PORTLAND, Ore.—Darlington Nagbe has certainly developed a flair for the dramatic.
He isn't one of the league's – or even his team's – top scorers (both Fanendo Adi and Diego Valeri have more than doubled his tally this season), but he sure knows how to pick his moments.
With his Portland Timbers team reeling from a hard-fought loss to Sporting Kansas City a week ago, the USMNT winger knew that a result was needed at home to stay atop the MLS standings and reignite what had been a hot start to the season.
Early in the first half of Portland's 2-1 Cascadia Cup win over the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday, Nagbe gave the home fans something to cheer about when he scored his second goal of the season (and second in three games) in stunning fashion.
He received a pass from midfielder David Guzmán, danced around two Vancouver Whitecaps FC defenders on his way toward the top of the box, and unleashed a shot from within a crowd of opponents that went left across goal as his momentum carried his body right. The result was a blistering effort to the top corner that beat the outstretched arm of goalkeeper David Ousted, grazed the bottom of the crossbar, and nestled over the goal line.
And just like that, the Timbers were on their way.
Darren Mattocks, the Timbers’ other goalscorer Saturday, and a teammate of Nagbe’s under Timbers’ head coach Caleb Porter while at Akron, smiled widely as he gave his reaction to Nagbe’s goal.
“Amazing,” said Mattocks. “I was on the field trying to look for the replay and it was playing…it was fantastic. He is special. Beating two or three guys and scoring a wonder goal, that should be the goal of the week, easily.”
Valeri also could not help but smile when asked about Nagbe’s goal.
“It was amazing. I was there looking at him and it surprised me, to be honest. He was almost falling down; I don’t know how he kicked the ball, but that is Darlington, right? He can do something from nothing.”
Even defender Liam Ridgewell, who made a triumphant return Saturday after spending all six games this season but the season opener sidelined with injury, had to turn a wry smile when questioned about Nagbe's goal.
“It was not too bad. I thought it was going over, but it was a great finish from him. Those are things that we expect out of him. He is a great player for the team and I was delighted for him.”
Of course, where his teammates were all smiles when talking about Nagbe, Porter gave a more clinical response to Nagbe’s play, praising the playmaker, but also his teammates who opened up space in which for him to operate.
“He was a difference in the game,” said Timbers head coach Caleb Porter about Nagbe. “He was involved in both goals; he scored the first and set up the second. Both of those goals came from the center and a big part of what we were trying to do today was create width through the wingers and outside backs, but we knew also that in creating width we would create some pockets and space in front of their back four.”
For his part, Nagbe was his usual demure self when interviewed after the match. Asked if he realized in the moment that his goal was something special, Nagbe kept it humble.
“No, you just try to make a play at the time. They called for me to take the shot, I hit it pretty nice and luckily it went in.”