For Timbers, the time is now for Nagbe

Portland's offense gets a lift when Darlington's on the field
March 17, 2012 / By Mike Donovan,

Going into halftime Saturday in Frisco, Texas, the Portland Timbers were behind 1-0 on the scoreboard and Darlington Nagbe was not on the pitch for the second consecutive first half.

Five minutes into the second half, Nagbe was in and the Timbers were no longer losing.

A Nagbe goal four minutes into the second half earned the Timbers a 1-1 draw in their first away match of the season.  Unlike the Timbers home opener on Monday at Jeld-Wen, Nagbe entered the game as a striker and not a midfielder.

While his goal was only set up after a disastrous screw-up by FC Dallas midfielder Daniel Hernandez, his finishing ability and presence of mind to turn and fire on net had zero to do with an opponent’s mistakes.

According to head coach John Spencer last season following the New England home game, Nagbe prefers to play up top paired with another striker. With newly acquired striker Kris Boyd a ready-and-willing presence in the box, Nagbe might have found his perfect match.

It was not just the goal that earned Nagbe the right to start at striker for the Timbers in upcoming matches. It was his touch and passing ability. His first touch is clearly far above any other potential starting forward on the club, while his ability to pass in tight spaces is a notch above Jorge Perlaza.

Nagbe’s ascent to striker would also clear up Perlaza to be used as a speedy, change-of-pace forward in the final 20 or so minutes of a match. Perlaza would have a game changing ability going against defenders that had been on the pitch for the entire game.

Another plus of Nagbe starting as a striker is how it clears up the jumbled outside midfielder position. Assuming Franck Songo’o eventually starts, the Timbers will have two defined starters (Kalif Alhassan and Songo’o) and two defined backups (Sal Zizzo and Eric Alexander) on the wings.  

While Nagbe does not have the height of most starting MLS forwards, his excellent jumping ability and sheer soccer IQ make up for his lack of inches. Nagbe displayed his ability to beat much taller defenders in last year’s 1-1 draw with the San Jose Earthwaukes at Jeld-Wen.

Using his brain and leverage, the 21-year-old beat 6-foot-5 defender Bobby Burling to a ball and then slotted in a cross to Cooper, who found the back of the net. Plays like that demonstrate Nagbe’s ability to play against much taller central defenders.  

Sometimes in sports, players lose their spot not due to their inability, but simply because another player gives his team a better chance to win. And that is exactly what is happening to Jorge Perlaza. His demotion paired with Nagbe’s promotion would simply make the Timbers better.

Mike Donovan is the Portland Timbers beat reporter for and he tweets at Donovan, along with published Cliff Pfenning, host the weekly web series, No Pity City, every Tuesday night at 8: 30 Pacific time.