Ask any Timbers fan who they think they is the most frustrating player in the league, and they will likely give you one answer: Darlington Nagbe.


The former No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft has flashed a ton of potential over the years and has fulfilled it on occasion for the Timbers.


The best season of his career came back in 2013, Caleb Porter’s first year as head coach, when the Akron product scored a career-high nine goals.


He had a disappointing year in 2014, nearly going goalless, before having an up-and-down season in 2015. Going into the final three games of the season he had just two goals but displayed continued to show that he was adept at keeping the ball for his team and getting by defenders in 1v1 situations.



With his team fighting for a Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoff spot, Porter decided to make a change in his formation. Instead of playing Nagbe on the right wing and two defensive midfielders, the former Akron coach pushed his Nagbe inside and removed one of his two holding midfielders.


The effect on Nagbe’s production has been undeniable.


In the five games since the switch, the 25-year-old has scored three goals and assisted on another. But those numbers don’t tell the whole story.


What the switch has done is made Nagbe more influential in the game. Instead of being camped out and isolated on the right wing, Nagbe has been heavily connected to Diego Valeri and either Diego Chara or Jack Jewsbury at the defensive midfield position.


All you have to do is look at his heat maps from October 3 vs. Sporting Kansas City (before the switch) and his heat map from last Sunday vs. the Vancouver Whitecaps.


Nagbe Heat Map vs. SKC (10/3)

Loving life in the middle: How Darlington Nagbe's position switch has completely changed his game - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/Nagbe%20Heat%20Map%2010-3.png

Nagbe Heat Map vs. VAN (11/1)

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Loving life in the middle: How Darlington Nagbe's position switch has completely changed his game - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/Nagbe%20Heat%20Map%2011-1.png

Looking at the heat maps, which relates to how many touches a player gets, you can tell that Nagbe is getting more touches on the ball. You can see the actual number below.


Nagbe Passes/Touches Before and After Position Switch
PeriodTouches Per 90Passes Per 90
Before Switch59.4642.66
After Swich72.9853.89


The number of touches he has had per 90 minutes since the switch would have put him in the top 25 in MLS over the whole season.


Even with his big increase his passes, his sterling pass completion percentage has not seen a dip. In fact, it has actually increased along with usage rate. Usage rate is a players passes per 90 minutes divided by a team’s passes per 90 minutes.


Nagbe Passing Numbers Before and After Position Switch
PeriodPassing AccuracyUsage Rate
Before Switch88.21%10.95%
After Swich89.86%12.71%


Nagbe’s completion percentage of 88.89% was the second highest in MLS over the full season.


The midfielder has also shown more aggressiveness centrally than he did out wide. He has won more fouls since the switch and has attempted more dribbles as well.

Loving life in the middle: How Darlington Nagbe's position switch has completely changed his game - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/Nagbe%20Fouls-Dribbles.png

The 3.78 fouls won per 90 minutes would have put him at No. 4 in MLS over the entire season instead of 14th.


He’s also completed those dribbles at a higher rate, 80 percent to 61 percent, over the last five games.


Can he keep this form throughout the rest of the Timbers’ run in the playoffs? We don’t know for certain.


What we do know is that Nagbe is sure loving life in the middle.


All statistics provided by Opta Sports

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