Q&A: Atlanta United’s Darlington Nagbe, part I

5:48 a.m. Monday, Dec. 18, 2017 Homepage
December 15, 2017 Atlanta - New Atlanta United midfielder Darlington Nagbe shares a smile with fans Adam Boyle (left) and Andrew Amerson with his son Elon, 6-months, as they pose for a group photograph at the Team Store at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Friday, December 15, 2017. Atlanta United introduced midfielder Darlington Nagbe to the media Friday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Hyosub Shin / hshin@ajc.com

Here’s the first half of an exclusive interview with Atlanta United’s Darlington Nagbe. It was conducted Friday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Q: Did you want to leave Portland?

A: Yes.

Q: Why?

A: I had a good relationship with Caleb (Porter). I met him when I was 17. He’s been my coach ever since. I had been there a while. Atlanta’s a perfect fit, so why not?

Q: Just looking for a new challenge, then?

A: A new challenge. Being from Ohio, it’s closer to home. Leaving Portland, Atlanta was my No. 1 option. I’m happy I’m here.

Q: Had Caleb stayed, do you think you would still be in Portland?

A: That’s tough to say. Me and Caleb have that relationship you know, outside of soccer. It’s tough to say what that conversation would have been. But without him there the decision was easier.

Q: Was Atlanta the destination, or were there some other teams that you thought would be cool?

A: It was the destination. I’m excited to be here.

Q: How are you going to fit into the lineup. How do you think Gerardo Martino will use you?

A: He can use me in multiple positions. But I think in the midfield. The team is a good possession team. They are good on the ball, creative on the ball. I think I can fit in right away.

Q: He calls it a 4-3-3, but it’s usually a 4-2-3-1 so you think you would play between Carlos Carmona and Miguel Almiron, in that bridge position?

A: Yes, I can see that.

Q: But you can also play on the left on the right. I know you played both last season, according to whoscored.com, at least seven on both sides. 

Is there anyone in particular you are looking forward to playing with on Atlanta United?

A: I can’t say there’s anyone in particular. There’s a lot of talented guys here. When you have this much talent, I’m looking forward to playing with multiple guys, especially the guys in attack.

I saw what they did last year so hopefully I can jump in and fit.

Q: How big of a draw for you was Gerardo Martino?

A: It’s huge. To have a coach of that caliber who has coached some of the best players in the world and some of the best teams in the world. When you come here you know it’s an opportunity to get better and learn.

Q: Is there something in particular you want to get better at that you think he can help you?

A: There’s a bunch of things I can get better at. In particular, coming here maybe in the final third, get more chances and opportunities in the final third while adding to what I can bring in possession, as well.

Q: One of the things that people say when scouting your or analyzing you is that you should have more goals and should have more assists. Is that fair?

A: It depends what you are looking for. If you are looking for that type of player, then yeah. If you are looking for midfield possession then no. As a player I can always contribute more in the attack.

Q: Taylor Twellman was telling me yesterday that he doesn’t think that’s a fair criticism of you anymore, that the things you do are the things that lead to impactful stats. The goals and the assists. And that you being here could perhaps change the way that people view or judge soccer players.

A: It could. Soccer, the culture’s different everywhere and the style of play. I think it just depends where you are. Different countries or teams prefer guys that can have more of an impact on a team than goals or assists. Some teams are looking for guys who get goals or assists. It’s just different, however that person looks at it.

Q: And defense, Atlanta United loves to do that high press, that tenacious press. How do you fit in with that?

A: I can go get up and down. It’s a part of my game that I can bring here.

Q: The signing, 350 people. Does that make you feel good? Did you expect more? I’m curious about your expectations.

A: I expected less, I think. I just wasn’t sure. It’s a good turnout. Across the organization everyone’s excited, the fans are excited as well. It makes me more excited.

Q: A lot of people are making a big deal out of the private jet to pick you up.

A: (Nagbe laughs and laughs). They are?

Q: Yes. Jason Davis spent a few minutes on his show talking about it on Sirius radio.

A: That was cool, you know? They told me the jet was coming. I was like, “Ok.” The jet came, I was like, “It really did come.” Things like that make me feel more welcome. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel welcome. Things like that make me know how excited everyone is about me and the opportunity they’ve given me. I’m thankful and blessed.

Q: Is there any pressure with this being the potentially the largest inter-league trade in MLS history?

A: For me, personally, no. There’s always that pressure of wanting to do well as a professional, for my teammates and for the organization. 

I think that’s pressure enough already.

Q: Some people say Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a football stadium that houses a soccer team. I was curious your thoughts after your first tour.

A: I didn’t get the feeling. I walked in here and saw a lot of Atlanta United logos and everything like that everywhere. I know the Falcons play here. I think they did a tremendous job where the football team and soccer team can call it home.