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Injured Nagbe, Steffen out of USMNT friendlies

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U.S. Soccer has confirmed that injuries to Zack Steffen and Darlington Nagbe will keep them out of the upcoming friendlies against England and Italy.

Steffen is the more notable absence, a player expected to start at least one of the two matches as the presumed favorite to take the long-term No. 1 goalkeeper spot for the USMNT.

[ MORE: No Pogba, Martial for France ]

The 28-year-old Nagbe has just one cap since the World Cup qualifying debacle in Couva, going 90 minutes in the 1-0 March win over Paraguay.

He missed two months of the Major League Soccer season with a thigh injury, and has two assists for Atlanta United in going nearly 90 minutes whenever available.

Jonathan Klinsmann was called up from Hertha Berlin to replace Steffen, and will join Ethan Horvath and Brad Guzan in the USMNT goalkeeping corps. The 21-year-old is a starter for Hertha II and has twice been the backup for the senior team.

With Nagbe out 2-3 months, Atlanta adds Argentine mid

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Atlanta United is one of only two MLS sides averaging two points-per-game this season, but their path toward maintaining that impressive figure just got a lot more difficult.

Darlington Nagbe is set to miss two to three months with a groin injury.

[ MORE: Rojo, Messi react to win ]

While Nagbe, 27, has only managed a single assist for the Five Stripes, the American midfielder has played more minutes than any teammate outside of Miguel Almiron and Michael Parkhurst.

Atlanta United has made a signing in the center of the park, with Tata Martino’s bunch adding Argentine 23-year-old Eric Remedi from Banfield.

The injury could also cost him the opportunity to impress a new USMNT coach when the Yanks return to the pitch for September matches against Brazil and Mexico.

Three things: Atlanta go home, get back on track vs. DCU

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Sunday provided everyone with example no. 143,395 of Why we shouldn’t draw any conclusions whatsoever from the first week — or two months, probably — of the MLS season.

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From week to week, no other league in the world will see a team turn in such diametrically opposed performances…

[ MORE: MLS 2018 season previews ]

Tactical flexibility is a must-have in today’s MLS

Atlanta United were demolished and run off the field in their season-opening 4-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo last weekend, at which point the MLS masses were clearly a tad too quick to celebrate and dance on the Five Stripes’ grave.

Not only did the players respond during Sunday’s 3-1 thrashing of D.C. United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, so too did manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino during the week as he settled on a formational change and devised the perfect gameplan to cure precisely what ailed his high-powered attacking machine just eight short days ago. In that game, Atlanta were completely overrun in midfield with Darlington Nagbe and Chris McCann deployed as a double pivot in a 4-2-3-1 — it didn’t work because there was simply too much space — vertically, but especially horizontally — for the pair to cover, and they were torched out wide.

To offset the obvious shortcomings of a Nagbe-McCann central midfield, Martino swapped the 4-2-3-1 for an aggressive, high-pressing 5-3-2 which featured Greg Garza and second-year Swiss Army knife utilitarian Julian Gressel and left and right wing backs, respectively. The third central defender helped Nagbe and his new midfield partner, Jeff Larentowicz, vertically while Garza and Gressel were godsends to either side. Not only were they asked to do far less defensively, thanks to G&G harassing Yamil Asad and Paul Arriola out wide, but Nagbe in particular was able to have an immense impact on Atlanta’s possession game — something which was null and void just a week ago.

Tata’s also working out the Nagbe “problem”

Speaking of Nagbe, it’s only a small exaggeration to suggest he could lead the league in assists, on secondary assists alone, this season. Consider the embarrassment of attacking talent playing ahead of him: Miguel Almiron, Ezequiel Barco and Hector Villalba — who’d be the focal point for at least half the teams in MLS, but falls to third chair in his own midfield — playing behind Josef Martinez. There will be plenty of goals scored in the ATL, just like last season.

