PORTLAND, Ore. – With Portland’s Darlington Nagbe, it’s been a lot of “what-ifs” and “wait-and-sees.”
But Saturday night against Real Salt Lake, the young attacking midfielder showed a glimpse of what he’s capable of with a dizzying array of skills in a two-goal performance.
The only problem was, Portland lost. The Timbers spoiled Nagbe’s second-half brace by allowing two late RSL goals — one in the 89th minute, one in the 93rd —in a 3-2 defeat on a rainy night at JELD-WEN Field.
“You always want to win when you score goals,” a dejected Nagbe said after the match. “Unfortunately we didn’t win, so hopefully we can win the next game.”
Nagbe, the No. 2 overall selection in last year’s SuperDraft, came into his sophomore season eager to improve on a rookie campaign he qualified as disappointing. And with three goals in three games this year — he missed Portland’s season opener with an ankle injury — the former Akron star has already surpassed his two-goal total from last year.
On Saturday, he may have turned a corner with fulfillment of his potential, showing the talent that Timbers boss John Spencer has compared to Landon Donovan. Nagbe started the game on the right wing in place of the injured Kalif Alhassan. But about 10 minutes into the game he was swapped with Diego Chara, putting him middle. And the move paid off – big time.
“After the switch it opened things up more,” Nagbe said. “I was able to get on the ball a little bit more and drive at guys a little bit easier.”
Indeed, the first payoff came in the 49th minute, when Nagbe received a well-placed pass from Eric Alexander, skipped around RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman, and uncorked a stinger past goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
ANALYTICS: POR-RSL Chalkboard
Then in the 66th minute, Nagbe struck again. Reminiscent of his juggling wonder strike that was named the AT&T Goal of the Year in 2011, Nagbe juggled once and launched a volley between two defenders and past the outstretched hands of Rimando for what is sure to be another GotY candidate.
“I thought it was two wonderful goals,” Spencer said. “It gives us two good chances, puts us 2-1 up.”
Nagbe finished the game with three shots on goal. But the Timbers did not get the three points. They didn’t get them the night Nagbe struck his award-winning shot last year either, losing to Sporting Kansas City, 2-1.
“It's a cruel game sometimes and tonight is one of those games,” Spencer said. “I think on them nights, when you’re expecting to take a few points, very, very disappointed. Not with the performance, just very disappointed with the result.”
Spencer seemed to speak for the whole team, especially Nagbe.
“It's crazy how the momentum changes, and you feel on top of the world, but then you feel like crap after,” he said. “It felt good scoring two goals, but I just wish we would've won the game."
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
HIGHLIGHTS: Portland 2, Salt Lake 3