PORTLAND, Ore. — The progression of the Portland Timbers continues to please head coach John Spencer as his team prepares for a road match Saturday against the Columbus Crew (8 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
The latest sign of improvement: the play of midfielder Darlington Nagbe in the Timbers 3-2 loss Wednesday in a friendly against Premiership side West Bromwich Albion.
As far as Spencer was concerned, when his speedy rookie was on the field in the first half, the Timbers cruised to a 2-0 lead by halftime. Yes, the Timbers watched another early lead evaporate, but only once Spencer unloaded his bench for the second half.
Nagbe and defender Eric Brunner were the only regular starters in the lineup for the exhibition match. And that’s what had Spencer excited in the postgame press conference as his players continue to exemplify the confidence building since a 1-0 road win last Saturday against Chicago.
“I thought in the first half we were magnificent,” Spencer said. “In the second half we made a couple changes and it kind of kills the rhythm of the team, with guys coming in cold. I thought in the first half we were, by far, the better team on the field.”
Despite the caliber of the opponent, Nagbe appeared to be a step quicker and gave the Baggies back line fits. He made run after run into the teeth of the West Brom defense, displaying the talent the Timbers saw when they made him the second overall pick of the 2011 SuperDraft.
“I think that tonight was probably the best minutes I’ve seen from him in a Portland Timbers jersey,” Spencer said of Nagbe.
Nagbe’s jaunt up the middle in the 26th minute led to Portland’s first goal. With the West Brom defense collapsing on Nagbe, he dumped a perfectly placed pass to the wing, where forward Eddie Johnson was waiting to capitalize with the goal.
It was that type of brilliant play that Nagbe briefly flashed on his eye-popping goal against Sporting Kansas City. After that goal, Spencer said Nagbe displays the type of talent to be a top player.
“It’s what we’ve spoke of for months now, being a little bit ruthless to the ball,” Spencer said. “Having the confidence and the belief in yourself to run at people and commit people and then make an assist for a shot at the goal. It was a fantastic performance for 45 minutes.”