Darlington Nagbe's start to 2012 has been a tale of contrasting fortunes.
On one hand, the second pick of the 2011 MLS SuperDraft has become a fixture in Portland's lineup, and has already surpassed his 2011 goal total (two) with three goals in the season's early going.
On the other hand, the Timbers have been one of the league's early-season disappointments, showing a worrying penchant for conceding late, back-breaking goals. Portland sits alone at the bottom of the Western Conference.
“We've had the lead in games and just given it away,” the 21 year-old attacking midfielder told Goal.com in an interview.
“I already have more goals than I did last year so personally, it's been a better start, but as a team I'd like to finish off games better and get more wins.”
Finishing games off has especially been a problem for the Timbers in losses against Real Salt Lake, Chivas USA, the LA Galaxy and Montreal – matches in which the team has conceded an alarming total of seven goals after the 75th minute.
The Real Salt Lake game was especially notable for Nagbe not just because the Timbers conceded twice in the last five minutes to lose 3-2, but also because he scored two stunning goals that reminded fans of the ample talent he possesses.
Aside from his home fans in Portland, the group of supporters most keenly tracking Nagbe's progress is likely those that follow the Red, White and Blue.
If he continues his growth, the U.S. national team will unquestionably have interest in Nagbe, but the former Hermann Trophy winner still has a murky international future.
Nagbe was born in Monrovia, Liberia, where he lived for just five months. He then moved to France, where he lived for six years, then spent another four years in Greece. Eventually, his family settled in suburban Cleveland in 2001.
The only country Nagbe is currently eligible to represent is Liberia, but the nation is a footballing minnow. The Lone Stars have never qualified for a World Cup, last qualified for the African Cup of Nations in 2002, and are ranked 112th in the FIFA World Rankings.
Nagbe confirmed that his agent has been contacted by Liberian officials, but said that it was “nothing too serious because I told him (his agent) I just wanted to focus on the Timbers first of all before anything else.”
Though he seems to have rebuffed Liberia's initial advance, Nagbe still has strong ties to the West African nation through his father Joe, who was the Liberian national team captain, and earned 97 caps between 1985 and 2001.
As for the United States, Nagbe is still going through the naturalization process, which normally takes several years. There is, however, a glimmer of nuptial hope on the horizon.
“I'm engaged right now and getting married in December,” Nagbe said. “Once I get married, that should make me eligible for my green card and speed up the process on my citizenship.”
After Nagbe has his green card, it's unclear how long it would take to become a citizen and potentially suit up for the Yanks. When asked about this theoretical timeframe, Nagbe hesitated, then responded by estimating “maybe a year,” which would represent a significant reduction in the amount of time many would expect the process to take.
When reached for comment, a U.S. soccer representative said the federation would be unable to confirm anything regarding Nagbe's timeframe for citizenship.
Nagbe is quick to point out that he hasn't made up his mind between playing for the country of his birth or his current home nation, simply stating that he'd be honored to represent any country in international competition.
For now, the only competition he cares about is the one in which he is assured of immediate participation.
“I'm just focused on MLS,” Nagbe said. “The first season I was a little bit more shy. I would pass the ball a little quicker and I didn't take advantage of opportunities. I feel like this year I have taken advantage of opportunities I've been given.”
If Nagbe continues his development, it seems highly unlikely that MLS will be the last of those opportunities.
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