PORTLAND, Ore. – Since returning from an injury in April that sidelined him for two matches, Portland Timbers midfielder Darlington Nagbe has quietly stepped his game up, notching three assists in five games from his floating position in the midfield.
On Sunday, however, Nagbe continued his ascent in much more noisy way, scoring an inch-perfect free kick in the 82nd minute of the Timbers' Heineken Rivalry Week match against the Vancouver Whitecaps to secure the 4-2 win for his side and send the Timbers Army into hysterics.
"It was incredible," Timbers defender Zarek Valentin told the press after the match. "He sat next to me and he said, 'Once I hit it I knew it was going in.'"
"He's a special player and special players create special moments," Valentin continued. "D was confident and he stepped up; it really shows why he was chosen for the Copa América."
Diego Valeri, who is known for scoring the occasional free kick goal himself (like his game-winner against Toronto FC earlier this month), explained why he stepped back and let Nagbe take the free kick that would lead to the Timbers' fourth goal.
"He wanted to take it," Valeri said. "Last week he wanted to take it too. He was very confident."
When asked about that confidence and Nagbe's growth as a player, Valeri was quick to praise his midfield partner.
"He is growing up as a player. He is still young, but he is our best player. His quality, naturally, he is the best, so he will will improve. I am happy about him and I am happy about seeing him maturing."
With Nagbe now heading out for duty with the US national team for the Copa América Centenario, soccer fans all across the country will be hoping for Nagbe to carry forward the confidence that he has brought to the pitch for the Timbers.
"We wish him all the best going forward," said Valentin, expressing a sentiment that was echoed throughout the Timbers' locker room. "Hopefully the US team does well, but then again if he doesn't miss too many games with us we won't be too upset."