Portland Timbers get the best out of Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri in comeback

PORTLAND, Ore. – Caleb Porter knows better than anyone what Darlington Nagbe is capable of. Presumably, the Portland Timbers new head coach also knows just how to unlock that potential.

“Sometimes with Darlington you have to give him a kick in the ass,” Porter said after his Portland Timbers rallied from a two-goal deficit to draw the New York Red Bulls 3-3 on Sunday at JELD-WEN Field, “in a positive way, you know, pump him up.”

And with the Timbers facing a 3-1 halftime deficit, Porter had just such a talk with the young midfielder/forward – who he coached at the University of Akron before Nagbe became the Timbers’ first pick of the 2011 SuperDraft.

Nagbe responded by kick starting the Timbers rally with a 56th-minute goal, then teaming up with new his new attacking partners to inspire the equalizer just seven minutes from full time.

“He’s been telling me the same thing since I was 17,” Nagbe said of his coach’s motivational tactics. “He’s a great coach, a great guy and he knows how to motivate every single player, which is what I think is great about him.”

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The Timbers' second-half attack was an impressive display of creativity from possession, a style Porter has been preaching since Day 1 after he was lured to the Rose City from Akron. Nagbe, who was dangerous both on and off the ball, was often the focal point.

“Part of it is just telling Darlington, instead of a midfielder, he needed to play more like a striker and get at their right back and go after him,” Porter said of Nagbe’s matchup with Kosuke Kimura. “We knew that was perhaps a matchup we could win. The light bulb went on. And he was a handful in that second half. I felt he was a big part of us turning the game around.”

Nagbe’s goal came when Diego Valeri, the Timbers’ new Designated Player, unloaded a rocket from distance after a slick build-up. New York goalkeeper Luis Robles made a diving save, but the rebound went right to a charging Nagbe and he easily lodged it into the open net.

And if Nagbe was one reason why Portland turned things around, Valeri was the other.

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He scored Portland’s first goal in the 14th minute with a nifty volley move to get past New York defender Jámison Olave and was at the point of their attack all night. He unleashed six shots, three on goal.

“He’s a pleasure to play with,” said Ryan Johnson, the center forward in Porter’s 4-3-3. “All I have to do is time my runs and make sure I’m onside and he’s going to find me.”

Johnson nearly made the comeback worth three points as Portland frantically probed for the late winner. In the 90th minute, he fired off a shot from left side that Robles saved. And in stoppage time, Johnson hit a clean bicycle kick from the top of the box that sailed just wide.

“To outshoot them 21 to nine is pretty remarkable,” Johnson said. “I know we want to keep building on this draw, to go down twice and come back twice is a big thing.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.