Darlington Nagbe on coming home to Ohio, reuniting with Caleb Porter, and not playing for the USA

Might Darlington Nagbe's move to the Columbus Crew -- closer to home and reunited with Caleb Porter -- be his ticket back to the U.S. national team?

Don't count on it.

Nagbe, a central midfielder with sublime skills but little desire to take charge of the action, hasn't been in camp with the U.S. team since former Crew boss Gregg Berhalter took over in late 2018. And he's OK with that.

“I haven't had any conversations with Gregg since the last time we spoke,” Nagbe, who appeared 25 times for the USA in 2015-2018, said during his MLS Media and Marketing Tour session with reporters last week at Banc of California Stadium. “I made it clear to him that it has nothing to do with soccer or the game. I think my not being involved with the national team is just me wanting to be home with my family more. Simple as that.

“I haven't thought about it at all.”

Nagbe, whom the Crew acquired last month from Atlanta United for a bit more than $1 million in targeted and general allocation money, is a homebody, and the chance to return home to Ohio was too good to pass up. Especially with Porter in charge.

Much of the 29-year-old's Nagbe's greatest success has come under Porter, with whom he won an NCAA title (and claimed the MAC Hermann Trophy) a decade ago and an MLS Cup crown in 2015. (With Atlanta United, Nagbe won won MLS Cup 2018 under Coach Tata Martino and the 2019 U.S. Open Cup with Coach Frank de Boer.)

Atlanta United Photo

“I'd say it was hard leaving the guys and my teammates and the club,” said Nagbe, who was born in Liberia but grew up largely in Lakewood, near Cleveland. “But it was a chance to go home and play in front of family and friends. For my family to be able to see [me], the grandparents and my kids and all that stuff, it kind of took over everything else [in making the decision].”

Porter, who stepped in for Berhalter last season and guided the Crew to a 10th place finish in the Eastern Conference with a 10-16-8 record, is looking to build a dynamic and attacking brand of soccer, and Nagbe, a former No. 10 mostly utilized as a box-to-box midfielder, is pivotal to his plans.

“I'm definitely not a goalscorer, like, an attacking a player that gets numbers,” Nagbe said, “but I think I do a little bit of everything well. ... I think possession is probably one of my biggest strengths. You know, get on the ball, get touches, help to dictate the tempo of the game, get my playmaker the ball, and things like that. Kind of the bigger picture of the team.”

He's faced criticism, especially during seven seasons with the Timbers, for not taking on a greater role with his teams, for not becoming the playmaker his abilities seemed to warrant. He's been a vital role player rather than a galvanizing presence.

“But that's not who I am as a player,” he said. “I think everyone's entitled to their opinions, which I respect, but it's just not me.”

Porter knows what he's getting.

“Darlington is a modern midfielder, and he’s going to be part of a modern system," Porter told last month. "The top clubs in the world dictate the game with the ball, but that's not just what they do. Darlington is the type of player that will fit into the evolution that we're making. We'll control games with the ball, we want to push towards being a team that dictates the game in the front half and counter-presses.”

Nagbe has something of a yin-and-yang relationship with Porter. They might have little in common, but they're a snug fit.

“I think we're completely different people,” he said. “I think opposites kind of attract at times, and I'm more a laid-back and go-with-the-flow type of guy, and he's more about getting it done and keeping everyone on track. I think that's good for me, in general, and I think just being successful in college, that's just our bond, and then at the professional level. ...

“He had a lot to do [with me joining the Crew]. He's someone I enjoy playing for, that I've been successful with, so I'm hoping we create something special in Columbus. I think it's the right time, with the direction to club is going in."

10 comments about "Darlington Nagbe on coming home to Ohio, reuniting with Caleb Porter, and not playing for the USA".
  1. Kent James, January 23, 2020 at 4:36 p.m.

    While I'm disappointed in Nagbe not wanting to play for the USMNT, it does explain why he's not part of the picture (which I think he should be).  I wish him well in Ohio...

  2. David May, January 23, 2020 at 5:33 p.m.

    “I haven't had any conversations with Gregg since the last time we spoke,” 
    This is funny!

  3. Bob Ashpole, January 23, 2020 at 5:53 p.m.

    I am looking forward to seeing what Porter builds in Columbus.

    He certainly talks the talk. And the new owners are certainly committed. Columbus fans must be pleased.

  4. Sam Bellin, January 23, 2020 at 7:24 p.m.

    Nagbe is still one of the 4 or 5 best midfielders we have.  We miss his composure on the ball every time we play against a good team.  Doesn't seem like Berhalter is all that interested in having him on the team?  Good luck to Nagbe in Columbus -- he's always been a class player and seems to be a class human being as well.

