Darlington Nagbe certainly didn’t expect his first two months as a Columbus Crew SC player would play out the way they did. Back in Ohio for the first time since 2010, where he graduated from the University of Akron, the midfielder got to play in just two regular season matches for the club before the coronavirus pandemic interrupted Major League Soccer play.
Despite the short time of play, Nagbe did enough to show how important he can be for the Black & Gold going forward. The 29-year-old player quickly established himself as the hub of the midfield, controlling the team’s offensive transition and distributing the ball smartly to his teammates.
Nagbe had the best passing efficiency (92 percent) and averaged the fourth-most passes per match (56.5) among the players who appeared against both games against New York City FC and the Seattle Sounders between the end of February and the beginning of March, according to WhoScored.com.
The former Portland Timbers player, one of just five on the entire roster to play each minute of both matches, also provided interesting support to the team’s defensive system with 3.5 tackles per game, the second-best mark on the squad.
“I’ve been trying to link up the defense and the attack,” Nagbe explained after a full-team training session last week. “And the guys have been trusting me with the ball, giving me the ball and having confidence that I can get it to the right players, in the right spots, at the right time. I’ll continue to do to that and hopefully they’ll continue to trust me.”
The limited time on the field was also enough for Nagbe to understand the potential his midfield pairing with Artur has. The duo’s presence in the center of the field is expected to be one of the main strengths of head coach Caleb Porter’s team when the season resumes.
The Brazilian and the U.S. international showed glimpses of what they can do together over the first 180 minutes of the season, but they both expect to be even more impactful after a few more matches together.
“It’s been great getting to play with Artur,” the midfielder added. “From playing against him in the past, I knew a little bit about him, but through preseason and that first couple of games it’s been great. He’s a great midfielder, he’s got a great energy, good touch on the ball, great passing range and obviously great work rate, so hopefully the chemistry builds more and more.”
Those matches will most likely happen soon as the Crew is set to return to action at the MLS is Back Tournament next month, in Orlando, Florida. The Black & Gold is part of Group E, where they will face in-state rivals FC Cincinnati, Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls.
The upcoming return to play in Orlando can also help Nagbe achieve one of his goals in Columbus. With the tournament set to end at the beginning of August, the Liberian native could have a shot at his first title in a Black & Gold uniform several months before he previously expected.
“Coming here and being a part of this club was something I really wanted to do,” he added. “So to being able to win trophies with this club will be special. Not just for me, but for the fan base as well, it’s been a while since they last won a trophy. We’re all looking forward to it and hopefully we can start it in Orlando.”