Darlington Nagbe has had a very busy couple of weeks. His former Univ. of Akron head coach, Caleb Porter, was named head coach of the Timbers. He had a camera crew follow him around for MLS 36 for NBCSports. He helped out with a special project with MLS Digital and EA Sports that will air soon. His jersey is one of the top selling kits in MLS. And he came in at #15 on the MLS 24 Under 24 list.
But Saturday presented a rare opportunity to reunited with an old friend in Seattle Sounders midfilder Steve Zakuani. Both teammates under Porter while at the Univ. of Akron, the two had yet to actually take the field with each other due to Zakuani's leg injury that had kept him on the shelf for almost a year.
In a great article on SoundersFC.com, Zakuani spoke about playing against a friend with whom he shares a long history:
“It was great, you know. Last year, I didn’t get to play against him, so this year it was just good seeing him out there, and getting the chance to go against him,” Nagbe said. “It was fun. We both had fun.”
Like Zakuani in 2010, Nagbe is having success in his second MLS season. Zakuani was tied for the team-lead with ten goals in 2010, while Nagbe has six goals for the Timbers with still six games left on the schedule.
The success comes as no surprise to Zakuani, who has been carrying the Nagbe flag for years.
“I’ve known Darlington for a very, very long time and always said he’s a great player. He’s maturing more and more,” Zakuani said. “I still think he has a long way to go, because I think he has so much quality. I was happy to, for the first time, play against him at this level. I wish him to continue to become a good player.”
Zakuani goes on to talk about his friendship--he'll be in Nagbe's wedding in the offseason--and says that he'd like to share the pitch with him some day again on the same side:
“He’s someone I like to always look out for and I wish him to keep playing the way he’s playing right now,” Zakuani said. “I wish maybe one day in the future we can play again together. But at this point he is with Portland and I’m with Seattle.
The Akron roots run deep for many players across MLS. Nagbe was reunited with with another former Zip and close friend, Teal Bunbury, earlier this season both for an adidas commercial and on the field. Moreover, wunderkind Vancouver Whitecaps rookie Darren Mattocks, yet another former Akron teammate of Nagbe's, tweeted today about his thoughts on Nagbe's inclusion in the 24 Under 24 list.
@darlingtonnagbe should be in the top 5 easily for 24 under 24. Just saying
— Darren Mattocks (@DarrenMattocks) September 17, 2012
Can't wait for the Portland-Seattle Cascadia Cup showdown on NBC at 12:30 pm PT tomorrow?
Then get a look at soon-to-be Timbers head coach Caleb Porter as he leads his No. 9 Akron Zips against the undefeated No. 10 University of St. John's on FOX Soccer Channel at 4pm PT on Friday evening. The Zips are hosting the University of Akron Tournament this weekend at FirstEnergy Stadium – Cub Cadet Field with the Red Storm in attendance along with No. 11 South Florida and Butler also participating.
All matches for all teams are also being streamed online free at GoZips.com.
Caleb Porter and the Akron Zips came out of the weekend with a split in two matches at the Mike Berticelli Mermorial Tournament in South Bend, Ind.
On Friday, the Zips beat No. 10 Indiana behind midfielder Eric Stevenson's 19th minute goal. Dillon Serna had beat his man on the left flank and crossed into Stevenson who fired just inside the right post. Senior 'keeper David Meyes picked up his third win and second shutout in the match.
Two days later, however, Akron suffered their first loss of 2012 as No. 17 host Notre Dame (5-0-0) defeated the shorthanded Zips 3-1. UA got off to a strong start as Alfred Koroma crossed in a fine ball that Scott Caldwell (right) corraled and fired from the top of the box to give the Zips an early 1-0 lead in the 4th minute. However, Aohdan Quinn received a straight red in the 30th minute, the Zips played the rest of the match a man down and the Fighting Irish were able to counter with three unanswered goals.
With Friday's 1-0 victory over No. 10 Indiana, UA finished second in the tournament. Chad Barson, Caldwell and Serna were named to the All-Tournament Team.
Porter and the Zips return to FirstEnergy Stadium – Cub Cadet Field next weekend to play host to The University of Akron Tournament. UA will host St. John's Friday night at 4 p.m. PT on FOX Soccer Channel and South Florida Sunday at 4:30 p.m. PT.
ADDEDUM: MLSsoccer.com's Daniel Robertson says that Akron "had probably the toughest weekend of anyone in the country," but still rates them highly at #5 in their College Power rankings. He also points out that Friday's match on FOX Soccer Channel against St. John's is definitely one to watch as "practically every player you’ll see on Akron has a possible MLS future, either through the draft or via Homegrown signings."
The Akron Zips finished up their time in Nebraska at the Ameritas Classic with a come-from-behind 2-1 win over SIU Evansville. Senior Chad Barson and sophomore Bryan Gallego scored for Akron--both via great corner kick executions--and Caleb Porter's team improved to 2-0-1 on the season.
Gallego, Alfred Koroma-who had an equalizer against Creighton on Friday night--and Eric Stevenson were all named to the Ameritas Classic All Tournament team.
Also check out the Akron Beacon Journal's article about Porter's accepting of the Timbers job but staying with the Zips through the 2012 season. Writer Marla Ridenour says Porter is "leaving with class." It's a great piece that lauds Porter's loyalty to his Akron team and how Portland presented a dream job.
In Caleb Porter's first University of Akron match after being named head coach of the Portland Timbers, the Zips came from behind to draw with #2 Creighton 1-1 in Omaha, NE on Friday night.
After going into the half down a goal for only the 11th time in Porter's seven years at the helm in Akron, the Zips found the equalizer in the 57th minute on a Alfred Koroma header.
Were it not for an offside call in the ensuing overtime, Akron would have come away with the win. As it was, they dominated both halves of the overtime outshooting the Bluejays 4-1.
Check out the recap on the GoZips.com website. Akron next plays SIU Edwardsville on Sunday morning at 10am PT in their final match of the Ameritas Classic in Omaha.
As is well known by now, Caleb Porter will be the Timbers new head coach beginning in 2013. After a stellar career at the University of Akron, an NCAA national championship, buckets full of talented players who went on to MLS--including our own Darlington Nagbe, a slip up with the US U-23s and Olympic qualifying, and one final year with the Zips, Porter has decided to make the jump to the next level.
MLSsoccer.com's Jonah Freedman talks about what he calls "The Fraternity" of college coaches who made the same leap and the challenges they face:
The 37-year-old Porter will join [Schellas] Hyndman, Bruce Arena, Thomas Rongen and Sigi Schmid. Those four have among them six MLS Cups, five Supporters’ Shields, five US Open Cups and seven MLS Coach of the Year awards among a laundry list of other accomplishments.
No pressure, right? By now, no one should be crying that college coaches don’t have the chops to make the jump directly to the pros. That quartet is clear proof they do.
Freedman goes on to explore what that pressure is like and how some of that quartet dealt with it to become successful in MLS.