The big news that many were waiting to hear confirmed finally dropped: after hints at a falling out between Darlington Nagbe, Jurgen Klinsmann, and Klinsmann’s USMNT staff were publicly aired by Taylor Twellman and Ian Darke, Grant Wahl reported on Darlington Nagbe and how his absence from the national team was for more than just “family reasons.”
Part of the reason was a lack of playing time, but there were other ways in which Nagbe didn’t feel valued by Klinsmann. Sources in Portland and with U.S. Soccer say that Nagbe had conversations with Klinsmann and the national team staff, and those sources now think it’s possible that Nagbe may not get called back in to the team moving forward.
The responses to this news have been mixed, but there have been plenty of responses, and most tended to side with either Nagbe or Jurgen Klinsmann.
1. Can't possibly be critical of nice guy Nagbe 2. bad guy JK 3. Huge talent but quite honestly, at 26, should be further ahead no? https://t.co/NSFR9OaqX8— Cristian Nyari (@Cnyari) October 19, 2016
Nagbe needs to ask himself if in old age, he will be comfortable he didn't give himself a real shot at playing World Cup. It's that simple.— Ian Darke (@IanDarke) October 13, 2016
Thought @friedel_b put it best re Nagbe's #USMNT future: “Playing for your NT is a privilege, not an entitlement. You don’t turn it down."— Alexi Lalas (@AlexiLalas) October 18, 2016
Did anyone paying any attention to JK ever think MLS' Nagbe was going to get a fair shake when JK could pick Pulisic, playing in Germany? https://t.co/8GzAgtjbaP— Andrea Canales (@soccercanales) October 18, 2016
I’m not particularly interested in the myriad of different opinions and the nuances therein enveloping the situations, at least not in the sense that I think one side is more correct than the other. I do think this situation serves as yet another flashpoint for several vocal, passionate sects under the U.S. Soccer umbrella. MLS fanboys get another reason to dislike Jurgen Klinsmann, while the Klinsmann fans have their own legitimate reasons to back the coach up in this situation. Heck, Portland Timbers fans probably have all sides of this debate covered themselves.
The bigger issue feeding the polarization around the Nagbe-Klinsmann falling out is the tradition of American hope and disappointment. The savior complex might not nearly be as strong as it was even just a decade ago, but I still have yet to see another country that frequently not only qualifies for World Cups, but wins World Cup matches and advances out of the group stage (4 out of 6 times since 1994) that gets so worked up about every potential national teamer and their prospects. Maybe I’m being a bit ethnocentric here and Mexicans, Brazilians, and Englishmen all follow their national team prospects religiously, but I feel far more disappointed than I should about the possible loss of a 26-year-old with 10 caps, 1 goal, 1 assist, and modest numbers in MLS over his career.
Of course I’m disappointed. Darlington Nagbe is one of my favorite players to watch. He needs the correct environment to thrive consistently, something he found in the final month and a half of MLS play in 2015, but which injuries and form problems within the Portland Timbers’ squad have since forced him out of (the long and the short of it: he’s best as a deep-lying playmaking 8, but he’s been forced either to the wing or the nominal 10 role this season), but at the end of the day he has an incredible well of talent that makes things happen. Things like this.
And also this.
And a dash of this.
Poor Benny. pic.twitter.com/RKqP8S9Zdw— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) August 7, 2016
So yes. I am disappointed. I actually think I feel borderline-sad. Because I love Nagbe, and I love to see him succeed, and I’d like to see him get a shot at the National team, both because I like him and because I legitimately think he makes the team better when he plays. But even if I think that Darlington Nagbe could be a massive asset to the national team, or if I thought he was being used incorrectly with the national team, or not given enough of a chance (all arguments I’ve seen from place to place), Jurgen Klinsmann will be totally and completely justified should he not call Nagbe up for anymore games.
We saw this with Klinsmann and Landon Donovan coming back from his national team sabbatical, but this feels more head-on. Landon Donovan felt like he needed to recharge and weigh whether or not he wanted to play the game anymore. Darlington Nagbe may or may not be turning down a call-up because he doesn’t want to play the game of getting into Jurgen Klinsmann’s good graces and didn’t want to train for two meaningless friendlies in which he wasn’t even guaranteed to play. Even if the path to Jurgen’s heart seems Byzantine, what else is he supposed to do here? A player is openly defying him, essentially. Why would he call that player up anymore, and especially one that has struggled to consistently produce tangible results throughout his professional career?
All of this is hypothetical, because we don’t know the exact conversation Nagbe had with Klinsmann and his staff, but the signs don’t exactly point to the two getting tea on Tuesdays in Southwest Portland. Darlington Nagbe’s international career may be done, barring a Sacha Kljestan-esque renaissance or a new coaching regime eventually taking over that pursues him, and it never really got started. Another massive talent that just didn’t pan out for American soccer.
And so the disappointment turns to finger-pointing and taking sides. In reality, I think both Jurgen Klinsmann and Darlington Nagbe bear responsibility in this mess. I don’t think Nagbe was ever really given a fair shot to show what he could do with the national team, and his play when he changed games for the team (being the best player on the field the second half in Guatemala last spring, flipping the possession arrow completely and scoring against Ecuador, linking up for Christian Pulisic’s gorgeous team goal against Bolivia) were rewarded with a bigger shot. On the other hand, Klinsmann is perfectly within his rights to bring players along as he sees fit. It’s clear that Nagbe was still in his plans, and it was Darlington’s job to keep showing he had what it takes. Nagbe absolutely should be able to spend more time with his family and rest for huge club games when the national team is playing friendlies so devoid of meaning that the biggest talking point was a bunch of Americans going to Cuba. Klinsmann should absolutely be able to question a player’s commitment when he refuses to come show what his form looks like a month before two massive World Cup qualifying wins. No one is purely in the right or wrong here.
What is clear is that American fans are still hungry for their players to succeed, and succeed at every level of the game. Not everyone is built like Christian Pulisic, though, and Nagbe has proven time and again that he needs to feel comfortable in his surroundings to succeed. That’s the very opposite of Jurgen Klinsmann’s dogma, and it’s come to a head in such a way that a big American talent will probably be put on the shelf. Maybe that’s cause for anger, or confusion, or outright confrontation.
But mostly, I think we’re just disappointed.