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.”