Just as we saw on Wednesday night with the United States National Team, Darlington Nagbe can have a tremendous effect on the game. Since the Portland Timbers took off last year on their run to the cup, Nagbe has been one of the most influential players in Major League Soccer, pulling the strings in the midfield, taking on opponents, and combining with his teammates to create numerous dangerous opportunities. His play in the center of the field, along with Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi, has made the attack tick. Over the next two games, potentially longer if the United States progresses out of their group, the Timbers will have to find a way to replace Nagbe and everything that he does for the team.
Darlington Nagbe has been one of the most consistent players for the Portland Timbers over the past eight months, playing some of his best games in the Green and Gold over that time span. One of the things that he has offered during that stretch is his incredible ability to find the holes in the opposing team's defense and midfield through his movement and passing. His play against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday was a perfect example of this ability.
In this instance, we see Darlington Nagbe pull away into space on the right wing where he is isolated against Pah Modou Kah. After receiving a pass from Lucas Melano, Nagbe weighs his options. With the run of Diego Valeri coming around on the overlap, he could slip him in behind Jordan Harvey, the Whitecaps' left back. However, he holds on to the ball for just a second more, waiting for Melano to find the space after his pass into Nagbe initially, and then slips him through on goal with a perfectly weighted ball. The movement and pass from Nagbe is picture perfect here, something that needs to be replaced by the Timbers if they want to continue to be successful in his absence.
Another instance of Nagbe's incredible movement came in the second half against the Whitecaps, while he looked to combine with Diego Valeri at the top of the box.
As Diego Valeri dribbles forward, he picks his head up, giving Darlington Nagbe the cue to make his move into the space behind the defense. Partnering with the darting run, Valeri delivered a wonderful scoop pass in behind Jordan Harvey for Nagbe to run onto. Even though the opportunity ended with Nagbe hitting his shot high over the goal, it is still a prime example of the movement and vision that the Timbers players when they are all clicking.
Finally, Darlington Nagbe offers an incredible ability to break down opposing defenses with his technical skills. In the first Vancouver match on the road, we saw Nagbe countlessly taking on the opponents leading to some good opportunities, including a goal. Both of the runs below illustrate Nagbe's ability to change pace and direction at remarkable speeds.
— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) May 7, 2016
Players like Melano, Valeri, and Asprilla have this ability to take on players will have to help share the responsibility as it can greatly assist in breaking down the opposing defenses.
Caleb Porter and the Timbers coaching staff have a tall order ahead of themselves attempting to fill the void that Nagbe leaves while he is playing in the Copa America. If the coaching staff continues to use the 4-2-3-1 formation like they did last week with Diego Chara and Ben Zemanski in the holding midfield slots and Valeri directly in front of them, Dairon Asprilla would be the logical choice to come back into the side. Asprilla returned to the team after a long break and put in a strong 30 minutes last week. While a dangerous player, his styles do not quite match up with what Nagbe was offering while out on the wing. Nagbe, when he plays out there, likes to come into the center of the pitch and combine with his fellow attackers; Asprilla, on the other hand, is a bit more of an out-and-out winger who likes to use his pace while isolated against defenders. With that in mind, Porter could also turn to Jack McInerney out on the wing, assuming Fanendo Adi is healthy. McInerney, with his work ethic and technical ability, could help the Timbers on the outside, looking to come into the center of the field to combine with his fellow teammates and create chances around the box. McInerney also turned in a strong performance on Sunday afternoon, making the coaching staffs decision even more difficult. I can see a situation where both players are called on to provide different looks for opposing defenses. Whatever the outcome is, it is important that the Timbers continue to build on their Sunday result and get another three points on the road at the Chicago Fire.