Atlanta United acquires Nagbe in record-breaking deal

Atlanta United added another weapon to its arsenal with the acquisition of versatile midfielder Darlington Nagbe in a historic trade with Portland.

Nagbe, considered one of the best midfielders in MLS, was sent to Atlanta United in exchange for $750,000 in General Allocation Money, $300,000 in Targeted Allocation Money and an International spot. There also are incentives that if Nagbe reaches them would push the exchange to as much $1.65 million, which would set an MLS record for an inter-league trade.

“Darlington was our top target in the league this offseason and we’re ecstatic to welcome him to our club,” said Atlanta United Vice President and Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra. “He is a perfect fit for our style of play as he has a dynamic ability to dribble out of trouble, maintain possession and make passes that bring additional players into the game.”

Nagbe, 27, has spent his professional career with the Timbers since he was drafted in 2011 from Akron. He has scored 27 goals and added 30 assists in 214 regular-season games. He helped Portland win the MLS Cup in 2015. ESPN reported that Nagbe asked Portland for a salary raise to $1 million from $565,000, which sparked shopping him around. Nagbe has three years remaining on his contract with Portland.

He is Atlanta United’s fourth signing this offseason, joining left fullback Greg Garza, right fullback Franco Escobar and defensive midfielder Jeff Larentowicz.

It seems likely that Nagbe will play one of three positions: holding midfielder beside either Carlos Carmona or Larentowicz, a central midfielder operating between the defensive midfielders and attacking midfielder Miguel Almiron, or as a left midfielder in the spot where Yamil Asad contributed seven goals and 13 assists last season.

Nagbe’s ability as a passer -- he finished with the highest passing accuracy (92 percent) in the league last season -- will make him invaluable on a team that scored 70 goals last season.

Wherever he is used by manager Gerardo Martino, Nagbe must play defense to make the pressing system work. He has been criticized as having an inconsistent work rate. Still, he has made 24 appearances for the U.S. national team and was an MLS All-Star in 2016.

The previous largest inter-league deal was made last season when Orlando City acquired striker Dom Dwyer from Sporting KC in an exchange that could reach as high as $1.6 million.

For the Nagbe deal to break that record, he would have to accomplish certain feats, according to ESPN:

  • $150,000 from Atlanta United to Portland if he wins MVP;
  • $100,000 from Atlanta United to Portland if he scores at least 12 goals in a season;
  • $100,000 from Atlanta United to Portland if he has at least 15 assists in a season;
  • $250,000 from Atlanta United to Portland if he finishes top-3 in points and Atlanta United wins the MLS Cup.

The dollars would be sent to Portland as Targeted Allocation Money. The bonuses would be paid just one time no matter how many times each are accomplished.

The guaranteed $300,000, and as much as $600,000 more in incentives, in TAM going to Portland isn't as impactful as it may seem because the league recently approved an increase in TAM funds available to be spent by clubs from $1.2 million to $4 million in 2018 and '19.