- Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers
- Darlington Nagbe: "I don't always score, but when I do, I prefer golazos."
To borrow a line from Timbers Army, Darlington Nagbe's goal-scoring may best be described thusly: Quality over quantity.
Nagbe—Portland's second-year midfielder/forward/wherever coach needs him—didn't have the breakout season many expected, but his artistic flair is again being recognized by Major League Soccer. The 22-year-old is a finalist for a second straight goal of the year honor for his off-the-knee rocket wundergoal against Salt Lake on March 31.
Nagbe scored just six goals this season, his inconsistent play mirroring the varying lineup and strategy offered up by ousted coach John Spencer and interim caretaker Gavin Wilkinson. Nagbe's brace against RSL looked like it might be his breakout moment—"This kid has looked in the mirror and decided, 'it's time I came alive,'" analyzed Timbers TV commentator Robbie Earle right after Nagbe's nifty strike—but Nagbe followed that moment with 18 straight games without a goal.
Seemingly snapped out of a daze, Nagbe recorded points in the next four matches, the longest point streak by a Timber this season.
“He has all the tools and talent to become the best player in the league,” said Spencer about Nagbe prior to the 2012 season.
Spenny may still be right, but he's also no longer around the Rose City. The hiring of Nagbe's former college coach, Akron's Caleb Porter, not only promises a shift in playing style, it represents a doubling down by the Timbers on their biggest superstar.
The Porter era (unofficially) began on Sunday when he (and Nagbe's) Zips fell to Creighton on the NCAA men's soccer tournament's Round of 16. How the new coach develops his old player will be a key storyline to the 2013 season, when Porter will try to usher Nagbe's game beyond the highlight reel.
Voting for the MLS Goal of the Year ends Tuesday night. Video of the four finalists (including two lads who play their footy in Seattle), after the jump.