The last time we saw Darlington Nagbe in a U.S. Men’s National Team jersey, panic had already set in. It was the 84th minute of the USMNT’s now infamous loss in Trinidad & Tobago and Nagbe was taken off in favor of Benny Feilhaber. It was a last-gasp substitution from a team that had realized that the possibility of missing a World Cup was very, very real.
Now, several months later, there is no World Cup and the USMNT is in the midst of a period of rebuild. For the first time since leaving the field against T&T, Nagbe is back in the fold and, at just 27 years old, he most certainly may have a part to play in the USMNT’s push for a World Cup return in 2022.
Nagbe is one of few veterans involved in the USMNT’s current camp leading up to Tuesday’s clash with Paraguay. The Atlanta United midfielder is one of four players in camp that took part in the USMNT’s final World Cup qualifier, one the group is still reeling from several months later.
“It feels good to be back,” Nagbe said. “I feel a little old with all of these young guys here, but everyone is excited to be back. I’m looking forward to the game and the opportunity.
“I would say (it’s a step). You just want to come back in and get acclimated with the guys and the group and look forward to the future. They’ve done a good job so far with integrating the group and getting some younger guys with some of the guys that have been here in the past.”
Alongside fellow veterans like Eric Lichaj, DeAndre Yedlin and Bobby Wood, Nagbe takes on a new role heading into this camp. The midfielder is tasked with helping to acclimate some new faces to the mix, players like Timothy Weah, whose father George was one of the world’s best while playing for Nagbe’s country of birth, Liberia.
Still, Nagbe isn’t around as just a mentor. He has a very real role with this current group. The 23-man squad lacks many true playmakers and difference-makers. He is one of a handful that have the ability to create for himself as well as others, making him a valuable asset to the group.
The team has a number of defensive midfielders, players like Wil Trapp, Cristian Roldan and Marky Delgado. It also has some box-to-box guys like Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie. However, there is no true No. 10 on the squad, leaving playmaking duties to players like Nagbe.
It remains to be seen if he will be played centrally or out wide, but his role with the group will be an important one heading into the upcoming friendly.
“It’s definitely been different,” he said. “I’ve always been the new guy so, now that I’m one of the older guys here, it’s just getting to know the guys, how they play and making sure everyone is feeling comfortable. That’s the biggest thing when you’re new: making sure you’re comfortable so you can play your best.”
Nagbe says his club move to Atlanta has been a positive one and that he’s feeling confident heading into the USMNT’s upcoming friendly. The move from Portland was a difficult one, but putting the past behind him is allowing him to develop as a new player.
Like many, Nagbe is also looking to put the USMNT’s past on the back burner as he looks ahead towards what is hopefully a brighter future.
“I want to make sure that the guys are all sharp,” Nagbe said. “Myself, the younger guys and some of the guys that have been here in the past, I just want to put in a good week of work leading into the game and put in a good performance to build on.”