But definitely, it would interest me down the road. I think it’s everyone’s dream to be in a World Cup.”
    +1 USA


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