- 2010 NCAA National Champion with the Akron Zips.
- No. 2 overall selection in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft.
- 2011 MLS Goal of the Year.
- Three years in a row on the MLSsoccer.com 24 Under 24 list, hitting No. 1 in 2013.
- Voted on by his teammates as the 2013 Timbers Player of the Year.
- 2013 MLS Individual Fair Play Award winner.
Portland Timbers forward/midfielder Darlington Nagbe has racked up some pretty impressive accomplishments all at the relatively young age of 23. But for Nagbe, one of his proudest achievements came earlier this winter: becoming a new dad.
On January 8, 2014, Nagbe and his wife Felicia, welcomed their first child Mila Darling Nagbe into the world. For the elder Nagbe, becoming a father was something he had set his sights on long ago, even at a young age.
“I remember telling my friends—you know, it’s not stuff a 19 year-old tells his friends— but I would tell my friends, ‘Yeah, I’ll probably get married young and have kids,’” said Nagbe. “They didn’t believe it, so now that it’s happening, it’s a dream come true. It’s fun for me, fun for my wife, and I’m excited about it.”
Mila’s arrival for Nagbe comes just as he’s about to enter his fourth season with the Timbers. Selected as the club’s inaugural pick and second overall in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, Nagbe has seen a gradual and productive evolution as a player on the field. Sometimes positioned in the midfield, sometimes as forward, Nagbe excels at a very fluid style that gives him freedom to possess and create scoring chances from all over the pitch.
Nagbe went from two goals in 2011—one of which won the MLS Goal of the Year—to a career high nine last year. Nagbe was also the only Timbers player to start in all 34 regular season games in 2013 and hit career highs in assists (4), and minutes played (2848). Between getting married in the 2012 offseason and now having his first child this most recent offseason, Nagbe has settled into a level of maturity that helps carry over to his game. For Timbers head coach Caleb Porter—who’s known Nagbe since he was a young player in Ohio and then later at the University of Akron—that process has been a fun one to watch.
“It’s really neat to see your players start their own families,” said Porter. “We call our team a family, and we are, but it’s interesting to see our family have families. I’ve seen a maturation out of Darlington just over the last several months because of the fact that he is a dad now and he’s got a bit more responsibility. I think he’s approaching his job and his livelihood in probably a bit more businesslike, serious manner and still having fun too.”
For a player and person like Nagbe, the responsibility of being a parent is something that he’s keenly aware of as he begins to tackle how to be a dad and raise a child. It’s a big step for him not just personally, but also, one he feels that he knows his play on the field can help affect.
“For me, [becoming a dad] makes me want to do better because you know there’s someone else you have to provide for and there’s someone else looking up to you,” he said. “It’s your own kid that’s going to look up to you some day and see what you did in the past, so it makes you want to push a little harder and do a little better.”
As a former player and father of three young kids himself, Porter echoes that sentiment.
“I think when you get older you appreciate [being a pro soccer player] even a bit more and you probably buckle down even a bit harder,” said Porter. “When Darlington’s got a little kid in the stands looking at him play, he’s probably going to dig a little deeper, perhaps, because he’s taking care of his family and every goal helps his family. Not only him, but helps his family. Every win. The better season he has, the better taken care of his family is. So that tends to, I think, drive guys a step further.”
While Nagbe’s personality may strike one as quiet at first, he’s tenacious and driven on the field. His ability to accelerate both on and off the ball gives opposing defenders fits as he bolts forward in the attack. Even though he hit some career highs last season, his expectations of what he wants to accomplish both personally and as a team remain ambitious heading into 2014.
“We’ve kept a lot of the guys on the team together, a lot of the core guys together, so playing with those guys again, I feel that can only make me better and make the team better and make everyone else better,” said Nagbe.
But even with Nagbe’s own personal goals of wanting to score more goals and contribute more assists this year, Porter is quick to point out that the young player, right now, is awfully good in and of his own right.
“Everybody wants more out of Darlington because he makes it look so easy and you always want more,” said Porter. “But I think if you just take him for what he’s worth, and you take him for what he brings and what he continues to do, I’ll take that every single year. I’ll take that every single game.”
After spending two weeks in Tucson with the team’s preseason preparations, Nagbe was eager to return home to his new family. Learning each day how to parent with all of the feedings, diaper changes, rocking to sleep and more, the new dad is enjoying every minute. It’s a new job that merges handily with his “day job” over at Providence Park: Timbers player.
“That’s the great thing about being a pro soccer player, is that it is a job, but it’s a great job,” said Porter. “But I think for me, I’ve maybe seen a little bit more focus, and like I said maturity out of Darlington. I think being a father will really enhance his life like I know it’s enhanced mine.”