Darlington Nagbe may still be in the infant stages of his international career, but that is not stopping US national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann from showering the newcomer with praise.
Klinsmann introduced Nagbe to the US fold earlier this month by calling him up for the Americans' first pair of 2018 World Cup qualifiers. Nagbe did not have to wait very long to see the field, making his debut as a substitute in a 6-1 rout of St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Nov. 13 before coming off the bench again in a scoreless road draw with Trinidad & Tobago four days later.
Nagbe may not have gotten himself on the scoresheet in either of those games, but his performances in them, during the US camp, and for the Portland Timbers has Klinsmann glowing in his reviews.
"With Darlington Nagbe, I think we've found a player now - and he had to wait a long time [for US citizenship] - that is really good handing the ball in both directions, to be responsible defensively - to go always behind the ball and defend and help out - but also when we go forward," said Klinsmann in an video interview released by US Soccer. "He knows when to pass, when to dribble, when to keep things very simple, but also when to take some risks in a specific moment. He has a change of pace in his 1-against-1 situations when he kind of goes at defensive midfielders or other players, he has the confidence to pass them and get closer to the box.
"Definitely, Darlington is for us a real nice option now going forward. Again I said, he had to wait a long time. We were waiting for him as well, and it's a great fit. We are glad to have Darlington on board now with the senior national team."
While the 25-year-old Nagbe is an exciting prospect for Klinsmann, he is far from the "heart" of the team right now. That disctintion is one that Klinsmann gave to central midfield duo Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones, who started alongside one another in each of this month's qualifiers.
The results of Bradley and Jones' performances were mixed, but Klinsmann continues to be high on their ability, experience, and veteran savvy, and does not sound ready to give up on playing them as a duo in the center of the park.
"When they realize their responsibilities and when they realize how they kind of manage the game, we always look good. When they maybe struggle here and there and their kind of responsibilities are not split exactly the right way, then we struggle," said Klinsmann. "I think this is the topic that is ongoing for the senior national team since Michael and Jermaine are part of this program, before my time. It's always crucial I think for everybody that loves the national team to understand what specific jobs these two have in the next specific game."
Even with Bradley and Jones not playing to their best, the US still managed to pick up four points from their first two World Cup qualifiers. The Americans are currently tied on points with Trinidad & Tobago in Group C, but sit in first because of their better goal differential.
Klinsmann and his men are out of qualifying action until March when they resume play with a pair of games vs. Guatemala, but they know that taking maximum points from those two matches will all but guarantee them a spot in the Hexagonal.
"I think with the game in Trinidad & Tobago, we all knew that it was going to be a tricky one," said Klinsmann. "It's a good team that proved that in the Gold Cup, and away from home obviously there's the rule: Don't lose - at least get one point and don't give the home team three points. I think we achieved that. Did we want to win both games? Yes. It would have been nice having six points now, but four points I think it's ideal going into the two games against Guatemala.
"Winning those two games would mean basically we are qualified for the next round, so this is our big goal for March: Go into Guatemala and get three points right away and repeat those three points at home in Columbus, Ohio - one of our favorite places to go - and then looking forward already for the next round."
In the meantime, Klinsmann will keep busy over the winter. One of the things he will do to occupy his time is continue to watch the 2015 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, which is down to four teams in the New York Red Bulls, Columbus Crew SC, FC Dallas, and Portland Timbers.
Klinsmann has enjoyed all the action he has seen so far, and is keen on keeping track of how the remainder of the postseason plays out.
"Watching the MLS Playoffs has been tremendously exciting," said Klinsmann. "The games in the first round, the penalty shootout there with Portland and Kansas City to all the games that were very close, very tight, very hard-fought - obviously what you expect in playoffs - but it's been definitely been very exciting. The stadiums are packed, the fans are fully engaged, and the teams battle themsleves through.
"Sometimes you have your favorite pick and then you realize after a game or two, 'Oh, the favorite is not there anymore, it's out of the playoffs.' It's really cool. I think It gives it definitely another level this year watching those games and I can't wait to see the MLS Cup Final."