Three Good Questions: Portland Timbers’ Darlington Nagbe

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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.

UEFA: Wales in trouble; Spain dominates; Buffon hits 1000

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Friday’s matches mark the midway point of the main round of qualifying in UEFA, and the tables remain tight near the top of Groups D and G.

[ MORE: Smalling hurt, Gibson called up ]

Group I, however, is seeing some distance between first and second thanks to Croatia’s result versus Ukraine.

Republic of Ireland 0-0 Wales

Neil Taylor was sent off in the 69th minute for Wales, whose World Cup hopes are in trouble.

Seamus Coleman was stretchered off after the tackle, with a scary-looking injury that will leave Everton fans sick in more ways than one. Coleman’s leg was broken, and left dangling by the challenge.

Ireland couldn’t take advantage of the sending off, and failed in a bid to overtake Serbia for first in Group D. The Irish trail on goal differential, and will host Serbia on Sept. 5.

But Wales will rue the result more, remaining four points back of second-place Ireland. Chris Coleman’s side drops a point behind Austria as well, and will not have Taylor or Gareth Bale (card accumulation) in its next match. That comes against leaders Serbia.

Italy 2-0 Albania

Daniele De Rossi scored a 12th minute penalty kick won by Andrea Belotti, and Ciro Immobile scored late to provided the goals in Gianluigi Buffon’s 1000th appearance for club and country. Fittingly, it ended in a clean sheet. The match was briefly delayed after flares were thrown onto the field.

Spain 4-1 Israel

David Silva, Vitolo, and Diego Costa stakes the Spaniards to a three-goal lead, with Lior Refaelov ruining David De Gea‘s clean sheet with 11 minutes to play. Isco scored the match’s final goal.

Spain remains atop Group G on goal differential, eight better than second place Italy. Israel is four points behind both.

Croatia 1-0 Ukraine

Fiorentina’s Nikola Kalinic’s 38th minute goal was enough for the hosts, and Croatia is now five points clear at the top midway through qualifying.

Elsewhere
Austria 2-0 Moldova — RB Leipzig’s Sabitzer nabs winner
Liechtenstein 0-3 Macedonia — Ilija Nestorovski bags brace
Kosovo 1-2 Iceland — Sigurdsson PK the match winner
Georgia 1-3 Serbia — Mitrovic, Tadic lead the way
Turkey 2-0 Finland — Brace for Cenk Tosun

Boro’s Gibson called to England after injury to Man Utd’s Smalling

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Scoring goals has been the biggest problem for Middlesbrough in its return to the Premier League, and that overshadows how well the Northeast club has defended its own goal.

Ben Gibson has been a huge part of that, and now he’ll earn the chance to represent his nation thanks to an injury to Chris Smalling. Gibson will join England ahead of Sunday’s home World Cup qualifier against Lithuania.

[ MORE: Podolski leads Germany past England ]

Gibson has far and away been Boro’s best player, leading the side in blocked shots and clearances. The blocked shots total is tied for ninth in the Premier League, 11 behind current leader and new England teammate Michael Keane.

Smalling’s undisclosed injury is a bigger problem for Manchester United, which had already lost center back depth on England duty when Phil Jones was hurt.

Dele Alli to miss next three European matches, UCL or UEL

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Tottenham Hotspur is primed to qualify for a second-straight UEFA Champions League campaign this year, and will have to start that sophomore run without Dele Alli.

The 20-year-old playmaker has banned for his next three matches. If Spurs finish fourth, that would mean both qualifying matches and an additional match.

[ MORE: Five questions for USMNT ]

If they finish higher, Dele will miss the first three group stage matches.

Dele was shown red for a tackle on Brecht Dejaegere in Spurs’ 2-2 draw with Gent in the UEFA Europa League Round of 32, as Tottenham left the tournament.

Men in Blazers podcast: Man City-Liverpool review, USMNT preview

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Rog and Davo recap the Top Four battle between Manchester City and Liverpool, ask (again) whether it’s time for Arsene to go, and break down two of the most important USMNT games in modern history.

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