Portland shakeup shuttles Nagbe to Atlanta

Confirmation came Wednesday of Atlanta United acquiring midfielder Darlington Nagbe and defender Gbenga Akroyo from Portland for big chunks of allocation money. The Timbers also received a senior international slot in the transaction.

Up front, Portland receives $750,000 in General Allocation Money (GAM) and $300,000 in Targeted Allocation Money (TAM). The TAM total could increase to as much as $900,000 through incentive clauses, making a potential value of $1.65 million that would eclipse the $1.6 million of possible value exchanged when Sporting Kansas City traded Dom Dwyer  to Orlando City.

Nagbe earned $565,000 in guaranteed compensation in 2017 and reportedly paved the way for his exit by asking for a bigger contract, in the neighborhood of $1 million. Portland had used TAM money to buy down his compensation below the salary-budget charge limit. Despite an extension of the TAM program to 2018 and 2019 and the addition of Discretionary TAM funds that cannot be traded, the Timbers elected to trade him and accrue even more money to be used on their roster.

In his seven pro seasons Nagbe, 27, has scored 27 goals and notched 30 assists in 214 games (203 starts). A native of Monrovia, Liberia, he acquired U.S. citizenship in 2015 and helped the Timbers win their only MLS Cup title that same year while also securing a regular spot in the USA lineup. He has played 24 games for the USA and was a member of the 2017 Gold Cup-championship squad.

He joins an Eastern Conference team already heralded as a legitimate title threat during an impressive expansion campaign. Atlanta led MLS with a league-record average attendance (48,200) and accumulated two more points (55) than Portland, which won the Western Conference on a tiebreaker.

"Darlington was our top target in the league this offseason and we’re ecstatic to welcome him to our club,” said Atlanta United technical director Carlos Bocanegra in a team press release. “He is a perfect fit for our style of play as he has a dynamic ability to dribble out of trouble, maintain possession and make passes that bring additional players into the game.”

Last season, Nagbe led the league in passing percentage (92.1) and tied for eighth in successful dribbles per game (1.6). He joins a potent lineup that is already well-stocked with midfielders, though Yamil Asad is on loan and reports abound that playmaker Miguel Almiron could be transferred. Veteran Jeff Larentowicz  has been re-signed as a free agent.

This major deal falls amid significant changes by both teams. The Timbers have also traded forward Darren Mattocks to D.C. United and are mulling offers from Chinese teams for Fanendo Adi. There are 16 players on the roster with Akroyo, Mattocks, and Nagbe removed. Former Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese is expected to take over from Porter this week.

Atlanta United is tweaking a back line anchored by Michael Parkhurst and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. The contract options on three defenders were not picked up and veteran Bobby Boswell is out of contract. Outside back Jose Hernandez and right back Franco Escobar, who has also played in the middle, have been added along with Akroyo, 25, a Nigerian international who played just one MLS game after being acquired by Portland prior to the 2016 season.
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