Recently, Portland Timbers and occasional United States national team midfielder Darlington Nagbe was being pursued by Scottish club Celtic. The move fell apart when a suitable transfer fee could not be negotiated.
“It was amazing that Celtic showed interest in me,” Nagbe told ESPN FC. “They wanted me to come over for their game against Barcelona in the Champions League. I checked it out and enjoyed it. It was one of the best atmospheres I have ever been to. It was great.”
His visit to Celtic Park in November kicked off a back and forth that eventually ended with the Timbers rejecting a transfer “for multiple reasons.”
Nagbe made it clear that he’s staying in MLS for now, but there’s definitely an open-ended nature to his quotes (if one chooses to read that far into them).
"I'm here right now in the Timbers polo," the 26-year old midfielder said. "So if it doesn't happen, I'm happy to come back with the Timbers. But if it does happen, then it is what it is."
Portland is looking to rebound after a down year in 2016. The 2015 MLS Cup champions failed to make the playoffs, finishing in seventh place in the Western Conference. Nagbe regaining stability within the formation will be key to the club’s success.
“[Nagbe’s] been a guy that’s been moved around because we could move him around," said Caleb Porter. “But where he will produce the most is pretty clear, when you look at the analytics... 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."
Nagbe is also looking to bounce back from a tumultuous year with the national team. After becoming eligible in 2015, he made ten appearances and was included on the roster for the 2016 Copa America Centenario. However, Nagbe had a falling out with former manager and technical director Jurgen Klinsmann (reportedly over “a lack of playing time” and not feeling valued), which resulted in him declining friendly call ups in October and being left off the roster for November’s World Cup Qualifying matches.
Shortly after confirming that Nagbe would “come back into [the] group”, Klinsmann was fired and replaced by Bruce Arena. A new coach brings different standards and tactics, including a possible switch to the 4-4-2, which would potentially play to Nagbe’s strengths.
The upcoming year is a very important one for Nagbe’s playing career. There’s still time to earn a spot in the rotation for the 2018 World Cup, and he’s still young enough to warrant a transfer overseas. Whether he ultimately ends up in Europe or stays with the Timbers remains to be seen.