Atlanta United players Darlington Nagbe (left) and Jeff Larentowicz defend against Club America defender Jorge Sanchez in the Campeones Cup on Wednesday, August 14, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Atlanta United will go on but ‘Darlington isn’t a guy that you replace’

Though it appears that Atlanta United is about to lose Darlington Nagbe, his teammates, while quick to praise him, are also quick to remind that the team will go on.

Michael Parkhurst pointed out that Nagbe wasn’t on the team in 2017, which wowed MLS with its play in its first year.

Jeff Larentowicz pointed out that Miguel Almiron wasn’t on this year’s team, which still won the Campeones Cup and U.S. Open Cup and came within 30 minutes of playing for its second consecutive MLS Cup.

Atlanta United is set to announce as early as Monday when the trade window opens that it is sending Nagbe to Columbus in exchange for Allocation Money. Neither Nagbe nor Atlanta United Vice President Carlos Bocanegra have commented on the trade.

“We will miss him for sure, but the club will have to find a way to bounce back,” Larentowicz said.

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan said there will be no replacing Nagbe, a smooth, instinctive midfielder, with just one player. Though it does seem probable that the team will bring in someone to try.

“Darlington isn’t a guy that you replace,” Guzan said. “For me probably one of the best, if not the best, American center midfielders that we have. So we all understand what he brings to our team, the qualities he has. So replacing him, I don’t think that you’re able to go out and get a like-for-like. It will be down to us as a group to pick up the qualities that he has.”

Nagbe’s brilliance wasn’t in many runs, like Almiron would make.

It wasn’t in tough tackles, like those by Larentowicz.

It wasn’t in seeing-eye passes, like those by Ezequiel Barco.

It was that Nagbe would do all of those things, just not do them as flashy.

Nagbe’s game is about simplicity. Make the smart pass. Get in good positions to disrupt counters. Find the space and get there first.

And come up big in the big games. Atlanta United’s win over Monterrey in the Champions League and its win against Club America in the Campeones Cup were led by Nagbe’s brilliance in the midfield.

“He’s one of the best 8s in the league,” Parkhurst said. “I think everyone within the organization, within the team understands that and appreciates what he brings on the field, in the locker room. He’s a great guy and I’ve really enjoyed playing with him the last two years. We see the game the same way, and we’re able to talk about certain plays and have a laugh even on the field sometimes about certain things that are going on.”

Larentowicz joked that the club wants him back to take over the Nagbe role. He said training will include eating a lot of Wheaties.

“A lot of our best games, we walked off the field saying, ‘Thank God we had Darlington,’” Larentowicz said. 

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