PORTLAND, Ore.—U.S. citizenship, apparently, suits Darlington Nagbe just fine.
The dynamic Portland Timbers attacker is playing some of the best soccer of his career, after obtaining his American citizenship in early September. Nagbe has three goals and an assist in the Timbers’ last two games, a 5-2 rout of the LA Galaxy on October 18, and a 4-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids on Sunday that sent Portland into the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs as the Western Conference’s third-seed.
It’s a scary notion for opposition, with goals now accompanying the unparalleled skill set that has put him on the wish-list of US national team supporters.
“He’s good every game,” said Timbers head coach Caleb Porter. “He’s good every training. He’s a special player.
"You almost have to watch his games five times to really see the subtle things he does that are world-class. I’m not shy saying that he does things that are world-class.”
Nagbe’s uptick in production has come in games in which he’s played a more central role than the right-wing position he manned most of the season. In Portland’s 5-2 dismantling of the Galaxy, Nagbe played as a box-to-box midfielder in a 4-3-3 formation, scoring a goal.
And against Colorado, he took the spot of suspended attacking midfielder Diego Valeri in Porter’s usual 4-2-3-1 formation, resulting in two goals and an assist.
“It was good,” said Nagbe, in a radio interview Tuesday on 750 AM. “I feel like everyone helped each other out. Without having Valeri in there, everyone stepped their game up and we’re lucky enough that we got the result without him in there.”
Nagbe now has five goals this season, his most since posting a career-high nine in 2013. Since receiving his citizenship, the Liberia-born attacker has pinged Jurgen Klinsmann's radar, with Porter saying the USMNT head coach has been in touch about Nagbe’s availability.
“To be effective as an attacker you’ve got to create and produce goals," Porter said. "He's showing that now in addition to keeping the ball and helping us with possession and causing problems for the opponent, he’s causing problems by scoring. He’s stepped up. He’s not waiting for things to happen, he’s making them happen and that’s what makes him scary when he plays like that.”
It’s not lost on the Timbers how important that is heading into the playoffs, which will kick off for Portland with a home Knockout Round match on Thursday against Sporting Kansas City (7:00pm PT; ROOT SPORTS / UniMás in the US, TSN in Canada).
“There’s nobody who wants to win more than that guy,” said Timbers defender Nat Borchers. “I love playing with him. He’ll do the dirty work defensively, and he’ll get goals. I think that right now he’s a little bit freer to roam about and create space and get goals, and I’m just really happy for him and happy for us because we really need him.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.