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Berhalter on potential Nagbe USMNT return: It is an open door for him

One of the main storylines emerging from the MLS is Back Tournament has been the Columbus Crew’s excellent run, and Darlington Nagbe’s role in that success. It isn’t really a surprise that a two-time MLS Cup champion would be having a positive impact on his new team, but the fact those performances have come with U.S. Men’s National Team coach Gregg Berhalter in attendance has led to fresh calls for a Nagbe return to the national team.

Speaking to USMNT beat writers on Tuesday, Berhalter made it clear that he is open to the idea of Nagbe returning to the USMNT, even after having had Nagbe reject national team call-ups in recent years. Nagbe hasn’t played with the United States since a friendly in May of 2018, and hasn’t played in a competitive national team match since starting in the team’s fateful World Cup qualifying loss to Trinidad & Tobago in 2017, a loss that cost the United States the World Cup.

“I haven’t spoken to (Nagbe) specifically about that, but I I feel that he knows there’s an open door for him if one day he decides to commit,” Berhalter told reporters in a conference call on Tuesday. “It is a commitment it’s not for everyone. There’s a lot of travel involved, you are away from your family. When you think about a World Cup, being away Gold Cups in the summer so I can understand him having that point of view of not wanting to leave his family. It isn’t for everyone, but I think he also knows that it is an open door for him.”

Nagbe has reportedly turned down previous national team call-ups in order to spend more time with his family, choosing to pass on the grind of international soccer after being a key part of the USMNT’s World Cup qualifying campaign in 2016 and 2017.

It isn’t rare for players to retire from the national team, but given the fact Nagbe is still in his 20s, and still clearly one of the very best central midfield opinions in American soccer, his absence from the USMNT continues to be a a sore spot, particularly for a program working to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.

Berhalter made it clear that he believes Nagbe could help the current USMNT setup, but the U.S. coach is carrying some understandable trepidation about pushing too hard to bring back a player who has been so reluctant to return to the program.

“Listen, I think he’d fit in well, to what we do,” Berhalter said. “I think there’s elements of his game that we can even take to the next level. But it’s also something where you’re playing in these games, and these are tough games, when you talk about (World Cup) qualifying, these games are difficult, and you need players that are committed to it. If there’s hesitation by him, I would worry what that would do to the performance.”

As things stand, there are no imminent matches in the near future for the USMNT, so it could be several more months before Nagbe would even have the opportunity to make a national team return. He is in the midst of adapting to his new team, the Columbus Crew, while Berhalter formulates his own plan.

As of now, Berhalter is planning with the expectation that he won’t have Nagbe, and he made it clear that a return will only happen when Nagbe makes the decision that he wants to recommit to the USMNT program.

“He has to be ready for it,” Berhalter said. “We can push him, but it needs to be something that he says, ‘Okay, this is what I really want. my goal is to play in a World Cup. I’ve won MLS Cups and I’ve with multiple teams and I’ve been an all-star but I want to play in a World Cup. I missed out on the opportunity in 2018 and this is something I want to do.’

“It’s a great accomplishment to play in a World Cup. Not not too many players get to do that,” said Berhalter, who was part of two USMNT World Cup teams as a player, in 2002 and 2006. “It’s going be partly up to him and his family deciding that that’s what they really want to commit to.”


  1. I am curious what the obsession is with a barely scores barely assists non-leg breaker type. We have a lot of dynamic creative talent coming in. We have Pulisic who can play 10 as well. We have some people who could play 6, though it could be improved — but not by Nagbe. I could think of mediocre “pool” guys he’s better than but that’s faint praise. I can think of plenty of mid options where he probably shouldn’t make a first choice 23 now — not Bradley either. What concerns me is GB likes older players with cap histories despite how last cycle turned out using them. And lusting after a mediocre player telling you no is pathetic. To me the faster this skips ahead to the Pulisic Reyna McKennie generation instead, the better.

