PORTLAND, Ore. — Timbers’ attacker Darlington Nagbe is coming off the best season of his three-year career, his career highs in goals (nine) and assists (four) helping him top honor’s in Major League Soccer’s annual listing of the league’s top players under 24 years old.
After Portland’s final preseason game, a 1-1 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps, ProSoccerTalk cornered the former University of Akron star, who pointed to former Zips head coach Caleb Porter as one of the reasons for his 2013 breakout.
PST: With a couple of months to reflect on it, why do you think your numbers — particularly in goals — [improved] so much last year?
Nagbe: I think it was Diego Valeri, the other pieces we brought in, and coach Porter. We all did a good job just playing as a team, moving the ball and passing the ball. That’s a big part of my game. [My teammates] helped a lot last year.
On his reluctance to take personal credit for the improvement.
Stuff just opened up. I feel like with me being in the league longer, I got more comfortable with the league – with the other teams. I was playing (well) with my teammates. Stuff like that played a big part.
PST: Under (former Timbers head coach) John (Spencer), you had some specific statistical goals. Anything like that under Caleb?
Nagbe: Just always do better than I did the previous year. So I had nine (goals) last year. I’l try to get at least nine. Or more.
On potential All-Star recognition and other honors, like being first in the league’s 24 under 24 list.
I never expect any individual awards. I barely think about them. If we can just do well as team and win games, all of those things will just fall into place.
PST: People probably ask you a lot about team goals for this year, particularly after last year, so let me approach this a different way: Tell me why this team is going to be better than the already really good team last year.
Nagbe: I just think last year was our first year together, and we did great things. Playing soccer, chemistry plays a big part, and this team being together another year under Caleb, I think it will really improve us.
On what to expect from Argentine imports Gastón Fernández and Norberto Paparatto.
[Paparatto’s] a strong defender out of the back – a center back who likes to play out of the back. He an Pa (Modou Kah) are going to complement each other really well. He’s going to help us build the attacks.
Gastón’s a similar player to Valeri. [He’s] smart on the ball, technical. He’s going to look to play those penetrating balls, but at the same time, he’s going to get us goals, also.