It's Year 10 for Darlington Nagbe but the transition to his home state and a new team resonates with the same feelings of being a rookie.
"Mostly just still being excited about it, especially being with a new team, coming back home but being a new team and feeling like I’ve been in it a long time, but I'm still excited about the season and looking forward to it," the midfielder said after training earlier this week in Chula Vista, Calif.
Acquired by Columbus last November, the veteran touched on his transition to the Crew and what to expect from the Club this upcoming season.
"When you have some new additions that are key pieces, just building chemistry is the biggest thing and that’s what we’ve been focusing on. Not just chemistry on the field but off the field, that’s what’s most important," Nagbe said.
Of the three MLS teams he has played for, Nagbe noted the move to Columbus has been particularly smooth.
"I would say this has been the easiest team to transition into," Nagbe said, "because I knew some of the guys before, maybe it’s being in the league awhile. I think it’s just good players – technically and tactically – being aware of what we are trying to do and being on the same page, and the coaches have done a good job of getting everybody on the same page so that’s what’s made it easier."
"I think because we have a lot of talented guys on the attack, we want to be on the ball as much as possible," Nagbe said.
Last year, Nagbe ranked first in Major League Soccer in dribble success rate (84.62 percent) among players with at least 30 dribbles completed & 20 starts.*
"I think the game is more enjoyable when you’re on the ball and on the attack. In this league, a lot of teams try to pins teams to the sideline and win the ball from there, so if we can play quickly, get it on that side, switch it to the other side, attack with pace and accelerate the game, I think we will get the opportunity to create a lot of chances," Nagbe said.
Whether he's on or off the ball, the 29-year-old has proven capable.
In 2019, Nagbe completed 1,577 successful passes with 920 coming in the opponent's half. Most notably, however, is that Nagbe ranked first in the League in overall passing accuracy (92.6 percent) and passing accuracy in the opponent's half (91.09 percent) among players with at least 20 League starts.
Now, it's about building the connection amongst his teammates, Zelarayan and Santos in particular.
So far, it's been an easy process, he said.
"[Zelarayan] is more attacking-minded, our creator and No. 10, so my job is going to get him on the ball as much as possible, Pedro as well," Nagbe said. "Those guys can create and find those final passes and create goals for us and our striker as well. So it’s been good, [Zelarayan] is an unselfish guy so it’s been easy playing with him so far."
Ahead of Opening Match vs. New York City FC, Nagbe said the players are aware of the offseason buzz surrounding the Crew and he looks forward to making those expectations a reality.
"Everyone, with the additions that we had and the people that are already here, is looking forward to it. I think also with the buzz about the new stadium and new training facility and things that like, I think people start talking so I think it’ll be a good year for us."
*Opta Sport's definition of "dribble" refers to an attempt by a player to beat an opponent when they have possession of the ball. A successful dribble means the player beats the defender while retaining possession, unsuccessful ones are where the dribbler is tackled.