It’s hard to question Darlington Nagbe’s ability to score goals.
He was, after all, awarded the 2011 MLS Goal of the Year for his wonder strike against Sporting KC last season. But Nagbe, the Portland Timbers second-year attacker, is the first to say that it wasn’t enough. He managed to find the back of the net only one other time last year.
So for Nagbe, scoring a goal just six minutes into his sophomore campaign on Saturday night bodes well for the new season. The No. 2 overall pick in last year’s SuperDraft came on at the start of the second half against FC Dallas in place of forward Jorge Perlaza and promptly scored the 51st-minute equalizer in a 1-1 tie.
“It came on the road against a real good team, one of the best teams in the league,” Nagbe told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “We would have liked to have gotten three points. But we’re happy with the result.”
He capitalized on a poorly struck clearing by FC Dallas goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, which was followed up by a giveaway from FCD midfielder Daniel Hernandez just outside his own penalty box. The backwards deflection found Nagbe, who swooped in and slotted a shot past Hartman.
“I just tried to stay calm and try not get tackled from behind and make sure I got a shot off,” Nagbe said. “It feels good. Hopefully I can keep it going. It’s a long season, and I have to keep remembering that.”
It’s clearly a good sign for Nagbe and the Timbers. Portland head coach John Spencer has had high praise for the 21-year-old’s skills, but Nagbe has been left off the starting XI for the Timbers first two games of 2012 after starting 21 times last year.
“It was just something John saw, and he told me to get warmed up to go in the second half,” Nagbe said of his introduction to Saturday’s match. “I knew I had to go in a make a difference right away.”
It erased a deficit that came after Dallas dominated for most of the first half, bringing back memories from the Timbers road struggles last year. Dallas had five shots before the Timbers even sniffed a shot attempt. But the Timbers got off the next six shots and ultimately outshot FCD 12-6.
“We just tried to come out in the second half with more energy and try to get an early goal, and we did,” Nagbe said. “We just wanted to keep pressuring.”