The Moment: We're greedy, and we want more of this fire from Darlington Nagbe
It seems every week we're seeing another goal-of-the-year candidate. Last week, it was David Villa's long-distance gem. This week, Darlington Nagbe took center stage.
The Portland Timbers midfielder has been scoring spectacular goals since he arrived in Major League Soccer six years ago -- two of them, including that gorgeous free kick last year, had come against Vancouver -- and one of his finest started the Timbers toward Saturday's Cascadia Cup triumph over the visiting Whitecaps.
If it wasn't quite as pretty as his juggle-and-volley to the upper-left corner against Kansas City in 2011, it was close. Nagbe weaved past three defenders to strike from outside the box and off the underside of the crossbar, providing an 18th-minute lead as Portland (5-2-1) bounced back from last week's home loss to Sporting Kansas City, widened its advantage atop the Western Conference table, and surged seven or more points ahead of seven of the 10 Western rivals.
The goal drew raves from teammates. Darren Mattocks: “Amazing.” Diego Valeri: “Amazing.” Liam Ridgewell: “Not too bad.”
The moment of Week 8? No question.
The Timbers have been fast starters all year, taking leads in the first 15 minutes of their first five games, and were pushing forward early against Vancouver.
They created a nice chance in transition in the 18th minute that Nagbe mis-hit, then regained possession a few moments later inside the midfield stripe. Dairon Asprilla played a ball from the left flank back to David Guzman, who quickly fed Nagbe about 30 yards from the net.
THE BIG PICTURE
There was another moment for the Timbers, two of them, in Saturday's showdown at Providence Park, and we're still awaiting word on what they meant.
Diego Valeri, an early-season MVP candidate, took a tumble after contact with Jordan Harvey while collecting a Ridgewell line drive at the top of Vancouver's box in the sixth minute. He required medical attention but returned and fed, from Nagbe's ball on the break, Darren Mattocks' goal to go 2-0 up just before halftime.
Valeri seemed fine, but then he pulled up while chasing a ball in the 78th minute, signaled to the sideline for a substitute, and sat down. It was his hip, apparently hurt back at the start, and he was stretchered off the field.
That's a scary sight for Timbers fans. Portland's quartet up top -- Valeri, Nagbe and Sebastian Blanco behind Fanendo Adi -- might be MLS' most dynamic, and it's Valeri who makes things go. There are options if he's missing, but none of them are like for like.
The Argentine creator has five goals and four assists in the first eight games at the helm of the Timbers' explosive attack, which can beat you with possession or with that lightning counter and has netted 18 goals already, most in MLS. He has a lot to do with why Portland's atop the West, and if he's sidelined for any length of time, the Timbers are going to suffer.
Valeri after the game told reporters that he felt better, but head coach Caleb Porter said the injury's severity was uncertain and that tests would determine if and for how long he'd be out. When word arrives, that might be the Timbers' biggest moment this week.
There always seems so much ado about Darlington Nagbe, whose technical brilliance and ability to conjure the fantastic tagged him while in his teens as a special talent. We've seen glimpses of what's possible along the years -- his impact in the Timbers' 2015 MLS Cup title run, after a move into the middle, cannot be overstated -- but have been mostly left wanting more.
The Liberia-born, Cleveland-bred midfielder can do breathtaking things with the ball, and there might not be anyone in MLS faster with the ball at his feet, but it doesn't always add up to something significant. He's too often faded into a supporting role, can be too unselfish in the final third, and rarely has the fire in his belly matched his prodigious abilities.
Nagbe, 26, endured a disappointing 2016, with the Timbers, whose road travails kept them from the playoffs, and with the U.S. men;s national team, after falling out of favor with Jurgen Klinsmann. The year ended with his chance to go to Scottish champion Celtic falling apart.
Nagbe responded with some of his best soccer. Bruce Arena's attention provided confidence, and he's run with it. Nagbe has been dynamic with Portland on the left flank, from where he can cut inside on his favorite right foot, and he is Arena's first choice at that spot, too, with starts in last month's World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama.
It all attests to his growing maturity, his understanding of how he can best impact the game, and in his soaring confidence. If he can maintain this form and build from it, might we soon see the superstar we've been waiting for him to become?
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What was your #FFTMoment of the weekend...in terms of goals?
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— FourFourTwo USA (@FourFourTwoUSA) April 24, 2017
Scott French is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJFrench.