United States international and Atlanta United midfielder Darlington Nagbe is reportedly pushing for a move away from the reigning MLS Cup champions, as reported by Rob Usry of SBNation’s Dirty South Soccer on Friday. The report, if true, comes as a shock to both fans of United and the Atlanta front office. It was then reported by Atlanta-Journal Constitution beat writer Doug Roberson that Nagbe won’t train with United for the remainder of the team’s preseason trip to California.
Nagbe’s role in Atlanta’s trophy-winning season last year was significant. He made 28 appearances for the Five Stripes and although not scoring and assisting on only one goal, he logged 1,970 minutes of Major League Soccer play and was a consistent member of the team. With Nagbe in the lineup, United was 14-5-4 as he contributed three assists.
A Lakewood, Ohio native, rumor has it that Nagbe would fancy a reunion with his former head coach Caleb Porter, who is in his first year in charge in Columbus. Porter coached Nagbe at both the University of Akron and the Portland Timbers, where together they won the 2010 NCAA Division I Tournament and 2015 MLS Cup, respectively.
Nagbe is a versatile player who can be deployed in virtually any midfield position. Porter could surely use a player of Nagbe’s quality in a midfield that doesn’t run as deep as some of the MLS’s best. It looks as if the Crew will go into the season with a similar 4-2-3-1 formation which was the same setup used under former head coach Gregg Berhalter.
If so, the Black and Gold’s midfield options aren’t as deep as they would like when it comes to experience. Current captain Wil Trapp and midfield partner Artur are pegged to be the starters in central midfield, with Ricardo Clark as the squad’s main backup option. But at age 36, it’s hard to imagine Clark logging much more time than he did last season: 642 minutes across 13 games. Second-year player Luis Argudo flashed ability to play all across the midfield as a rookie and could be another, less experienced option.
On the outside, Columbus is working with returning starters Justin Meram and Pedro Santos followed by Niko Hansen, Edward Opoku and new signee Robinho. Nagbe has played on the wings at points in his career including under Porter and could help at either position, but likely would not add the scoring threat the Crew are looking for out of these roles with just 27 goals over eight MLS seasons.
Assuming Nagbe was able to force a move out of Atlanta and to Columbus, it’s more than likely that Porter would find a regular spot for him somewhere in the lineup, either as a starter or rotational player. Given the likely high price tag — United paid over $1 million in General and Targeted Allocation Money last offseason and Nagbe is reportedly in the last year of a deal that paid him $605,000 last season — it’s hard to imagine acquiring the midfielder without the intent to use him regularly. It was Porter who was able to get the best out of Nagbe and if the move were to somehow happen, success with the Black and Gold could possibly follow as well.
Also a regular with the United States Men’s National Team, a seasoned player of Nagbe’s quality would not come cheap. However, both his skills on the ball and his experience in this system make him an excellent option for any MLS team and almost surely one that is coached by the likes of Porter.