FRISCO, Tex. – It seems there's something about the air at Toyota Stadium that exudes goals for Darlington Nagbe.
Experienced in scoring goals on FC Dallas' home turf in MLS, with three of his five career tallies against the side coming in Texas, the Timbers’ midfielder scored his first goal for the US national team on Wednesday in the stadium in a 1-0 friendly win over Ecuador.
“It felt great,” Nagbe said after the game. “I wanted my first goal to come in a big game like this before Copa America against a good team. I was happy it was in this game.”
Nagbe’s goal came as he was virtually left alone in the center of the box after Bobby Wood won a header and placed it right in the range for Nagbe to make a play. With the game in the 90th minute the tally was decisive, but also required considerable skill to finish.
There was a plentiful amount of time for him to collect the ball and take his shot, but in the moment, he didn’t fully know how the play was unfolding around him.
“I just thought I had enough time to chest it, [but] I wasn’t quite sure," Nagbe said. "But I was lucky enough to chest it, hit it, and luckily the goalie kinda got out of the way. A goal’s a goal, and I’ll take it.”
Nagbe said he hopes the goal gives him even more confidence going forward into Copa America Centenario, which begins June 3 for the USMNT against Colombia.
Does it also mean Nagbe could play his way into the starting XI at the tournament? US national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said all 23 players are in the mix to start, though he did say he cannot ignore the success of his veterans.
“Darlington is growing into this team, so that’s a long process,” Klinsmann said. “Between two World Cup cycles, you want to see the younger ones coming in and change the face of the team one step at a time.
“But you also have to give respect to the established ones because of who they are and what they did, and they’re not giving in either,” Klinsmann added. “This is what you want to have.”
That said, Klinsmann did note Nagbe's play on Wednesday was a good step forward for the midfielder with the USMNT.
“It says Darlington understands the moment in time,” Klinsmann said. “He knows that he has to push the envelope.”
But Klinsmann also reiterated what Nagbe still has to improve his consistency on the international stage – even though he recognizes the dynamic ability he brings offensively.
“Now you also want to tell him ‘Listen, you’ve got to make an impression. You’ve got to learn to play both ways and grind it out defensively, go into 1v1s and win balls as well,’" Klinsmann said.
“And that’s just going forward. He has tremendous talent with the ball at his feet going forward. That’s what we enjoy in MLS every weekend. But the international side is both ways, and that’s what we’re working on. And he’s getting better and better at doing that.”