Atlanta United’s Nagbe returns to training

Darlington Nagbe trained with Atlanta United on Tuesday at the team’s facility in Marietta.

The midfielder hasn’t played since sustaining an adductor injury in a 1-1 draw with Portland on June 24. He was expected to miss 2-3 months.

Acquired in a trade with Portland before the season, Nagbe has 17 starts with three assists this season. While stretching, Nagbe was greeted with a hug by one of Atlanta United’s assistant coaches.

“I’m sure he’s itching to get going,” teammate Jeff Larentowicz said. “At the same time, he knows he’s got to get himself back up to speed and today’s the first step.”

» More: Week 28 MLS Power Poll

Also returning from injury were midfielder Brandon Vazquez and fullbacks Franco Escobar and Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu.

Their returns come as Atlanta United is preparing to play three games in eight days: at Colorado on Saturday, at San Jose on Sept. 19 and hosting Real Salt Lake on Sept. 22.

Atlanta United is in second place in the East with 54 points, one less than New York Red Bulls thought having played one less game. 

Nagbe was influential as a pace-setting central midfielder for manager Gerardo Martino in the 3-5-2 formation used primarily in the season’s first third with Nagbe, Larentowicz and Miguel Almiron in the middle. The team went 10-3-4 with Nagbe starting.

“He’s a top player in the league,” teammate Chris McCann said. “His technical ability on the ball, he gives us that pivot between the defense and forward. He picks pockets of space and you know you can give him the ball. He can receive it anyway, inside of the foot, outside of the foot, and keep making space for himself.

“For a defender or wide person, looking for that little link to get it inside to Josef (Martinez) or to Miguel to create attacking opportunities, he’s a fantastic link. You just lay it into him and the ball is going to be safe.”

After Nagbe sustained his injury, Martino switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation that he hasn’t veered from with Larentowicz, Eric Remedi and Almiron playing up the middle. The team is 6-2-2 without Nagbe.

“Some of the games that we could have had him in, we kind of missed him a little bit,” McCann said. “Eric’s been fantastic. Jeff’s been fantastic. He’s going to push us on and make us stronger.”

Nagbe, 28, was voted by the fans to play in the All-Star game against Juventus at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but was removed from the roster after his injury.

Escobar, a fight fullback, has missed the past two games, a 2-1 win at Orlando and 3-1 loss at D.C. United, after sustaining an injury during training. He has 17 appearances, including 16 starts this season. Julian Gressel has started in place of Escobar. In 180 minutes, Gressel contributed an assist.

Fullback Greg Garza, who suffered a shoulder injury May 20, didn’t train with the team.

“We are slowly getting players back, and it’s nice to have a slightly bigger squad of players to select from,” McCann said. “We have a tough stretch of games. We need every player ready to go.” 

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