PORTLAND, Ore. – Darlington Nagbe has scored some special goals in his three-year MLS career.
But there was no question in his mind as to where his spinning, back-to-the-goal strike ranks that gave the Portland Timbers a 1-0 win Saturday afternoon over league leaders FC Dallas.
“Probably No. 1,” the 22-year-old forward/midfielder said of his 52nd-minute game winner.
And that’s saying something considering his MLS Goal of the Year volley as a rookie and any number of his Goal of the Week candidates. But Saturday’s golazo was special for a number of reasons.
WATCH: Nagbe's 2011 Goal of the Year
First, it came in a win against a first-place team whereas a number of his other top strikes, including the 2011 Goal of the Year, have come in losses. Secondly, and certainly more importantly, Nagbe’s mother was in the stands at JELD-WEN Field after flying in from Ohio the night before.
It was the first time she witnessed Nagbe score a goal in his professional career.
“She’s never gotten to see me score in person, so this is special today,” Nagbe said. “Once it went in I definitely thought about that.”
The goal highlighted a back-and-forth offensive display from two of the top teams in the Western Conference standings. It came when Timbers forward Kalif Alhassan found Nagbe on a throw-in to the upper-left corner of the box. Nagbe controlled the pass, shielded off a FC Dallas defender with his back to the goal, spun and fired a curling screamer to the far corner.
WATCH: Nagbe's GotW winner in 2012
Dallas goalkeeper Raul Fernandez, who made a number of spectacular saves on the evening, could only stand at watch as it sizzled by.
“Tremendous goal, obviously,” said Timbers head coach Caleb Porter, who coached Nagbe in college at the University of Akron. “He’s the type of player that you’ve seen it, he can pull off a play like that at times. You’d wish he’d do it more, but he’s capable of that type of goal. I’ve seen him do it a number of times.”
Nagbe’s play, especially in the second half, was indicative of an impressive offensive performance by the Timbers. At the half, Nagbe said Porter moved him in from the wing and up higher, allowing him to play more off striker Frederic Piquionne with attacking midfielder Diego Valeri feeding them from the wing.
And it splayed Dallas wide open, with Portland firing off 12 shots in the second half and clearly earning the more dangerous chances despite Dallas outshooting them for the game, 19-18.
“It just adds a little bit more speed up top,” Nagbe said. “Valeri can come off the side and pop balls over the top to me and Freddy and I can try to use my pace.”
It also signified Portland’s biggest win of the season, bringing them to within two points of FCD and one of second-place Real Salt Lake. It also allowed the team to start off a tough stretch on the right foot of three Western Conference games in a week, continuing Wednesday at the LA Galaxy and concluding back at JELD-WEN next Sunday against Colorado.
“I knew winning the game wasn’t going to make our season and losing wasn’t going to break our season,” Porter said. “We’re happy. We believed we could win. We performed well, and also knew we were playing against a really good team.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.