Darlington Nagbe may have been one of the most underrated midfielders in Major League Soccer over the first nine years of his professional career. Despite helping two different teams to their first ever MLS Cup titles, Nagbe never received the praise he probably deserved.
That is changing quickly. After moving to Columbus Crew SC this offseason and helping the Black & Gold to a 4-0-1 start to the 2020 campaign, including a perfect 3-0 through the group stage of the MLS is Back Tournament, Nagbe is getting plenty of credit for the Crew’s turnaround. So much so that Nagbe has been named to the MLS Team of the Week for all three weeks of the tournament, this week appearing on the bench following Columbus’ 1-0 win against Atlanta to lock up the top spot in Group E.
In the game against United, Nagbe was credited with completing all 43 of his attempted passes while helping the Black & Gold control the midfield. Nagbe’s partnership with Artur was once again impressive as the two players have formed a quick bond in Columbus’ “engine room.”
While Nagbe can’t take all the credit for the Crew’s turnaround this year — Columbus already has 34 percent of the points the team accumulated all of last season and half the wins — he certainly has played a major part. His ability to hold on to a ball and get himself out of tight spaces, as well as his always accurate passing ability has helped improved a Black & Gold midfield that struggled at times in 2019.
The midfielder isn’t going to get many goals or assists — just 29 finishes and 37 helpers in his first nine seasons — but what he does to help his team move from defense to attack and the way he can create for those around him is invaluable.
“I mean when you look at possession numbers, he’s one of the best in the league,” Crew head coach Caleb Porter recently said of Nagbe. “So there’s a lot of value in that in a team. Not every player is going to be the one that scores the goal or gets the assist but I can tell you this, he’s probably connected to every goal we score in some way, shape or form.”
Porter, who coached Nagbe both in college at Akron and in MLS for five seasons with the Portland Timbers, has long understood the midfielder’s value. This year, it seems, the rest of MLS is starting to learn as well.