Nagbe not with first team. Neither he nor Atlanta United will say why

Atlanta United midfielder Darlington Nagbe has yet to play with the first team its first two scrimmages during the preseason. (Atlanta United)

Atlanta United midfielder Darlington Nagbe has yet to play with the first team its first two scrimmages during the preseason. (Atlanta United)

There may be an issue developing between Atlanta United and midfielder Darlington Nagbe.

Not only has the player not logged any minutes with the first team in its first two scrimmages in California against Seattle and Tijuana, he has twice declined to speak to the media. Additionally, the club was asked to speak about Nagbe. Through a spokesman, the club declined.

Atlanta United president Darren Eales made a brief to California, where the team continues training.

Manager Frank de Boer on Wednesday said that Nagbe didn’t play in the scrimmage against Seattle on Feb. 2 because he arrived late to the team’s training camp in Fullerton, Calif. The team arrived there late Friday night. Nagbe arrived on Saturday. No reason has been given for why Nagbe arrived late. His lack of playing time caused a blizzard of social media posts speculating about the lack of playing time.

Regarding his omission from Wednesday’s scrimmage against Tijuana, De Boer said Nagbe wasn’t ready for a full match, which is why he played just the first half (40 minutes) in Wednesday’s opening scrimmage between Atlanta United’s reserves and Cal State-Fullerton’s men’s soccer team. However, Nagbe has participated in the training sessions prior to the trip. De Boer also noted that the midfielders are still learning what is needed in his system. Again, the team’s supporters took to social media to ask why Nagbe wasn’t with the first team.

De Boer said it’s possible that Nagbe could play with the first team in its next scrimmage at LAFC on Sunday.

De Boer has used a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 system in the first two scrimmages involving the first team. It’s a system similar to what previous manager Gerardo Martino used the previous two seasons. In either formation under Martino, Nagbe, who has an excellent first touch and is smart with the ball, was used in the center of the pitch as a bridge between the defense and offense. The team typically used a 3-5-2 when Nagbe was available. When he suffered an injury in May, Martino switched the formation to a 4-3-3 because he said they didn’t have Nagbe. During the playoffs and run to the MLS Cup, the team switched back to a 3-5-2.

Atlanta United acquired Nagbe in a trade with Portland in Dec. 2017. Atlanta United Vice President Carlos Bocanegra said that Nagbe was the team’s top target that offseason. The trade cost Atlanta United $750,000 in General Allocation Money, $300,000 in Targeted Allocation Money and an International spot.

In Nagbe’s 23 starts during the 2018 regular season, the team went 14-5-4. He was named to the 2018 MLS all-star team but missed the game due to injury.

Nagbe played in college at Akron under Caleb Porter. Nagbe was drafted by Portland 2011 and helped it win the MLS Cup in 2015 with Porter as coach. Porter and the club agreed to part ways following the 2017 season. He is now the coach of Columbus.