Arena's belief in Nagbe pays off with strong shift in US national team win

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Thursday night’s 2-0 win for the US national team over Trinidad & Tobago in World Cup qualifying was a marquee moment for young American star Christian Pulisic, but it also marked a resurgent performance for Darlington Nagbe.

The Portland Timbers midfielder was a key component of the US attack, exemplified in his creation of time and space for DeAndre Yedlin's assist on Pulisic's 52nd-minute goal to open the scoring in a must-win game.

“It was a good play overall,” Nagbe said of the goal. “DeAndre got in there to support me, he played a one-two and played the ball into Christian, who finished well.”

With over 50 passes completed in the game, Nagbe’s performance was a testament to his unselfish play. Yet that’s not what US manager Bruce Arena has been demanding from the 26-year-old.

“I tell him all the time, ‘You’ve got to be a little bit more selfish,’” Arena told reporters following the match. “You saw tonight, that when the opportunity is there, he’s exceptional. Part of our plan was to give him some opportunities one-on-one.”

Being “selfish” still remains a work in progress, however.

“I’ve been working on that in training,” Nagbe said of Arena’s comments. “I’ve been continuing to try to play my game, but when the game needs me to be more selfish, I’ll try and do that.”

Nagbe’s USMNT future was questioned last fall under former coach Jurgen Klinsmann when he failed to log minutes in qualifiers back in September and reportedly turned down the opportunity to play in friendlies the following October because he did not feel valued by Klinsmann. But he’s experienced a boost in confidence since Arena has re-taken the reigns as USMNT manager.

“Since the first day I met with him, he let me know what type of player he thought I was,” Nagbe said of Arena. “I’m pleased that he’s had confidence in me, given me opportunities and hopefully I keep doing well with them.”

Thursday night was a good indicator of that confidence, with Nagbe getting the nod as a starter and going the distance for 90 minutes at altitude – his second start in a row following last weekend’s 1-1 draw in a friendly match against Venezuela.

With less than 20 caps to date logged, his latest performance could simply be a sign of more to come for the University of Akron product.

“I think he’s an exceptional player. I think he’s a very talented kid,” Arena said. “He’s just beginning to experience this level…I believe in him.”