MARIETTA, Ga. — With each passing game, Darlington Nagbe is growing more accustomed to the red and black stripes on his shirt. The Liberian-born Cleveland native came to Atlanta this offseason in a trade that saw him leave the only professional club he’s known — the Portland Timbers.
As fate would have it, Nagbe will have to vanquish friends on his former club if he wants to win the 2018 MLS Cup Saturday (8 pm ET | FOX, UniMás, TSN 1/3/5, TVAS).
“It means a lot,” Nagbe said of the opportunity to play Portland. “I went there when I was 19 or 20. I got married there. I had my kids there. Pretty much my whole adult life happened there so it’s like a home to me. I love the city. I love the fans and what they did for me, and I’m grateful for it.”
Everything about Nagbe is understated, whether it’s his calm demeanor off the pitch talking to reporters as he did in Thursday’s media day, or the way he plays as a supplementary piece in midfield that allows teammates like Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez to shine.
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In that same vein, Nagbe said he will stay out of any trash talk that might come his way during the game after former Portland and Akron teammate Zarek Valentin reportedly joked about texting with him ahead of Saturday’s big match.
“No trash talk,” said Nagbe. “During a game, he knows I don’t talk. We’ll banter here and there, but nothing too crazy.”
Nagbe doesn’t play those games, and neither does Alvas Powell, a player who Nagbe affectionately referred to as “my little brother,” having played several years together in Portland.
“No, I'm the same,” Powell said, laughing. “I'm not going to trash talk him. I wish him nothing but the best, and I think it's going to be a good feeling playing with him again.”
Nagbe has some experience dealing with the reality of facing Portland at this point, having played against them in a 1-1 draw in June at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Nagbe said that experience was a real eye-opener.
“It was different. It was surreal,” said Nagbe. “Obviously I’d worn that jersey playing my entire career, so it was weird. You play against guys on national team duty here and there, but to play against the whole team was different. The whole season has gone by now though, so I’m used to it.”