The player that the Portland Timbers wanted more than any other – Hermann Trophy winner Darlington Nagbe – fell into the team’s lap with the No. 2 pick on Thursday at the MLS SuperDraft.
Nagbe, widely regarded as worthy of the top selection, became Portland’s choice after the Vancouver Whitecaps selected Omar Salgado.
“Very surprised and absolutely ecstatic,” Timbers coach John Spencer said of his reaction following the draft.
Nagbe was not in attendance at the Baltimore Convention Center, but said he was excited to join the first-year franchise.
“Portland’s a great city and coach John Spencer is a really good coach,” Nagbe said.
Vancouver may have passed on Nagbe because of his stated preference for staying in the U.S.
Spencer said Nagbe gives the team numerous options as an offensive player. He could play a forward position, on the wing or behind the forwards.
“He’s very versatile,” Spencer said. “He’s a pure, natural talent and we’re delighted to have him in Portland.”
Nagbe’s college team, the Akron Zips, were the talk of the first round – with five players selected among the first eight chosen.
[inline_node:321748]Caleb Porter, Akron’s head coach, called Nagbe “one of the best college players I’ve ever seen.”
Portland demonstrated some ambition by securing the 11th pick in a draft trade with Seattle that also brought an international roster spot to the club. The Timbers sent Seattle the No. 20 choice, plus allocation money.
The Timbers kept their eye on a couple of players they wanted, but Houston made an offer for the 11th pick and Portland took it. The Timbers acquired an undisclosed sum of allocation that was greater than what they had given to Seattle.
General manager and technical director Gavin Wilkinson said that while the moves resulted in a net gain, the team was paying close attention to which players might have fallen to the 11th pick.
“We were still looking at players, but we got an offer (from Houston),” Wilkinson said.
With the 22nd pick, Portland selected University of Tulsa defender Chris Taylor. Wilkinson said the team had Taylor on its radar but that he also improved his stock during the recent combine.
“He’s a left back and we feel that’s a very valuable position,” Wilkinson said. “We have Rodney Wallace there but we also want depth at the position.”
Also Thursday, the Associated Press reported that Kenny Cooper is leaving German second-division club 1860 Munich in order to return to MLS. Munich team officials say Cooper will join Portland.
However, reports that Cooper has signed with the Timbers are premature, Wilkinson said.
“We haven’t acquired him yet,” Wilkinson said. “We’re still waiting to sign him, but we’re very confident that we will land him.”