A few things to keep in mind as you watch Columbus and Portland go after it Sunday in Mapfre Stadium, where the 20th MLS Cup will be decided:
Nagbe and Trapp as the key midfield connectors
Two men central to Sunday’s action had their international coming out party about a year apart, both in interesting ways, although in very different settings.
Darlington Nagbe, the silky smooth Portland Timbers midfielder, earned his first US national team cap in St. Louis last month, and it really was quite a lovely moment. Nagbe, Liberian-born but having lived almost all of his 25 years in the United States, simply could not suppress a magnificent smile as he trotted onto the field, spilling over with pride for his first chance to represent the United States.
In the future, he could potentially share a US midfield with Wil Trapp, whose applications in the Crew midfield are equally as important as Nagbe’s to Portland. Trapp has been capped once but has yet to make a mark internationally. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t received some “international recognition,” so to speak. It came from the tongue of none other than Thierry Henry. Trapp was running the show late in 2014 as his Crew shredded the Red Bulls in New Jersey, and Henry was effusive in his post-game praise for the young midfielder.
Neither Nagbe nor Trapp are necessarily known for dynamic deeds, although Nagbe has more of that in his game, blessed with useful speed and having nailed a couple of wonder goals along the way around teeming Providence Park. Rather, it’s their sensible, skilled work through the midfield that allows all teammates nearby to be more proficient at their own jobs.
Nagbe may already be one of the most comfortable players on the ball in the US national team pool. Moments will be rare (if there are any at all) in Sunday’s final when Nagbe looks harried or uncomfortable receiving a ball, no matter what manner of chaos is unfolding around him. His ability to possess and progress is wonderful in its simplicity, and he’s doing more of it from central positions lately as manager Caleb Porter has moved Nagbe into the middle while toggling between 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 alignments.
The formula often looks like this: Diego Chara covers ground and wins tackles as the man on a mission he is and then finds Nagbe, who can then find the roaming Diego Valeri, who can then deliver passes in good spots for striker Fanendo Adi. Finding the Timbers’ big target (he’s an absolute handful at 6-foot-4) in those happy spots is a great scoring chance waiting to happen.