By Leo Linden
Programming note: This summer in this space, we’ll take a look at a different American player each week instead of doing some sort of update on multiple Yanks abroad. This will be an opportunity to delve into some players we don’t normally feature in this space and evaluate their chances with the USMNT, their future prospects, other important things to note with them, or any combination of the three.
Club: Portland Timbers (MLS)
A Portland Timbers mainstay for the the past six seasons, Darlington Nagbe has taken a circuitous route to the United States national team, but he is making good on his chances. His recent exploits have landed him a coveted spot on Jurgen Klinsmann's Copa America roster, and if they are any indication, he could be a key
Nagbe was forced to leave his native Liberia as a child due to civil war and bounced around Europe with his family — led by his father, who was also a professional footballer — until Joe Nagbe’s retirement, when the family relocated to Cleveland. Luckily for Darlington, he fell into the right spot in the country, and his soccer prowess earned him a scholarship to the midwest's rising college powerhouse, Akron, where he was an integral member of the Zips’ first ever national title in 2010.
After his standout college career, Nagbe was rewarded nicely by the Timbers, who took him second overall in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft (Portland’s first season in the MLS). Since, Nagbe has been a stalwart in Portland’s attack, playing at least 32 games in each of his professional seasons besides his rookie year, in which he played 28 after missing the first part of the season with an injury. During his time so far with Portland, Nagbe has already logged 171 MLS games, netted 24 times, won the MLS goal of the season (in his rookie year), and, most importantly, helped bring the MLS Cup to the Pacific Northwest last season for the first time ever.
But during his early years in the league, Nagbe’s international status was in doubt, as he still held Liberian citizenship. However, after marrying a U.S. Citizen in 2012, Nagbe was put on a track to becoming a citizen himself, and in 2015, he finally did so. It didn’t take long for Nagbe to earn a call up from Klinsmann, either, who named the midfielder to the roster for two World Cup qualifiers, and he made a pair of appearances, coming on with about 25 minutes to play in each game.
He didn’t make a major impact then, but a couple more international appearances, combined with his consistent domestic play, has earned Nagbe a spot for the Copa America, and that seems to have boosted his swagger for the USMNT, which is now growing rapidly.
After a 90-minute, deadlocked battle against Ecuador in a friendly a week ago, Nagbe netted his first ever USMNT goal just before the clocked ticked into extra time. He showed superb composure doing so, taking the ball down on his chest before firing it home for a late winner.
A few days later, Nagbe was the centerpiece of a
On top of the goal-scoring plays, Nagbe was impressive all around the pitch in both games and was a menace for the opponents. It is still yet to be seen how much Nagbe will be deployed in the Copa America, as Klinsmann’s roster moves have often been sporadic and tough to predict, but the newcomer is definitely making a name for himself, and it would be surprising if he doesn’t get at least some run in the team.
The opponents will only be getting more difficult, with the USMNT in a very tough group, (LINK) but Nagbe has proven himself as a winner, and that attitude will suit him well in the historic competition. If he can transfer some of that to his teammates as well, Nagbe could be a vital piece in the USMNT’s push for glory this summer.