PORTLAND, Ore. – So far so good. The first impressions of No. 2 MLS SuperDraft choice Darlington Nagbe have been universally positive through the first three weeks of Portland Timbers preseason training.
Nagbe, the Hermann Trophy Award recipient as college soccer’s top player after leading Akron University to its first NCAA title, appears to be a quick study during his transition to the pros.
Last Thursday, Nagbe moved into his own one-bedroom apartment in downtown Portland. Teammate Adam Moffatt helped him move in and shop for new furniture.
“It’s nice and relaxing,” Nagbe said. “It will be nice to come home to.”
There is certainly nothing relaxing about the preparations for Portland’s first MLS season. The Timbers are hard at work gaining the conditioning and cohesion necessary to be competitive in Year One as an MLS franchise.
Coach John Spencer envisions using Nagbe primarily in a center midfielder role where he can take advantage of his ability to hold the ball and support the forwards.
“He has super technique and has a great soccer brain,” Spencer said. “We’ve seen some glimpses where he moves the ball and his first touch is immaculate. But he’s coming from the college game to the professional level and it’s a massive jump.”
Spencer eschews the term “rookie.”
“That word doesn’t mean anything to me,” Spencer said. “My mentality is, if you’re good enough, you can play.”
Nagbe has already gone down in the history books as the first MLS Timbers player to score a goal in preseason exhibition. He headed a ball into the net in Portland’s 1-1 tie with the Ventura County Fusion on Feb. 4.
“It felt great,” Nagbe said. “When you’re a little kid, it’s your dream to play professionally and score a goal. Even though it was preseason, I’ll remember it, definitely.”
The biggest adjustment for Nagbe between NCAA Division I soccer and MLS will revolve around the pace of the game and the intense physicality, according to Timbers defender Jeremy Hall.
“In college I felt like I could get away with two or three touches,” Hall, a third-year pro, said. “Now it’s like I’ve got one, maybe two, touches.”
Nagbe seems to be staying ahead of the learning curve.
“Darlington seems like it may come a little quicker to him,” Hall said. “He’s been hanging out a lot with me and Rodney [Wallace]. He’s young and we’ve been through it before. We know he’s the No. 2 pick and that brings a lot of hype. But he’s a good player and he’s going to live up to it.”
“I’m just going to try to learn as much as possible from every single guy, whether it’s leadership, and definitely [how to be] more vocal, because I don’t talk that much on the field,” Nagbe said. “Mostly, I just want to win games and play.”