    • Sounds more like Berhalter was asked a specific question about Nagbe because he has been playing well, and Berhalter gave a pretty honest answer. I doubt we see Nagbe again unless he publicly has a complete change of heart. But, just for kicks, imagine a 4-3-3 with Adams, Nagbe, McKennie in the middle, with Pulisic and Reyna out wide…

    • Only IV would call “I haven’t spoken to him specifically about that but I think he knows the door is open …” as lusting after.

      • Except I have heard this question and answer from Berhalter for about every international window for a while. Back earlier in the year it was the same thing. I have asked and he said no. It is in fact an honest answer, but when you give the same answer repeatedly it suggests he was in significant consideration — and emailed — every single time. That suggests more interest than you are willing to admit. Because otherwise a dude who is merely ok in your eyes, and gets asked once nicely and says no, probably never gets called again. The level of persistence and the repeated “I tried but….” answer say something. Once is I think he’s interesting but only so much. Once is I tried and moved on. Every time is he thinks we should get the band back together. Read between the lines.

      • And to be blunt since Johnny is mocking me, if he had control he would do the rough equivalent of the team c. 2015-2016, an all star team based on club locations,and that was the team that in practice couldn’t beat Jamaica at Gold Cup, Mexico in the regional playoff, or do much better than .500 in Copa. In short, what got Klinsi fired. The job is more complicated than picking the players who happen to have gotten roster numbers at the snazzier clubs.

    • I remember when Nagbe was first touted and a lot of people went overboard on him. Now, some underestimate him. I have likened him to Dembele of tottenham and Belgium. He won’t score much or have a ton of assists. But, if you are facing a high pressing team and you want to move the ball from your third to the opponent’s third without doing long ball hit and hope, Nagbe is invaluable. While we have some really good young talent, I think Nagbe is still the best dribbler in the US pool. He’s one dimensional in that regard, but in certain situations that makes him very important. So, if you can get him, you get him for one of 23.

      • This is a nice theory but the reality is he was a key cog in the last cycle’s failure. He presumably played this same 8 role you conceive, for that team as well. Nothing much came of it. Personally I think having “8” types who don’t create much is a waste. Half the problem with the 2018 team was who was going to create the goals in the midfield engine. A mid who doesn’t score or assist much — and isn’t even playing 6 — wastes an engine part. It puts the whole onus on the 10. I want attacking players who can attack. The opposing players have to defend that. My team sees production from that. The opposing players cannot ignore my mids. The other team has to sit back more. Pressure off our defense and more offense. We then have plenty of up and coming attacking talent. I would rather have a creative 8 than a 8 who carries his lunchbox and doesn’t really do much. To me half the problem with 2018 on up to now is too many players not doing enough. And I don’t buy that if we play some of the other creative mids — the kids, not Roldan — we won’t be able to possess and complete passes.

      • A couple things, IV Nagbe generally got shuffled to a wing for Arena last cycle not the 8 role, maybe once or twice. I think JK played him as a 10 off the bench.
        Gary it really took Tata to find the best spot for Nagbe. Porter who has known him forever played him all over at Portland. It was Tata that started to play him in the dual 6. He needs a ball winner with him like Remedi, Larentowicz, or Artur to win balls though.
        I’ve a Crew fan for their entire existence and I’ve watched all 5 matches this season. I’m not sure Nagbe would really fit the NT as a starter. What he does for The Crew is drop between the CBs and helps circulate the ball from side to side. He then reads when the defense loses its shape or his man overplays and generally makes a quick change of direction to break free. When another defender comes to help he feeds the open player and the ball goes to Gyasi or the open player in the channel and it leads to goals. He would drive most of the guys clamoring for his inclusion nuts because he makes 40 to 50 back passes to Mensah and Keita a game. He has a 95% passing accuracy because most are 5 yard uncontested passes to the CBs. They lull the defense to sleep and then strike. That’s not how GB wants to play. Now if we have to play in Toronto again without Adams do I want Nagbe instead of Roldan 100%. If everyone is available wouldn’t start.

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