Three months ago, Portland Timber Darlington Nagbe’s future with the United States Men’s National Soccer Team looked bleak. Following a semi-public spat with former USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann, Nagbe’s international career appeared to be over. In the January 29th friendly, he earned his first start in his eleventh career appearance and was named “Man of the Match” in a 0-0 draw against an inexperienced Serbian side.
Luckily for Nagbe, shortly after he declined Klinsmann’s call-up for two 2016 friendlies, the manager was fired and replaced by Bruce Arena. Under Arena, Nagbe was afforded a fresh start and was invited to January camp with the team. In Arena’s first match as manager since 2006, he gave Nagbe the nod for his first start.
In Sunday’s match, Nagbe was one of few bright spots in an overall dull performance as the team struggled to find the net. He flourished attacking from the left wing, a position that Arena and Timbers coach Caleb Porter recently agreed is where he is best suited.
While unable to finish, Nagbe provided the most dangerous scoring opportunities for the team, narrowly missing two shots wide in the first half. He was the most persistent attacking threat and provided timely help on defense when needed. Nagbe was constantly involved, just unable to capitalize and secure the win.
Moving forward with the USMNT, Nagbe’s future is promising. He will have another opportunity to impress Arena in a February 3 friendly against Jamaica. If his outstanding play continues, he will likely remain with the team for World Cup qualifying matches against Honduras (March 24) and Panama (March 28).
As is the nature of the January Camp, Sunday’s roster was made up solely of domestic players. In the World Cup qualifiers, Nagbe will face stiffer competition for minutes as team members playing in foreign leagues return. If he continues the offensive production seen in the Serbian friendly, he will surely find a role to play with the full squad.
One final timely tidbit—Darlington Nagbe, who as an infant fled war-torn Liberia, was a refugee who gained US citizenship in 2015. To be clear, Nagbe is not be effected by the recent Executive Order on Immigration, but many on social media made note of the fact that a refugee was leading the USMNT days after the government took actions to prevent those in similar situations from entering the country. Nagbe received an outpouring of support, which increased as his exceptional play became apparent.
“At one point, I was a refugee, and my mother was a refugee, so I can only imagine. I mean, I know the pain that [refugees are]feeling this moment. When we moved to this country [on a visa, after escaping to Sierra Leone], it was one of the best things that ever happened to us, and me just being here, being able to represent the country is a dream come true for myself and my mother and my entire family.”
With support for Nagbe at an all-time high and while protests against the Executive Order continue in Portland, it’s safe to say that he will be greeted with open arms when he returns to Oregon to join the Timbers for the MLS season.