With the long-rumored move of Darlington Nagbe to Celtic dead for now, and the US national team midfielder set to be back in the lineup for the Portland Timbers this season, Timbers coach Caleb Porter pledged to stop moving his team’s star all around the pitch and commit instead to playing him on the left wing, where Porter says Nagbe is most effective.
“He’s been a guy that’s been moved around because we could move him around; we needed him to move around,’’ Porter said of Nagbe. “But where he will produce the most is pretty clear, when you look at the analytics. When he plays center mid, yes, he’ll be good. Plays right wing, he’ll be good. But he produces the most goals at left wing. And we haven’t had the luxury of playing him there all the time, and we’re going to make a commitment to playing him there this year, and I think you’ll see his production come back to 2013.’’
That was the year when Nagbe produced a career-high nine goals, a number that he hasn’t come close to matching in the three seasons since. But Porter believes the addition of Costa Rican defensive midfielder David Guzman this offseason will allow all of the Timbers players to slot into their natural positions. Guzman will play the deep-lying, No. 6 role, Porter said, and that will free up Diego Chara to move forward into an attacking central midfield position, and subsequently allow Nagbe – who scored just one goal in 27 games last season – to move outside to the left wing.
After winning MLS Cup in 2015, the Timbers failed to make the playoffs in 2016 and to make matters worse, their arch rivals, the Seattle Sounders won the championship, which makes the Timbers all the more desperate to get back to contender status – and to do so in a hurry.
Porter said the Timbers will be looking to bring in some younger players the team believes are ready to step up now – players like center back Gbenga Arokoyo, and first round draft pick Jeremy Ebobisse. Portland traded up to get the fourth pick in the MLS SuperDraft in order to select Ebobisse, a 19-year-old striker who many had thought might by the No. 1 pick overall. Porter said the Timbers were thrilled to be able to get Ebobisse, a US U-20 player, who scored seven goals last fall playing college soccer for Duke.
“When you look at Ebobisse, obviously, he fits the profile of the type of no. 9 that we like,’’ Porter said. “He’s strong, he’s got athleticism and soft feet, and he’s shown that he can score goals at every level.’’
With Fanendo Adi serving as the Timbers’ top target forward, Porter said he doesn’t expect Ebobisse to step right into a starting role immediately. But the Timbers are determined to get Ebobisse “meaningful minutes’’ in 2017.
“We’re committed – you have to be committed, once you have guys that you think are good enough – to actually give them the opportunity,'' he said. "So we’re committed to giving these guys a chance.’’
At the same time, though, Porter said the Timbers are still looking to add quality veterans. They are still in the hunt to bring in a Designated Player to play opposite Nagbe, on the right wing, he sred baid, and he talked about how adding 32-year-old defender Roy Miller will provide valuable depth and versatility to Portland’s back line. Miller, who played six seasons for the New York Red Bulls before spending last season with Saprissa, can play both center back and left back, and will give the Timbers cover for young players like Arokoyo, Rennico Clarke and second round draft pick Michael Amick.