SAN DIEGO – Sunday was a fresh start for the US national team, as well as for Darlington Nagbe.
The Portland Timbers midfielder, capped with the US in 2015 to great fanfare but left out of Jurgen Klinsmann’s plans at the end of the former USMNT head coach’s tenure, received his first career start for the national team in Sunday’s 0-0 draw against Serbia at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.
In the first game of Bruce Arena’s second stint in charge of the US, Nagbe was named Man of the Match, coming very close to breaking the deadlock on two occasions and chipping in throughout the game on defense as well.
“I thought Nagbe had a very good game, created a bunch of opportunities for us,” Arena told reporters after the match.
Arena said he had spoken to Timbers head coach Caleb Porter recently, and both men agreed Nagbe’s best position was on the left side of midfield. That's where he played against Serbia in the attacking band of three behind lone striker Jozy Altidore.
“Darlington can obviously play a number of positions in midfield, and there’s a possibility today we would have put him in the No. 10 position when we took Sacha [Kljestan] out, [but] we just decided to put Benny [Feilhaber] in the game,” Arena said.
While the US had a handful of second-half chances, Nagbe had by far the best scoring opportunities of the first half, with a pair of shots from the left side of the box that whistled just wide of the goal.
“I wish I would have gotten it on target, make [the goalkeeper make] a save or spill it back and spike a tap-in,” Nagbe told reporters after the game.
Nagbe made headlines last fall, as he declined a USMNT call-up in October, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family, amid reports he felt Klinsmann did not value his contributions enough. While he refused to specifically address last year's situation, Nagbe said he was appreciative of the call-ups from both Klinsmann and Arena.
“Jurgen gave me my first cap, my first opportunity, so I’m always grateful for that,” he said. “And now Bruce has come in, and I’m just looking forward to the new year and bigger things.”
After his performance against Serbia, it seems likely Nagbe will give Arena reason to consider him not only on Friday against Jamaica in the next US friendly, but also for the key 2018 World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama in March.
“[Nagbe] was all over the place today,” said Arena.