MARIETTA, Georgia -- Atlanta United midfielder Darlington Nagbe says there won't be any additional emotion involved on Saturday when he faces off against his old team, the Portland Timbers, with an MLS Cup title on the line.
Nagbe spent seven seasons in Portland, and was a key piece in the Timbers' run to the title in 2015. But the U.S. international was traded to Atlanta in the offseason, and while injuries limited him to 23 regular season appearances, he's back healthy and ready to push the Five Stripes over the championship finish line. Nagbe has also already faced his old team once this season, a 1-1 tie on June 24.
"It will be all right," said Nagbe about facing the Timbers. "Because it's a final, it won't be as weird as it was in the regular season. In the regular season it was my first time playing against them. Now in the final, it won't matter who I'm playing against, no matter the result. You're excited if you win no matter the opponent, and you're disappointed if you lose no matter the opponent."
Nagbe's stat line of no goals and three assists doesn't catch the eye, but Atlanta manager Tata Martino insists that the midfielder's contributions go well beyond numbers.
"Darlington this year has given us that pause and balance in midfield," said Martino at Thursday's news conference with the aid of a translator. "That's something that we didn't have last year. We're a very aggressive team. We ran a lot and attacked a lot, and those are qualities that we've maintained this season. We didn't want to lose those with the attacking pieces that we have and with our aggressiveness to recover the ball. But this season Darlington has allowed us to know when to do that and when to choose those moments [to pause] so he gives us an important balance."
This season marked the first time in 11 years that Nagve was coached by someone other than Caleb Porter, who worked with Nagbe both in Portland and the University of Akron. But Nagbe says he enjoyed working under Martino.
"I think it's always good when you get a change," said Nagbe. "I was really comfortable with Caleb, but being able to come to a new coach and a new team, kind of escape my comfort zone and open up and see something new I think has been great. Tata has helped me with everything; defensively, positionally, tactically, taking more chances, things like that. Especially in the buildup and the attack, so overall it's been good."