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 MLSsoccer.com 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."