With an eye on 2018, Atlanta United continues to shore up their roster with talent, experience and quality. Their latest addition: U.S. International and former Portland Timbers star Darlington Nagbe. Acquiring the midfielder marks one of the biggest transfers in MLS history, but what can Five Stripes fans expect from their new #6?
Background & College Career
Born in Monrovia, Liberia where his father once captained the national team, Darlington Nagbe spent much of his childhood on the move as his family followed his father through his European professional career. At 11 years of age, he and his family moved to the United States where he grew up in Lakewood, Ohio. He remained there through his youth development and a decorated college career at the University of Akron.
Nagbe spent three seasons playing for the Zips, tallying 19 goals and 19 assists, culminating in a 2010 NCAA National Championship – the first in school history in any sport. The magical season also saw Nagbe earn the Hermann Trophy, the most prestigious award in intercollegiate soccer. His success caught the eye of professional scouts and in 2011 the Portland Timbers selected the Akron midfielder second overall in the MLS SuperDraft.
Since being drafted by the Timbers Nagbe has never looked back, spending all seven of his professional seasons in Portland and becoming a household name in the Cascadian city. The midfielder has racked up 28 goals and 32 assists in over 226 MLS appearances for the club, never playing less than 79% of matches each season and was selected as an MLS All-Star in 2016.
The majority of his time in Portland was spent under the guidance of his former college coach Caleb Porter who was appointed in 2013 to manage the Timbers. Just like their past days at Akron, Porter and Nagbe teamed up to replicate their championship run once again helping Portland reach the postseason three times and proudly lift the MLS Cup in 2015. Nagbe played every minute of the successful playoff campaign, recording two assists – one of which set up the eventual game-winner in the Timbers’ first-ever MLS Cup Championship.
Time in Red, White & Blue
Just as his hard work and accomplishments have gained exposure for him before, his success at the professional level turned heads at the U.S. Soccer Federation. After gaining U.S. citizenship in 2015 – Portland’s championship year – Nagbe achieved what every young player dreams of as a kid, earning his first senior call-up and cap for the Red, White & Blue. And it didn’t take long for him to make an impact. In a matter of months, he scored his first goal at the international level in a 1-0 victory over Ecuador.
Since his debut, Nagbe has made 24 appearances for the U.S. Men’s National Team, including helping them win the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup. It’s safe to say the former Hermann Trophy winner has stapled his name not only in the State of Ohio and the City of Portland, but across the U.S. as well.
One of Nagbe’s biggest assets is his versatility across the midfield. Often used in the center of the park at the #8 (Box-to-box) or #10 (Playmaker) role, Nagbe’s craftiness, toughness, speed and passing ability allows coaches to utilize him on the wing or even at the holding midfield position as well. In terms of maintaining possession there are few players in MLS that compare to the 27-year-old. Nagbe finished the 2017 regular season with 92% passing accuracy – first in the league.
He’s been labeled “a cut above the rest” by Toronto FC forward and U.S. international teammate Jozy Altidore. And long-time coach Caleb Porter has said, “I firmly believe it – and some people laugh when I say it – that if you took him right now and threw him in a Barcelona training session, he would not be out of place.”
Full of talent but also a strong teammate both on and off the field, Nagbe is a two-time MLS Fair Play Award winner, an honor given annually to the player who commits the fewest fouls and demonstrates the best sportsmanship. Bringing experience and class, Darlington Nagbe will be a valuable asset on the pitch as well as in the locker room for an Atlanta United team heading into their second season as a club.
It may be offseason, but remember, Five Stripes don’t stop. Stay tuned to Atlanta United’s social handles for player transactions, signings and other exciting news to come!