When Darlington Nagbe replaced Real Salt Lake's Kyle Beckerman at half time of the 2016 AT&T MLS All-Star Game at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif., it marked the first time in Nagbe's six-year MLS career that the Portland Timbers midfielder made an appearance for the MLS All-Stars.
Given his career trajectory so far, chances are that it won't be his last.
“It was great,” Nagbe told Timbers.com after the match. “I didn't know what to expect before I got [to San Jose], but it was great. All the guys were cool. The coaching staff were cool. The city helped us well and hosted us well and hopefully [I] did a good job of representing the league and got the chance to play against Arsenal, one of the best teams in the world.”
It must have all felt like a bit of a whirlwind to the normally mild-mannered Nagbe, who earlier this month found out that he was one of the first 11 players named to the All-Star roster.
“I was a little surprised, but at the same time happy about it,” he said about learning of his selection. “I was looking forward to getting here and getting an opportunity to play with some great players, legends of the game.”
Every day at training, Nagbe found himself playing with and competing against some of the biggest names in international soccer of the last ten years. Didier Drogba. Andrea Pirlo. David Villa. These are players whom he grew up watching and admiring and in San Jose, suddenly, he found himself playing right alongside them.
“I'm just a fan of the game, so seeing these guys, some of these great players, and having the opportunity to step out onto the same field as them and be teammates with them for a couple days was fun.”
But when it finally came time for Nagbe to enter the match, the U.S. international explained that there were none of the typical nerves, only excitement.
“It's an All-Star game so you know it's just fun,” he said. “You go out there and get touches and try to help the team win.”
Nothing, though, could have prepared Nagbe for the surreal experience of facing off against the familiar red-and-white clad players of Arsenal FC. Here was the team that he had grown up watching and admiring, the team of Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, and Patrick Vieira with this edition sporting the likes of Peter Cech, Jack Wilshire, Theo Walcott and more.
“Getting the chance to step out onto the field with [the Arsenal players] was cool,” he said.
In his 45 minutes on the field, Nagbe showed well, getting touches in the attacking third and dribbling right at the Arsenal defenders through the middle of the pitch.
While his efforts weren't enough to lead the All-Stars to victory, Arsenal defeated MLS 2-1, Nagbe says that what matters most is the experience, and one like tonight – one in which he matched up against one of the great teams in world soccer alongside some of the greatest players to play the game – is one that he won't soon forget.
“Guys you look up to when you're growing up or who you've seen in the past, whether it be here or overseas, when I get the chance to step out onto the field with them it's something I'll always remember.”
Good vibes with pic.twitter.com/bpUqt0wvli— Darlington Nagbe (@darlingtonnagbe) July 29, 2016