Exquisite was one word that came to mind to describe the two goals Timbers midfielder Darlington Nagbe scored earlier this spring against visiting Real Salt Lake. Nagbe put on a veritable clinic in scoring both spectacular goals.
WATCH: Nagbe's second goal vs. RSL
The first showcased an aggressive run forward blowing by US international and RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman.
The second was a looping diving shot that left goalkeeper Nick Rimando little chance and won Nagbe the MLS Goal of the Week.
There was a ruthlessness and confidence to Nagbe’s play that night and though Portland lost the game late, it was a performance that began to show Nagbe’s ability to take over a match near singlehandedly.
On this Sunday (Presented by PGE; 2:00pm PT, ESPN, 750 AM The Game / La Pantera 940), the Timbers head into a challenging Cascadia Cup match against their bitterest of rivals: Seattle Sounders FC.
In front of a wild and rollicking home crowd, Nagbe will be counted upon to provide a similar spark. Standing in his way will be one of MLS’s finest central midfielders and newly-minted U.S. citizen: Osvaldo Alonso.
How these two players battle on Sunday brings us to the KeyBank Match-up.
Alonso, a native of Cuba, defected to the United States while on a trip to Houston with the national team in 2007. After playing a season with the Charleston Battery of the USL—where he faced the USL Timbers many times—Alonso eventually signed with the MLS Sounders FC in 2009. Just over a week ago, Alonso added another chapter to his journey by becoming an American citizen.
A bulldog in the midfield, Alonso is tenacious in defense as well as in the dispossession of opponents on the ball. Plugging up the middle on the backend of Seattle’s midfield diamond, Alsono is also an excellent passer who can easily distribute to near anyone and anywhere on the field. In short, the man is relentless.
See below Alonso's work in the midfield earlier this season in a definitive 2-0 Seattle win at home against the LA Galaxy:
Alonso's heat map on the left and defensive stops on the right show how he clogs up the middle
Provided by MLSsoccer.com's Opta Stats Chalkboard
While Alonso may occasionally pull forward and run into Portland’s own stalwart central mid in Diego Chara, look for the Sounders’ central maestro to be on the hunt for Nagbe.
While Nagbe has shuttled between the midfield and forward this season, he is blessed with innate ability with the ball on his feet. The challenge for him is showcasing the same ruthlessness he showed in matches such as the RSL game earlier this season.
Nagbe’s acceleration on the ball is among his best assets. He can change the pace and tempo so quickly that he often leaves opponents still gasping for air. Should Nagbe take that capability in 1v1 with Alonso and get past him, then he’ll have his options open with both a deft touch in distribution to his forwards and wings not to mention his own gifted capacity to put the ball on net.
Timbers head coach John Spencer has been talking all week about how one can “throw the form book out the window,” with rivalry games. Come Sunday, should Portland and Nagbe show that attacking flair and magic, then they could come out with a nifty three points and bragging rights to boot.