Darlington Nagbe - Portland Timbers - fends off - Wil Trapp - Columbus Crew SC
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Darlington Nagbe, Wil Trapp "driven" to catch Klinsmann's eye in US national team camp after breakthrough 2015 campaigns

CARSON, Calif. – Darlington Nagbe's and Wil Trapp's journeys to MLS stardom and their initial steps with the US national team are strikingly similar.

From Ohio boyhoods and collegiate fame at NCAA powerhouse Akron to rising fortunes with their club teams, the duo will perhaps, sooner or later, constitute a productive partnership in the Yanks' midfield.

They've both been in camp with the national team the past three weeks after playing pivotal roles, as the chief creative figures, in their clubs' runs to last month's MLS Cup title game, in which Nagbe's Portland Timbers conquered Trapp's Columbus Crew SC.

There's been no doubt about either player's potential for some time, but 2015 saw both of them take huge steps forward, and now they're looking to build on their progress this year.

Nagbe, 25, took the reins of Portland's attack after a summer move into central midfield, where he played a mammoth part in the Timbers' late-season run to their first MLS championship. Trapp, 23, bounced back from an early-season concussion that put him on the sidelines for more than three months, orchestrating Crew SC's dynamic attack from a deep-lying position.

Both made their international debuts in 2015. The Liberian-born Nagbe, after receiving US citizenship, came off the bench in November's World Cup qualifiers against St. Vincent & the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago. Trapp, a U-23 standout, debuted in a friendly against Chile during last year's January camp.

Jurgen Klinsmann sees big things for both going forward.

“Both are very gifted players, and both are very driven players,” the USMNT coach said ahead of the Yanks' game Sunday afternoon against Iceland at StubHub Center (3:45 pm ET, ESPN2). “I think Darlington, especially in the attacking third, can really make a difference because he's calm on the ball, he has great vision, he sees runs of players, and he knows how to connect all the way around. Very complete in what he's doing.

“With Wil, you have a very young, driven kid that shows already at that young age a lot of leadership. He's an organizer. He wants to have the game in front of him, so he's more a [No.] 6 player. Darlington is a little bit more forward-minded.”

Nagbe, who has started at least 30 MLS regular-season games for Portland each of the last four seasons, had been important to the Timbers attack, mostly in a wide midfield position. But he was something else when he moved into the middle.

“I was able to get on the ball,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “Obviously, I have [Diego] Valeri and [Diego] Chara in there with me – that helped a great bunch – but I was able to get on the ball more and was able to help dictate the tempo of the game a little but more. The more touches you get in the game, the more comfortable you get, and I've been able to do that.”

Valeri says that the move had “a big impact for the team.”

“He's involved in the game most of the time, and when he has the ball, [it's] almost that nobody can steal the ball,” Valeri said during last week's MLS media roundtable in Southern California. “He's got rhythm and everybody's looking to him and just running everything on his side.

“Nobody can predict when [he will be a real star], but I think that will happen. It's a process, and I think he's in a mature moment – his life, too – to do that.”

Trapp, who hopes to lead the US U-23s past Colombia in a March home-and-home playoff to qualify for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, has started 68 MLS games, postseason included, in three seasons with the Crew, becoming more vital with each campaign.

Trapp went down with a concussion in Columbus' second game last season and, aside from a brief comeback in early April, missed 15 matches before returning in late June. Crew SC were 5-5-5 in those games, one of them a US Open Cup victory, then went 9-3-2 down the stretch once he returned to the starting lineup.

“It's not a coincidence that we struggled in the middle of the season without him,” Crew SC captain Michael Parkhurst said at the media roundtable. “You can pinpoint it, really. When he started to get back and into full fitness, we started to make our run.

“The way that we play and him dropping in between the center backs, he has a big responsibility, and it's more than just him starting the attack in the middle. He has to know when to drop into the middle, when to push up into midfield and support us there. He's our first line of defense usually, as far as stopping counterattacks – it's super, super important for us, the way we push numbers forward, that he's on the guy or the the guys where the balls going to come out and hurt us.

“He's very clean on the ball. I don't know if I've ever seen a better young player with his feet than Wil. ... I definitely think he can have success with the national team. He's a special player for us, and he's going to be around for a long time.”

Trapp parries praise that he's the Crew's key figure, but he knows his job.

“My role within the team is kind of like the quarterback of the group, kind of setting up plays,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “It's a complex system of a lot of movements, and that's what we love about it. And my role within that is kind of setting up those movements.

“What I love about it is Gregg [Berhalter, Crew SC's coach] is always pushing us to grow and develop within your role, and I think what I've grown in is being able to find longer passes, shorter passes, and vary it up in terms of connecting those in front of me.

“Whether it's finding Federico [Higuain] in a pocket or Kei [Kamara] over the top. You have to be unpredictable in this league. The second you become predictable, teams lock in on that, and it makes it very, very difficult.

“For myself, really focusing on checking the longest option first, and then checking down, almost like a quarterback [in American football].”

Trapp says he's advanced as a “ballwinning No. 6 player” partnered in the middle with Tony Tchani, and that “making tackles, starting attacks, covering my center backs as well as being an option for the attack – that's an area I think I can always improve.”

Nagbe and Trapp met when Nagbe was in his final season at Akron and Trapp arrived for a recruiting visit, and they trained together during the following offseason. They admire each other's games.

“He's a competitor,” Nagbe said. “He always wants to win, and he always wants to have a good day on the field, whether it's just training, messing around, or if there's a game. He always wants to be be at his best.”

Trapp calls Nagbe “one of my favorite players” in MLS.

“He's just a guy who makes it look easy and simple,” Trapp said. “He was doing that at the collegiate level, and now he's doing that at the professional level and international level as well. He's always looking to improve, and he's a soccer junkie – I love that about his game.”