Spencer: Nagbe needs killer instinct in 2011

Rookie "has an electrifying pace."

Timbers vs. Houston - 2.19.11, Nagbe

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Photo by Nick Doan

CASA GRANDE – Darlington Nagbe was an absolute phenom last year at Akron, regarded as easily the best college player in the country and a bona fide MLS star in the making.

This year, however, he’s just “Baby D.”

That’s the humbling nickname that hounds the Portland Timbers rookie wherever he goes now, little more than a month after the Timbers gleefully scooped him up with the No. 2 overall pick in the MLS Super Draft.

It’s also somewhat of an indicator of how much Nagbe needs to develop this season, according to Timbers coach John Spencer. He’s the one who saddled the soft-spoken rookie with the name not long ago, and he insists that Nagbe’s growing pains this preseason might have more to do with his instincts than anything else.

“I’ve said it time and time again to him that he needs to be a little bit more ruthless,” Spencer said. “In my eyes, when he sees goal he must drive towards goal, because he has an electrifying pace that nobody really sees. People are going to be pretty surprised by how quick he is.”

Nagbe started and played 71 minutes of the Timbers’ weather-wrecked scoreless preseason draw against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday, definitely showing flashes of the skill that made the Hermann Trophy winner last year with the NCAA champion Zips.

Spencer said earlier this week that Nagbe’s had the traditional struggles with the taxing MLS preseason like any other rookie, but that he has impressed the Timbers brass with his natural skills. Nagbe earned the start on the right wing on Saturday and that seems like a logical choice, given his abilities to carve through the Dynamo defense at times and lay off a nifty pass into space.

“He’s a super player, a super, super talent,” Spencer said. “But he’s such a nice soccer player, and I always say to him that he tries to play the game like he lives his life. He’s a super sweet kid if you know him, but he needs to get a little more ruthless.”

Nagbe and the Timbers return to action on in Casa Grande on Feb. 23 in a preseason friendly against the Montreal Impact, and take on Sporting Kansas City here on Feb. 26.