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Official: Atlanta United trades Darlington Nagbe to Columbus Crew

Nagbe played two seasons in Atlanta and was a vital component in a team that won three trophies.

Oct 6, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United midfielder Darlington Nagbe (6) celebrates after a goal against the New England Revolution in the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)
Oct 6, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United midfielder Darlington Nagbe (6) celebrates after a goal against the New England Revolution in the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)

Darlington Nagbe’s move from Atlanta to Columbus is official. Atlanta United announced Wednesday the United States international midfielder has been traded to the Columbus Crew in exchange for $1.05 million in guaranteed allocation money: $900,000 in Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) and $150,000 in General Allocation Money (GAM), as well as an international roster slot for 2020.

The compensation package for Nagbe ties a Major League Soccer record set when Atlanta acquired Nagbe from the Portland Timbers in December, 2017. Atlanta can receive up to $375,000 in additional allocation money via performance-based incentives.

News of the trade first broke last week in a report from the Athletic. Atlanta and Columbus waited until Major League Soccer’s brief offseason trade window to make the deal official.

“Darlington was a vital part of our success over the last two seasons, and we want to thank him for his service to the club and wish him the best of luck in his future,” Atlanta vice president and technical director Carlos Bocanegra said in a statement. “As with any offseason, there are difficult decisions to be made. Ultimately, this trade serves the best interests of our club long-term.”

Nagbe played two seasons with the Five Stripes and was an essential midfield component for a team that won the 2018 MLS Cup, 2019 Campeones Cup and U.S. Open Cup. He never lit up the score sheet with two goals and seven assists in  56 regular-season games, but the 29-year-old’s sterling ability on the ball allowed Atlanta to play through opponents’ pressure and build out of the back. Nagbe is regarded by many of his peers as the best at what he does in MLS. Atlanta manager Frank de Boer has described Nagbe as the best American midfielder on a number of occasions this year.

“I would put him as top one, two, three performers for the team this year,” Jeff Larentowicz, Nagbe’s teammate in midfield, said at Atlanta’s season-ending press conference Nov. 7. “That’s huge, so important, so vital. A lot of our best games, we walked off the field saying, ‘Thank God we had Darlington.’ And that’s just who he is.”

Nagbe is from central Ohio and played college soccer for Crew SC coach Caleb Porter at the University of Akron. Porter also coached Nagbe during the player’s first seven years in MLS with Portland. After a year off, Porter took over the Crew before the 2019 season.

Columbus finished 10th in the Eastern Conference in Porter’s first campaign, but the team improved down the stretch and went 5-2-6 in its final 13 games. The Crew defeated Atlanta 3-1 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Sept. 14. 

Nagbe is known to be a family-oriented person, and he still has relatives living in his native state. In February, Dirty South Soccer reported Nagbe was looking to push a trade to Columbus. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution added he was interested in joining FC Cincinnati as well. After the Athletic reported Nagbe had turned down “multiple” call-ups to the U.S. men’s national team, he told Atlanta media he had rejected USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter’s calls “for family reasons and me just wanting to be home.”

“To go back to where you’re from and play in front of friends and family, if you haven’t done that in a long time it’s nice,” retiring captain Michael Parkhurst said at the year-end presser. “I know that Darlington’s a real homebody, even here. He likes to be at home with his family, so if he does get traded and that’s the reasoning, I totally understand it. If that’s what he wants, then that’s what I want for him because he’s a good guy and I want what’s best for him as well.”

Nagbe made $665,499.96 with Atlanta in 2019, according to the MLS Players Association’s Salary Guide, so his departure frees up significant salary cap space for a potential replacement. Filling the massive void in midfield may be de Boer’s top priority in what is expected to be a busy offseason.

“This is also the club that lost Miguel Almirón,” Larentowicz said. “We will miss him for sure, but the club will have to find a way to bounce back.”

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