MARIETTA, Ga. — Wednesday’s thrilling Campeones Cup final between Atlanta United and Club America saw some of the most talented players on the continent go toe-to-toe on one of the preeminent stages in American soccer, in front of an international television audience.
What if you learned that the standout player from said game was an American who has featured for his national team only one time since he was on the field when the US national team’s hopes for the 2018 World Cup were dashed in Couva? Would you be surprised?
In the wake of Atlanta’s 3-2 win over Club America, Darlington Nagbe was the player seemingly everyone who paid attention was beaming about. Plaudits came from former US internationals Charlie Davies and DaMarcus Beasley, from Atlanta United fans who named Nagbe the man of the match (despite Nagbe not registering a goal or an assist), and from his manager, Frank de Boer, who retired from international soccer as Holland’s all-time leader in national team caps.
“My personal opinion is that if you see from the start [of the season], he's by far one of the best midfielders in the MLS,” De Boer told reporters at the team’s training facility Friday. “That's my opinion. But it's up to the coach of the national team to make his decision, and he has a different view right now.”
Gregg Berhalter and those who have managed the USMNT since the team’s infamous night in Couva, Trinidad have only capped Nagbe once in the two years since, when he played 90 minutes in a 1-0 win over Paraguay. That game was played March 28, 2018, and it’s the last time Nagbe has been in a national team camp.
“I think on the roster he's kinda went with younger guys, which is fine — I understand it completely. I'm not opposed to it,” said Nagbe when asked about his absence. “They have veteran leadership with Michael [Bradley], and I think he's been one of the best men's players for a long [time] now. I haven't been opposed to anything [Berhalter] has done. I'm just focusing on this season [with Atlanta United] and I'm happy with the way it's going so far.”
There’s a valid argument that Nagbe is at an age (he just turned 29 in July) that by the time the 2022 World Cup rolls around, will put him past his prime with younger players ready to play. And Nagbe admitted he hadn't spoken much with Berhalter.
“No, not too much. I think in the past we may have spoken a little but in passing but not too much,” he said.
But De Boer thinks Nagbe can press the issue if he continues to play like he's been doing lately.
“I think if he plays like this, [Berhalter] will pay attention, that's for sure,” said De Boer. “Because how he's playing right now and against Club America was phenomenal.”