Darlington Nagbe - Portland Timbers - 2017
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United tech director Bocanegra explains analysis behind Nagbe move

When Orlando City sent $1.6 million of allocation money to Sporting Kansas City this summer to acquire forward Dom Dwyer, the Lions could point to Dwyer's consistent -- and easy to comprehend -- MLS scoring track record to justify their spending. 

With Atlanta United's move this week for midfielder Darlington Nagbe, worth potentially $1.65 million in allocation funds, the rationale for a deal that could break Orlando's MLS spending record takes some deeper analysis.

“When we look at players we’re watching them with our eye throughout the season, and in his case with the national team as well," Atlanta technical director Carlos Bocanegra said in a Friday conference call. "And then we also do go in and look at the statistics and heat maps and things like that.

“Darlington had the highest retention rate of possession in the league this year, which is excellent. We see him coming in as a big connector, someone that is dynamic and also dribbles his way out of trouble. He pulls opposition out of their position.

“He creates space for other players. That’s where we see that he benefits our club with his ability on the ball, his ability to run with the ball to retain possession and to bring other people into the game was why he became our number one target.”

Of all the people that should benefit from Nagbe’s move to Atlanta from the Portland Timbers, perhaps none will more than playmaker Miguel Almiron. That could scary thought for opposing defenses, who saw the Paraguayan international score nine goals and contribute 14 assists in his debut 2017 league campaign.

“With a few of the players that we were potentially interested in during the off-season, it would have pushed Miguel potentially further back in the attack and away from the goal,” Bocanegra said. “With a player like Darlington, we felt like he’s a perfect link in the midfield, to help us build out of the back and play through lines like we like to do.”

Bocanegra made it clear that coach Tata Martino and the rest of the front office are not expecting Nagbe to provide a double-digit goals tally.

“For us, if he goes and gets the ball out of the back or he’s able to run into the attack and join in and link people up," Bocanegra said, "it’s just another player on the team that’s not losing possession.

“He’s bringing other people into the game. He’s making it difficult on defenders, so for me I don’t want him to change. I want him to do exactly what he’s been doing for the past seven years in the league and now showing it with the national team. And that’s why he was our number one target, because everything he has done in his career domestically here and with the national team, that was the player that we were looking to get at this club.”