  5. frank schoon, January 23, 2020 at 7:24 p.m.

    This interview is an absolute waste of time, for me at least.  It is so rare that SA  interviews an MLS player and one  who has really improved his game.   Since many of the readers of SA are coaches and fans of the game, with that in mind I would have asked questions as to what he learned from Tata, and Ronald de Boer about the game, positioning, and other insights that he might have picked up. Or what he learned from players like Martinez and other South American teammates.. For example,what does de Boer emphasize in his practices and how does he explain tactics, or what improved his game from being with these coaches....There is so much material that could have been asked and for the reader to learn from. But instead  the conversation centers  mainly about why he is not playing for the MNT...which is fine but that should take about a sentence 

    This interview is a perfect example of the state of American soccer journalism, that I complain about. If we are to improve our level of soccer awareness, which means soccer interviews given with the express purpose of making sure that reader can learn something about the game. Instead we are at the level of Sports Illustrated, very superficial.

    Scott, this is not a personal criticism on you but a criticism of an overal picture of landscape of American Soccer Journalism that tend write focus more on issues surrounding the game instead of getting more in to the real meat of  the game. The English are no different in that respect or the Belgians, or Germans, so we're not alone it this. Try reading the Spanish or Dutch soccer journalist than will see a major difference...

    We are still so young at this game of soccer here, that it cries out for interviews  in way as a learning experience for the reader. I do want congratulate you, Scott, for an interview dealing with an MLS player which is so rare in SA for all we get are usually interviews  dealing with coaches, ad infinitum.. Therefore I find it so refreshing to read about genuine  player. I would highly recommend for you follow my suggestion about getting more into the nitty gritty of the game and keep in mind that a lot of coaches would benefit the "inside baseball' stuff of the game . This would set you apart from the other soccer journalists...

    How about an interview with Julian Gressel or Joseph Martinez, etc, 

  6. Nick Gabris, January 24, 2020 at 11:29 a.m.

    GEEEZZ Frank, another one of your novels! This article is about Nagbe's personal take, not opinions on soccer in whole. Always enjoyed watching Nagbe, great player, good luck in your future.

  7. frank schoon replied, January 24, 2020 at 11:45 a.m.

    Nick, all we get from interviews of players which is rare in itself is info on the level of what one could read in "Peoples" magazine about a player. I didn't ask for Nagbe's opinions on soccer( try reading what I stated) but what he learned as a player from good coaches under  de Boer and Tata, that made him the player to enjoy watching. He ,no doubt,as I've stated before was that he is the most improved player of the MSL under de Boer. It would have been nice to go that angle when interviewing a player, instead of how do you 'feel' about this  or 'what is your take on this'....interviews like that requires little to no backround in soccer for journalists..

    We have such a paucity of interviews dealing with MLS players that ,I think it behooves a good journalist to draw from these players good soccer info that can benefit coaches and players... 

  8. R2 Dad replied, January 24, 2020 at 12:26 p.m.

    Frank, sounds like you're offering to do a series of in-depth interviews for SA. Maybe a trial would be in order?

  9. frank schoon replied, January 24, 2020 at 1:13 p.m.

    R2, Mike Woitella and his guys are doing a good job on SA but I do think we're missing an aspect of soccer, that goes into a little more depth, more inside baseball, lets say, with the express purpose of educating or informing the reader. It certainly would benefit SA improve that aspect of soccer journalism. I usually in my long drawn out comments ,novel like as Nick puts it LOL, try to give tidbits of inside information about the game, hopefully the reader will find interesting.

    I spend six months or so going through my notes of the past 40years or so,which includes  all the interviews of Johan Cruyff in the past 50years plus other greats on the 'how to build up an attack from the back ' I took their comments, their criticisms all the different aspects that's related to building up an attack and sort of wrote a paper on it. I broke it down to what can go wrong if you do this or that, what to look for,etc and other aspects. I took all that info and from time to time I would use in my comments,for example.

    After going through these interviews that I have, you realize how much more we need to improve the interviews as far as asking good questions. I don't know about you but we need something more in our interviews dealing with players 

  10. Seth Vieux replied, January 24, 2020 at 2:11 p.m.

    If there were regular reporting and informative interviews in US soccer journalism, just not this one, I'd understand pushing back on Frank here. But as he's absolutely right that there is basically no reporting like he's suggesting, I'm with him here (which surely isn't always the case). Don't take his criticism as specifically about this article, just a larger criticism of how we report on the sport, and surely Frank is right that Nagbe's experience playing for Tata and De Boer and on his way out presented a great opportunity to ask him interesting questions at a time when he could have been very open with his responses. 

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