With Nagbe flying, Timbers aim to gain ground vs. Rapids

Darlington Nagbe

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PORTLAND, Ore. — There’s no question, it’s been an interesting couple of weeks for Darlington Nagbe.

An NBC camera crew tailed the Portland Timbers midfielder last week for a future episode of MLS 36. His 36 hours in the spotlight culminated in Saturday’s Cascadia match against the Vancouver Whitecaps, in which Nagbe — of course — scored the first goal in a 2-1 Timbers win. Not only was it a storybook moment, it was also his third tally in as many games — the first time a Timbers player has accomplished that feat in MLS.

Then, on Wednesday of this week, Nagbe’s former college coach from the University of Akron, Caleb Porter, was named head coach of the Timbers. He’ll replace interim coach Gavin Wilkinson at the end of the 2012 season.

Nagbe strikes his 3rd goal in 3 games

But despite all the off-field goings-on, Nagbe is more excited about the on-field progress as the Timbers prepare to welcome the Colorado Rapids on Friday night (10:30 pm ET, NBC Sports Network, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).

“I just feel like everyone is playing better, not just me, and luckily I’m the one getting the end of things,” Nagbe said.

Since John Spencer was dismissed and Wilkinson took over, Nagbe has seemed more comfortable. And although the results didn’t come for the club, his production picked up on Aug. 15, when he notched the game-tying goal in a 2-2 draw with Toronto FC. He then scored in a loss to New York four days later. Lastly, he notched the goal against Vancouver in a win that ended Portland’s eight-game winless slide.

“The last three games he has been outstanding, absolutely outstanding,” interim head coach Gavin Wilkinson said. “He has been finding the ball, finding space. He’s a tremendous player. When you start to talk about a young team that’s starting to mature, I think he epitomizes what I’m talking about.”

The last time Portland played Colorado, on June 30 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, the match ended 3-0 in the Rapids’ favor. That night, the Timbers managed just eight shots. In their last three games, the Timbers have averaged 13 shots.

“He’s somebody that by the end of the year I would like to see on 10 or 11 goals, and he’s capable of that,” Wilkinson said. “When you see him in training, he’s a rare talent. His center of gravity is extremely low, he changes direction, he has a quick burst of speed, he’s got a tremendous touch.”

Wilkinson said Nagbe fits perfectly in the attacker’s midfielder position he’s manned since Wilkinson took over for Spencer. And it’s a trend that plays well for Portland against Colorado, which has had a particularly leaky defense recently, having given up eight goals in the last three matches.

“It’s opened space up for me, Jack [Jewsbury] and Diego [Chara] and Eric [Alexander], just to move the ball around and get chances,” Nagbe said.

Now, with things looking up for Nagbe and the Timbers, they’ll hunt for a rare pair of back-to-back victories. It won’t get them into the playoffs, but it would be a step in the right direction heading down the stretch.

“The result against Vancouver, being a Cascadia rival, helps,” Wilkinson said. “The fans getting that result, obviously helps. There’s still a lot to go; we’ve got nine games remaining in the season and we want to end the season on a high note if possible.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at dcitel@hotmail.com.