The U.S. national team’s prospective player pool grew by one on Thursday, as Portland Timbers midfielder Darlington Nagbe became an official United States citizen, according to Timbers owner Merritt Paulson.
Congrats to @darlingtonnagbe on officially becoming a United States citizen today.— Merritt Paulson (@MerrittPaulson) September 11, 2015
Nagbe, 25, was born in Monrovia, Liberia, where he lived for five short months before his mother fled the country due to civil war. Nagbe and his mother were then reconnected with the infant’s father, Joe, who was a professional footballer for Monaco, Nice and PAOK, among others. When Nagbe was 11 years old, the family put down roots in Cleveland, Ohio, thus paving the way for a decorated youth soccer career before starring at the Univesity of Akron, under current Timbers head coach Caleb Porter.
The second overall pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft (Omar Salgado went no. 1 to the Vancouver Whitecaps — oops!), Nagbe has shone brightly in MLS while proving a confounding, divisive figure for fans and media alike. His 20 goals and 18 assists in 154 career appearances aren’t exactly jump-off-the-page numbers, but when you watch the silky-smooth playmaker, you instantly see a player capable of one day contesting for a league MVP award.
Alas, the on-paper production and a clear lack of a “killer instinct” seem to prevent Nagbe making the jump from “superstar prospect” to “superstar of the highest order,” a level so many well-read American soccer observers see attainable. Often times passive and deferential in the decisive moment, Nagbe likely finds himself below the likes of Gyasi Zardes, Alejandro Bedoya (though he’s apparently now a defensive midfielder) for a place in Jurgen Klinsmann’s full national team right this moment.
Instead, Nagbe, who now only requires the processing of paperwork and official clearance from FIFA before he’s eligible to represent the USMNT, probably ranks right alongside Graham Zusi, Miguel Ibarra and Brad Davis as the first group off attacking midfielders/wingers just outside Klinsmann’s preferred 23-man group.
This goal, I have…I mean, could…I could watch this for hours and hours and hours. (Reminder: he did this as a 21-year-old rookie.)