Take Atlanta’s first goal on Sunday as the most perfect example of how much easier the aforementioned stars have already begun to make Nagbe’s job. Sure, the first touch is great and bails out Villalba who’s in a tough trapped spot up against the sideline, but the ensuing through ball for Villalba is elementary stuff for a player of Nagbe’s skill:

The “problem” that Nagbe has presented his various coaches — both club and international — throughout his career is that he “should” be this type of player, or he “should” be that type of player. It’s pretty clear, after seven seasons and more than 200 appearances, he’s not a no. 10 and he’s not a winger. Let the man be the brilliant shuttler and link between defense/defensive midfield and a vibrant, downhill attacking quartet. (Caleb Porter stumbled onto this formula in 2015, and the Portland Timbers rode it all the way to MLS Cup.) Does it carry less weight and sound far less sexy? Sure, but to play the part as quickly and instinctually as Nagbe can do, might just be what separates Atlanta from being “fun” and “great.”

Plenty of reason to have hope for DCU

I said it before the season, and I’ll say it again now: by the time summer arrives, no team will have improved more from 2017 to 2018 than D.C. United. The roster was turned over last August (Arriola, Zoltan Stieber and Russell Canouse) and the overhaul continued this winter (Asad, Frederic Brilliant, Ulises Segura and Junior Moreno). For the first time in a long while, Ben Olsen has a genuinely talented MLS roster at his disposal.

For not-insignificant stretches of Sunday’s game — say, most of the second half — United were not quite in control of the run of play, but they were the more dangerous side with the score still 1-0. Darren Mattocks missed a couple decent chances (as he does) and the Black and Red were unable to capitalize and fatally conceded two goals in as many minutes.

Once Luciano Acosta reclaims his place in the starting lineup (he returned to the bench after being suspended for last week’s 1-1 draw with Orlando City SC), he should tie together United’s sturdy back half and an attacking unit made up of (largely) slightly above replacement-level MLS retreads.

Timbers send Nagbe to Atlanta for allocation money

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have traded midfielder Darlington Nagbe to Atlanta United in exchange for $1.65 million in allocation money.

Portland is also sending defender Gbenga Arokoyo to Atlanta and receiving a 2018 international spot as part of the trade.

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Nagbe, who has become a regular on the U.S. national team, has been with the Timbers since the team joined MLS in 2011. He was selected with the second overall pick in that year’s MLS SuperDraft.

He has 27 goals and 30 assists in 214 matches with the Timbers. His goals are the second-most since the team joined MLS.

“Thank you, Portland, and everyone that supported my family and me the past seven years,” he said in a statement released by the Timbers.

Nagbe, 27, has 24 appearances with the national team and one goal.

USMNT call-ups versus Portugal, revisited

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So now that we have a final list of MLS semifinalists, we can make one final prediction for Dave Sarachan’s USMNT roster versus Portugal before Tuesday’s expected announcement.

The interim boss will lead the U.S. into Leiria on Nov. 14, and members of quarterfinal losing New York Red Bulls, Vancouver Whitecaps, Portland Timbers, and New York City FC are in play for the roster.

[ MORE: Martino running for USSF presidency ]

Portugal has announced its squad here. We projected the U.S. 23-man roster last week, but will have a few changes following the MLS quarterfinals.

Our guess? Three new players into our projections, a mainstay from Portland and two uncapped Red Bull products.

Goalkeepers (3) : Bill Hamid, Brad Guzan, Ethan Horvath

Changes: None.

Defenders (8): John Brooks, Matt MiazgaDeAndre YedlinCameron Carter-Vickers, Matt Besler, Brandon Vincent, Matt Polster, Aaron Long.

Changes: RBNY’s Aaron Long has a bit of LB versatility to go with his CB skill set, and he’ll take the place of Geoff Cameron, who is suffering from a head injury.

Midfielders (8): Weston McKennie, Kellyn Acosta, Paul Arriola, Lynden Gooch, Alejandro Bedoya, Tyler Adams, Darlington Nagbe, Jonathan Gonzalez.

Changes: Pulisic is reportedly out, and that’s fine because the Yanks would love to get a look at the Red Bulls’ Tyler Adams. Room will also be made for Darlington Nagbe and we’ll guess he takes Kelyn Rowe’s spot instead of Alejandro Bedoya. We’re also moving Jonathan Gonzalez of Monterrey ahead of Danny Williams, as Bedoya and Nagbe will have the experience/leadership angle covered.

Forwards (4): Bobby Wood, Josh Sargent, Aron Johannsson, CJ Sapong

Changes: We suppose Jonathan Lewis (NYCFC) or Haji Wright (Sandhausen) could fit here over Sapong, but we’ll stick with our gut instinct.