The 2015 season has been one a memorable one for Darlington Nagbe. Long heralded as one of Major League Soccer’s most promising players, Nagbe is starting to shed that ‘promising’ label in favor of an ‘elite’ one. Timbers head coach Caleb Porter pushed Nagbe inside from the right wing in the weeks leading into the MLS Cup Playoffs. Since then, Nagbe has discovered the consistency that long evaded his game, asserting himself as a box-to-box player who can create and defend at a top-flight level. After securing his U.S. citizenship in September, the Liberia native was quickly capped by the United States National Team during its opening pair of 2018 World Cup Qualifying matches in October. A win on Sunday would be the icing on the cake for a player Jurgen Klinsmann has already dubbed a “great fit” for the USA.
Several MLS clubs have developed preferences for where they discover personnel abroad. Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s roster features four Uruguayans. New York City FC has four Spaniards, Toronto FC employs four Frenchman, and Orlando City SC enlists four Englishman. For the Portland Timbers, it’s Argentina. In total, the Timbers had five Argentines on their roster this season (it now has four). No other MLS club had more than three. The club has fostered a welcoming atmosphere for its Argentine imports and it has translated onto the field. All four – Diego Valeri, Norberto Paparatto, Lucas Melano, and Maximiliano Urruti – logged minutes in Sunday’s second leg. While Valeri has become a face of the club, the club brought Melano in this summer, and the investment paid off when he scored one of, if not the most important – and most impressive - goals in Timbers history in the 95th minute.
"There have been a lot of Argentines that have come to the league in the past couple years and it's something that has been getting more noticed in Argentina," Melano told The Oregonian in July, through an interpreter. "It's a league that is well-regarded. I didn't doubt it for a second when I had the opportunity to come here."
Road Warriors: Caleb Porter leads MLS’ best road team into familiar territory
Since the highest-seeded MLS Cup finalist began hosting the match in 2012, home teams are a perfect 3-0. That won’t faze the Portland Timbers. Portland finished the regular season tied with Vancouver Whitecaps FC for most road wins in MLS with seven. The Timbers carried their road success into the playoffs, dispatching Whitecaps FC, 2-0, at BC Place in the semifinal, before punching their ticket to the final with Sunday night’s 2-2 draw in Dallas. Ohio is also familiar territory for a slew of Timbers. Caleb Porter served as the University of Akron head coach for seven years (2006-2012), leading the Zips to six consecutive NCAA tournament appearances including the school’s first national championship in 2010. When Porter took the Timbers coaching job in 2013, he reunited with three former players – Darlington Nagbe, Ben Zemanski and Michael Nanchoff. Nagbe was a member of Akron’s 2010 national championship squad and Zemanski was onboard for the team’s second-place finish in the 2009 tournament, while Nanchoff was a part of both teams. Per ESPN’s Paul Carr, Porter can join Bruce Arena (LA Galaxy, University of Virginia), Sigi Schmid (Columbus Crew, UCLA), and Steve Sampson (LA Galaxy, Santa Clara) as the only coaches to win an MLS Cup title and a NCAA Division I championship.