March 28, 2018 is the last time Darlington Nagbe put on a U.S. Men’s National Team jersey. At this point, it should remain that way.
USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter named a 26-man roster for next month’s camp on Wednesday morning, and Nagbe was not on the list. Not because he is hurt. Not because Atlanta United play during the international break (the club has no games during that stretch). Not because Berhalter did not want the talented central midfielder on the squad that will continue to prepare for what’s to come with friendlies vs. Mexico and Uruguay.
No, the reason for Nagbe’s continued absence from the USMNT picture is simply because he himself did not want to be in it. He did not want to don the red, white, and blue to try to make his first appearance at the international level since playing vs. Paraguay some 17 months ago. He did not want to begin to learn Berhalter’s system and tactics ahead of the meaningful games that are fast approaching. He did not want to play alongside the collective of some of the best of his fellow Americans on the international stage.
The primary reason Nagbe gave for wanting to be excluded? He wants to be with his family. Now, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. It is his life. His career. His choices.
Whether that is the only reason can certainly be debated, however. After all, Nagbe has reportedly turned down call-ups in the more distant past in part because of a lack of playing time under former USMNT boss Jurgen Klinsmann.
Nonetheless, when building a team, especially a national team, it is vital to have players that are fully invested and committed to the cause. Players that want to represent their country as a source of pride. Players that will put up with the added load of training sessions and games over the course of a grueling club season. Players that will deal with the taxing travel around the globe, even if they do not see a minute of game action. Players that will stop at almost nothing to represent their country to ensure it is the best it can be.
What is clear now, after seeing the rejection of call-ups become more of a trend rather than an isolated incident, is that Nagbe is not that type of player. He, very clearly, will not stop it at nothing to suit up for the USMNT. He, very clearly, is not committed to battling for his spot and earning his minutes on the international stage.
Again, it is valid that he wants to be with his family, but he is not the only player that has that desire. Others just realize that it takes some real sacrifice and deep dedication to be a national team player.
It is for that reason that Berhalter should move on from Nagbe and refrain from attempting to call him up ever again. That may sound drastic or dramatic, but it isn’t. The only player that has been able to do something similar on a consistent basis in recent years is Lionel Messi, and he’s Lionel Messi.
Yes, the Atlanta United veteran seems to be a good fit for the possession-based and more technical style of play that Berhalter wants the USMNT to adopt. And, yes, Nagbe despite his defensive deficiencies has experience from the previous World Cup cycle that could certainly come in handy on the road to Qatar 2022.
Nagbe, however, is not deserving of preferential treatment, especially not at 29-years old. He has never proven in his 25 caps to date to be a major difference-maker at the international stage and should not be given the chance to repeatedly dismiss call-ups and show a disinterest towards the USMNT and its cause only to later decide that he maybe wants to change his mind and join in when it better suits him.
Put more bluntly, would teammates truly trust someone like that on the field? And what kind of message would that even send to the rest of the players in the locker room that have been battling in the trenches, sacrificing to be there, and competing hard to earn their spots in multiple camps over several months? Certainly not a good one. It would be a Timmy Chandler situation all over again.
The team should always be above the individual. Always.
Making exceptions and allowing a player to handpick when he wants and does not want to be involved would be detrimental to the collective, especially as it attempts to bounce back from the immense failure of not qualifying for the last World Cup.
Berhalter is continuing to steer the USMNT ship forward, but it needs to be without players like Nagbe that are unwilling to put in the time, effort, sacrifice, and commitment that international play requires. Nagbe’s most recent game for his country came about a year-and-a-half ago. Given his decisions since, it should be his last.
Nagbe may not like that if it winds up being the case, or, actually, he might not care at all.