BALTIMORE – As Darlington Nagbe held up a personalized green Portland jersey (no number yet) during a press conference hours after the SuperDraft had ended on Thursday, he couldn’t help but wear an ear-to-ear smile.
“It feels great,” he told MLSsoccer.com about his new destination. “I’ve researched it [Portland] -- great fans, great city, great coaching staff. … I’m just ready to contribute and have fun. I’m looking forward to meeting the Timbers’ Army.”
The most-vaunted college prospect in this year’s class, who didn’t make it in time to Baltimore for the event due to a technical snag in his recently-approved P-1 visa, fell right into the Timbers’ lap. Expected by many to go to Vancouver as the No. 1 pick, the Whitecaps instead selected 17-year-old forward Omar Salgado.
Vancouver's choice took many by surprise, but not Nagbe.
“No, I wasn’t surprised,” he said. “There were a lot of great players here. From what I hear, Omar’s a great player. Anything can happen on draft day.”
Whether any luck was involved or not, Portland immediately knew Nagbe was their pick without hesitation. And they’re just as excited to welcome the 2010 Hermann Trophy winner as Nagbe is to be heading to the Rose City.
“He was a No. 1 pick for us for a long, long time,” Timbers manager John Spencer said. “He has quality in abundance. It doesn’t matter where you play the kid, he’s still 10 out of 10 every week and we’re delighted to get him. We couldn’t believe our luck. Maybe someone was smiling down at us today, but we’re very, very, very excited to have him.”
Last year, at the University of Akron, Nagbe scored seven goals and distributed 13 assists as the Zips worked their way to the NCAA championship. As a top talent, Spencer expects his new player to get into the mix of things right away, even if he hasn’t quite decided if he’ll slot Nagbe in the midfield or as a forward.
“We didn’t bring him here to sit him on the bench,” Spencer said. “He’s a quality footballer. You talk about experience, but for me, you talk about quality. And if you’re good enough, you’re old enough, and he’s certainly good enough.
“Quality players can play anywhere. … We’ll speak to him, we’ll see where he feels comfortable at playing himself. Is he the guy we build our team around? We’ll see.”
Even if the expectations are high, Nagbe feels he’s got the skills to deliver, thanks largely in part to Akron coach Caleb Porter, who the player credits for guiding him along expertly.
“Hopefully, I get to come in and make an impact – that’s what I’m hoping for,” said Nagbe. “[But] I think I’m gonna do well. I feel like I’m ready.”
Spencer echoed that remark: “Our opinion was that we got the best young footballer in the USA today. …[Nagbe] is quality with a capital Q.”