Longtime MLS observers have always known the quality Darlington Nagbe can bring to any MLS midfield. However, rarely has it leaped off the screen in quite the manner that it has during the MLS is Back Tournament.
Through Columbus Crew SC's perfect group stage performance — 3W-0L-0D, 7 goals scored and none conceded by the Crew — Nagbe has done what he's always done best: a get-out-of-jail-free card for any teammate looking for a way to unload the ball and make sure the team still keeps possession.
Well, it turns out that through three matches, Nagbe has played exactly three incomplete passes, according to Opta, which is equal to the number of key passes he has played in the wins over FC Cincinnati, the New York Red Bulls and Atlanta United. That's good for a completion rate of more than 98%, which is easily the best in the tournament among those who have made more than 100 pass attempts:
Nagbe is also the only player in the tournament to attempt six or more dribbles past defenders and complete them all, though it should be noted that in some situations it can be easier playing in a box-to-box role than closer to the final third.
"If we talk about Darlington, I think we’re not going to leave here," defender Harrison Afful said of his teammate after the most recent win over Atlanta. "He’s on a different level. He makes the game easier for us. Whenever we’re in trouble we make sure we find him and he makes things easier for us. As I said earlier, he’s on a different level. We always make sure we find him when we’re in difficulties."
Nagbe and the Crew will play their Round of 16 match next Tuesday (8 pm ET | ESPN/ESPN Deportes in the US; TSN in Canada) against the second-place finisher from Group D.