The Portland Timbers' first draft pick after joining Major League Soccer in 2011, Darlington Nagbe has been one of the team's brightest stars.
2012 Ranking: #1
Nagbe edged out Will Johnson in our voting average by a mere 0.25 and was only 0.75 ahead of Donovan Ricketts. The Timbers' top performers were so close together both because of their fantastic individual performances and the extent to which they bought into Caleb Porter's system, a system under which Nagbe has flourished.
Last year Nagbe was given the top billing thanks to a combination of potential and performance as he seemed to realize how important he was to this team, scoring six goals along the way. This year his ranking is based entirely on the current season's performance and reflects his continued evolution as a player.
2014 saw Nagbe score nine goals, enough to increase his total with the team to 17 and take the Timbers' all-time MLS scoring lead from Jack Jewsbury. His most memorable this year, after previous efforts in 2011 and 2012 had won the goal of the year and been a goal of the year finalist, had to be his no-look turn and shoot against FC Dallas in week 15, a goal that put the Timbers at the top of the Western Conference table and that started Dallas's collapse after looking unbeatable early in the season. (Dallas had lost only twice before that match. They won only three times after it.)
More than just scoring, though, Nagbe was consistently one of the Timbers most accurate passers, less than a percentage point behind Diego Chara, a feat even more difficult to accomplish in the final third than at half-field. Nagbe got the ball and held onto it, leaving defenders with only the option of fouling him if they wanted to win the ball back; and foul him they did as Nagbe lead the league in fouls suffered with 83.
If Nagbe can continue making strides forward, he could be the best player in the league, let alone the best player on the Timbers. The question, however, is if those strides will come in the next year. Now 23 years old, Nagbe is just entering the prime of his career and playing with a coach and a team that suit his style of play, all of which bodes well for his future.