You may recognize Casey from the FanPosts on the right side of the page. He will regularly contributing to Stumptown Footy this year, so say hello and check out his thoughts on Darlington Nagbe, his prospects for 2015, and the potential for a USMNT call up. -Will
Darlington Nagbe's story begins living in the atmosphere of political turmoil and civil war of Liberia in 1990. Nagbe's mother elected to flee the country with his brother in what would turn out to be a smart choice. They met up with Nagbe's father and bounced around Europe for the next ten years. Then, as a family, they came to the U.S. and settled in Cleveland, Ohio.
Once in the US, Nagbe began to develop his skills on the pitch. In high school he played well and earned a spot at the University of Akron and playing for the Cleveland Internationals in the USL Premier Development League. In 2010, toward the end of Nagbe's collegiate career, the Internationals dissolved and left the league.
The following year Nagbe entered the MLS Superdraft as an underclassman on a Generation Adidas contract. Nagbe would be the 2nd pick in the draft, taken by the Portland Timbers, beginning his professional career.
Entering the league, Nagbe was played mostly as a striker, but slowly has been converted into an attacking midfielder under the Timbers banner. The coach at the time, John Spencer, would experiment with him for a bit, but in his rookie season Nagbe showed promise immediately. His first strike on target would end up being the 2011 Goal of the Year, blowing away the opposition. Here is that goal:
That day Nagbe made his name heard across the land; he was a threat. In his opening season, Nagbe only scored two goals and three assists while playing in 28 games. He showed promise but needed to have his skill cultivated.
In 2012 Nagbe increased his scoring and positive attacking trends with six goals and one assist. Through the 33 games he played, Nagbe was a positive force for the squad and found himself in the starting lineup in all but three matches. In week four Nagbe scored his second goal of the season -- and what a goal it was. Skip to 2:30 of the video below for the goal.
Nagbe clearly showed improvement in his sophomore season. His awareness and comfort on the field increased and he started to really mesh with the team. There still was more to work on, but Nagbe started showing versatility on the pitch. With an attacking mindset and a high work rate, Nagbe became a vital piece to the Timbers squad. That same year Nagbe would marry his longtime girlfriend, Felicia Houtz, granting his green card status and expediting his citizenship for call ups to the USMNT as early as September of this year.
2012 was truly a pivotal year for the Timbers star.
The next year, 2013, was Nagbe's best on record. He added nine goals and four assists to his sheet over 34 games. This was a break out performance for the young man. In week 16, Nagbe would have another dynamic performance, scoring the Goal of the Week and what would be the 'Timbers Play of the Year'. Skip to 5:53 of the video below for the stunning goal.
2013 would be a year of fantastic link ups between the creative forces of Portland, Nagbe and new arrival Diego Valeri.
Here is one of their most critical link ups of 2013, which led them to an away victory over FC Dallas.
The 2013 season was clearly one of the best for Nagbe to date. He did everything he was expected to and then some.
In 2014, however, his offensive output dipped. In 2014 Nagbe had almost 30 percent fewer shots than he had the year before. Nagbe's shots on target only dropped a bit, making his shooting more efficient on goal, but the reality is that the output was down over a similar amount of games.
As a serving player Nagbe did have a career year, posting seven assists on the season. Even though many of his services were not finished by his teammates, he was setting up opportunities with his pace and luring defenders, creating holes for his teammates.
Here we have Nagbe's single goal of the 2014 season, which showed Nagbe's confidence and striking ability. He did catch a break on the shot's deflection, but it was set to be a good shot from the beginning.
Now, here is Nagbe doing exactly as described above, using his pace to lure defenders away and give other players an opportunity. It would seem Nagbe's short service game has grown most over the past season, and this should be the quality most watching in the coming season.
Many people will criticize adding another midfielder to the USMNT pool, and that is a valid point. However, Nagbe is a very different player from any that the US have at their disposal. They all, for the most part, lack pace of the kind Nagbe has. It is nice to see Jurgen Klinsmann experimenting with a creative player like Lee Nguyen in the midfield and Nagbe could provide a similar change of pace for the side.
There are 3 more years until the next World Cup, so there is time to see Nagbe given a chance. All of this will hinge on Nagbe's performance in the 2015 season, though, so let's hope for the best.