Editor’s Note: The Portland Timbers are on the eve of their fifth season in Major League Soccer—and 40th anniversary of their first season in 1975—as they prepare for Saturday’s season opener against Real Salt Lake (7:30pm PT, ROOT SPORTS). There are five players on the roster that have been with the club all five years of its MLS existence: Diego Chara, Jake Gleeson, Jack Jewsbury, Darlington Nagbe and Rodney Wallace. All five have grown with the club and been a part of some memorable Timbers moments.
Throughout this week, we'll showcase a story a day about each of the five. Five players. Five days. 5x5.
Here are their stories.
"We were walking out for warmups and their fans were just barking at us and saying stuff to us the whole time, and we were just kind of giggling about it. So when we finally got the opportunity to score I just shushed the crowd a little bit and I looked up to the Timbers Army. My wife was there too at the game, so I was looking up there as well.”
--Darlington Nagbe on his reaction to scoring against Seattle Sounders FC at CenturyLink Field in the 2013 MLS Cup Playoffs
PORTLAND, Ore. - Entering his fifth season with the Portland Timbers, Darlington Nagbe is in a reflective mood.
The talented midfielder/forward was one of the first-ever players to arrive in Portland when the Timbers selected the fresh-faced University of Akron grad with the second overall pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft.
In his first season with the club, Nagbe scored the eventual 2011 MLS Goal of the Year, a curling volley that he controlled off of his own dribble.
"A lot of people go their whole careers without scoring goals like that," Nagbe said in 2011. "I got lucky enough to score one like that."
Since that award-winning goal in 2011, Nagbe has scored 17 other league goals for the Timbers. Last season, he even set a career-high in assists with seven. He is also Portland’s all-time leader in MLS appearances in a Timbers uniform with 127 games. Nagbe, now 24, has become a veteran club constant both on and off the pitch that has also turned him into more of a leader as well.
"When I first came, I was 20 years-old and coming to a new city far away from home," Nagbe said. "I feel like I’m more comfortable now.
"In training, I tell the younger guys 'good job' and 'good work' and stuff like that so they hear it coming from me. Maybe it motivates them, maybe it doesn’t, but I know when I was a younger guy and I heard compliments from a player that was older than me it made me feel good."
He also believes that he's evolved into a different type of player from when he first arrived.
"I feel like the more years I’ve been in the league, I’m not too worried about making mistakes and I’m not making too many mistakes," he said. "I don’t know if it’s because I’m not worrying about it or just getting it as a player, but I feel like I'm taking more chances, more risk on the field."
Yet, despite having acclimated to his career on the field as a professional soccer player, Nagbe is still shocked when he's recognized off of it.
"It’s kind of good walking down the street and people recognize you, but sometimes you just forget," he said. "My wife always laughs at it because she knows that when that happens to me, I’m not uncomfortable, but I’m still a little bit surprised."
He could never quite understand, he said, when fans were trembling as they met him. Not until he watched his teenage sister cry as she met Portland Thorns FC and U.S. Women's National Team star Alex Morgan.
That realization has only emboldened Nagbe to dedicate his play on the pitch to the fans in the stands.
"Just us being able to give them something to look forward to over the weekends and doing it every week is fun,” he said.
More than anything, he feels blessed to have called Portland home for the past four seasons, something that he wouldn't trade for anything else.
"I’m sure that any player in the league would love to come here and play as long as I have been playing here, and continue [playing] good games in front of these fans,” he said. “Being here and getting the opportunity to do it is just something special."