The All-Star midfielder suffered an adductor (groin) injury on June 24 in a 1-1 draw against the Portland Timbers, his former club. The injury kept Nagbe out of Atlanta’s squad for 10 matches — the longest injury stretch of his professional career — but Atlanta personnel told media Thursday that the dynamic midfielder looks fit and sharp despite the long layoff.
During his absence, the Five Stripes managed a record of 6-2-2. Head coach Tata Martino confirmed Thursday that Nagbe will travel with the squad to take part in Atlanta United’s upcoming two-game West Coast trip to Colorado this Saturday (3:30 pm ET | Univision, Twitter — Full TV & Streaming Info) and then to San Jose.
“I think Darlington is one of the best players in the league at relieving pressure,” said Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst. “You can play a ball into him in any way, shape or form and he will take it down and turn. It’s just incredible. He doesn’t lose the ball.
“We’ve got guys who are talented and good in possession, but he brings another level that you just don’t see too often. He’s very reliable in that sense that we can always play through Darlington.”
Martino said the team has been patient with Nagbe’s return, and will focus on handling him responsibly considering the duration of his absence. But he’s at full speed and ready to play. Fitness is the only concern for Atlanta.
“We’ve had talks with him since he’s rejoined the team in training, and we’ll continue to talk to him to get his point of view and evaluate him to see if he thinks he’s okay to start or come off the bench,” Martino said through a translator Thursday. “But with a player like Darlington, he’s so gifted technically that he won’t lose [that part of his game]. It’s just a matter of fitness.”
There’s also a question of how the versatile midfielder will be integrated into the team. Nagbe can play either centrally or in a wide role. Martino has been vocal with his plaudits for the partnership between central midfielders Eric Remedi and Jeff Larentowicz. Remedi joined the team during Nagbe’s absence, so fans and opponents have yet to see how Martino will manage the situation with all three players healthy.
“It’s a challenge,” Martino admitted when asked how his midfield will shake out. “When you have as many talented players as we do, who can all play in those positions in midfield, it’s a big challenge for the coach. So we’ll see what we do.”
One option for Martino could be to revert to a 3-5-2, a formation he often employed when Nagbe was healthy. Is that a possibility for Tata?
“Good idea!” said Martino, with no need for a translator.