The Rich Get Richer: Darlington Nagbe joins Atlanta United FC
Atlanta United might have not won the MLS Cup during the most recent MLS season, but there is no question the team was one of the most exciting teams to watch during the campaign until their elimination in the playoffs.
Gerardo Martino's men were one of the most prolific scoring teams in the league, as they featured an attacking line led by Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron, Yamil Asad, and Hector Villalba. They created havoc on opposing defences and pushed Atlanta all the way to the fourth place in their first year in the league. They lost in the playoffs against Columbus Crew SC, but no one could take anything away from them considering how good they were for an expansion team.
But Martino wanted more. And as if that amout of talent wasn't enough, they went and acquired one of the best playmakers in the league since they have completed a move to sign Darlington Nagbe from the Portland Timbers. A 27-year-old midfielder with crafty vision and an accurate passing touch, Nagbe is also a member of the USMNT and has spent all seven of his professional seasons with the Timbers. He was the second overall pick of the 2011 MLS SuperDraft during Portland's expansion year, and has lived up to the hype around him.
ATLFC paid a lot of money to get him, though, as they sent almost $1.6 million in allocation money to Portland. That doesn't sound like a lot of money, but it is a huge deal by the league's standards. In fact, this was the biggest allocation deal in MLS history, surpassing the one Orlando City SC sent to Sporting Kansas City for Dom Dwyer last season. But let's get back to Nagbe, and the kind of impact he can have in such an attacking-minded team like Atlanta.
The first thing that needs to be decided is where Nagbe will play. He can definitively play on the wing as an inside forward or as an attacking midfielder, but the profiles better as a central midfielder with freedom to push the lines forward. Considering Nagbe, who has contributed with at least five assists in each of his last four seasons with Portland, will likely play alongside a more defensive midfielder such as Carlos Carmona, Julian Gressel or Jeff Larentowicz, the fit seems rather obvious. Nagbe is likely to play as a deep-lying playmaker in a CM role, behind the three-man attacking line of Villalba, Almiron, and Asad.
And with that kind of talent in front of him, Nagbe could easily be among the leaders in assists in his first year with the team. Let's remember that Martinez, Villalba and Almiron scored 41 goals between them. That scoring total surpassed the entire season tally of teams such as D.C. United, Orlando City, San Jose Earthquakes, and Colorado Rapids. Adding the playmaking threat of Nagbe should only make them better, as he represents a considerable upgrade on the attacking end for a team that was already stacked in the final third.
The departure of Nagbe marks the end of an era for Portland, but it also marks the beginning of a new era for Atlanta. One where the team, already one of the most talented in the MLS when it comes to their attack, get even richer as they keep making their way to become an MLS powerhouse sooner than later.