While Diego Chara was putting together a brace on Saturday for his birthday, Darlington Nagbe also had a reason to cheer of his own. With his start against the Seattle Sounders, Nagbe recorded his 100th MLS appearance for the Portland Timbers. He’s the first player in Portland’s MLS era to achieve the feat.
“It feels great, especially being on the team since the beginning until now. To be the first one to 100 means a lot,” said Nagbe.
The native of Liberia made his first appearance with Portland back in April of 2011, coming in for the last 24 minutes of a 1-1 draw with New England. Nagbe has been a staple in the Rose City ever since. During that rookie season, Nagbe made 28 appearances (21 of them starts) scoring two goals, including the 2011 MLS Goal of the Year.
Now in his third year in Portland, and with 91 starts under his belt, the former Akron Zip has made the Northwest his home with his wife, Felicia, and newborn daughter, Mila. Now a core player with the club, and a with a young family to raise, Nagbe says he is happy to call Oregon home.
“Sometimes when I’m gone I find myself missing the rain,” said Nagbe. “Which is weird, because I didn’t grow up with it. Everyone has been nice to me in the Timbers and in the community. My family and I are liking it.”
The 23-year-old is now considered a young veteran presence in the locker room, a far cry from the well-regarded but quiet prospect drafted No. 2 overall in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. When asked what the biggest difference between having one game versus 100 on his record, Nagbe emphasized the importance of his teammates.
“I feel like chemistry is a huge part of it. It’s why I’m doing better as a player. Playing with Diego Chara longer, bringing in guys like Diego Valeri, having Caleb Porter come in—they’ve all helped me out a lot.”
Nagbe’s teammates feel the same way about him. Defender Jack Jewsbury, who is right behind Nagbe with 93 appearances in a Timbers MLS uniform himself, has seen the young attacker turn into one of MLS’ brightest young stars since the two became teammates in 2011.
“Darlington is a very rare talent and with that comes a lot of expectations. As a younger player that can be tough at times but he has taken it in stride and improved all aspects of his game,” said Jewsbury. “He is one of the most dangerous players in the league and it will be exciting to see his continued growth.”
In recording his 100th game in the match against Seattle, the attacking midfielder tied former NASL great Dale Mitchell at 13th on the all-time record for games in a Timbers uniform across all team iterations. The importance of the achievement is not lost on the young player.
“I feel like if you want to hit any landmark during the season, your rival team is the best team to do it against. I wouldn’t want to do it against any other team,” he said.
As for where the next step lies, Nagbe is closing on the Timbers’ all-time appearances record, set at 160 by Willie Anderson in the ‘70s and ‘80s. But before that, Nagbe has another goal he’s striving for.
“I want to win a championship,” said Nagbe.
After pausing for a moment, he revised his statement.
“If not multiple championships.”