“You won’t see a better goal...Well…”
Frank Yallop’s voice trailed off. The Chicago Fire head coach was describing Jason Johnson’s sublime 92nd-minute strike to beat Seattle Sounders FC Saturday night, and in doing so, he reminded himself of some of the wonder strikes goals scored against his team at Toyota Park this season.
There was Cyle Larin’s bending shot in the late stages that drew Orlando City level in a 3-2 loss for the Fire back on June 6. Conor Doyle blasted a shot from 25 yards out to give D.C. United a 1-0 victory on June 24. Maybe those were “better” goals. It’s up for debate. But Saturday's feeling of being on the other end of things was priceless.
“In the past year in a half, we’ve witnessed the same type of game go against us,” Harry Shipp said. “I thought we played well throughout the game, and we probably deserved to score two or three goals at least, had a lot of chances. To finally persevere and get a goal, the guys who came on did a great job. It’s what we’re all about right now, battling through. We’ve got guys out, guys injured. To pick up three points is huge for our sake.”
It’s fair to say the Fire earned it. They managed 16 shots against the co-leader of the Western Conference, a side the club had not yet beaten in nine previous tries. The Men In Red held Seattle to 10 shots, four of which were on target. The 18,528 fans saw live the renewed energy and vigor the Fire displayed in a 1-1 draw at Houston on July 3. Fighting back to secure a point gave the team confidence that a pair of U.S. Open Cup wins couldn’t.
“We discovered something about ourselves in the second half in Houston,” Patrick Nyarko said. “To come out with a win, a positive win, in the very next game, is going to catapult us.”
The Fire players gave much of the credit to a replenished lineup. They’re still dealing with a plethora of key injuries (Jeff Larentowicz, Shaun Maloney and David Accam, among them), but the return of Nyarko and Mike Magee has been crucial. They’ve combined to create a multitude of chances, and even though the match was scoreless when they left it, they put Seattle on their heels. Following their departure, Jason Johnson and Michael Stephens combined for the stoppage time winner after fellow reserve Guly do Prado twice came close to breaking the ice.
The Fire's strong record of results with both Nyarko and Magee in the fold is telling, but even more than their attacking savvy, Nyarko and Magee have given the Men In Red a mental edge since their respective returns. It’s been visible in an improved demeanor during training, and the mentality has carried over to matchday.
“I think it’s just the attitude,” Shipp said. “It starts with Mike and Patrick coming back, fresh attitude. You get kind of stale attitude-wise if you’re kind of going through the same thing over and over. To have those guys come in and just kind of kickstart our change of attitude has been huge. It started back in Houston. I know we didn’t win that game, but I think for us, the attitude’s been totally different.”
Head Coach Frank Yallop
On the match
"Obviously great to get three points. I thought we played well enough to get three points tonight. Although late, much needed goal and very good to get three points at home. Looking forward obviously to our home stretch we got coming up. Very pleased."
On the importance of the fresh legs
"It was very important, if you look at the two guys Patrick and Mike, guys that are still not at hundred percent. It is important for our subs to come on and make a difference. And I think JJ and Mikey combined greatly for the goal. Terrific finish and obviously won us the game. I have been pleased with the spirit of the squad and we have been through some rough patches in the last few weeks. But we stuck together and are looking forward to our next game. We are looking forward to the Open Cup game coming up as well, so tonight was a very important three points. We spoke after the game on the field and I said to the guys, 'this is the feeling you want to have. You know, you worked hard to get this very important part. We have put our bodies through turmoil and fight, knocks, bumps, and bruises and you come out victorious.' I thought we deserved to win tonight, we fought hard, we tried to win the match and we were lucky, which is important."
On the play of Patrick Doody
"I am happy for Patrick and it was a solid good performance. If you look at Seattle obviously they are a good side and top of the West for a reason. And it is not just having both Dempsey and Martins out. They are tough to play against, they are good defensively. I thought we did great stuff early in the first half. In the first thirty minutes I thought we dominated and should have scored but we didn't, that was disappointing. But we kept going, we scored but a little late but we scored, that's important."
On the health of Patrick Nyarko and Mike Magee
"Mike got a knee to the back, he's a little sore, so I guess one good thing is we haven't run him into the ground for Wednesday, that's good news. Patrick looked like he got a knock but then he had a play afterwards where he didn't look too bad, dribbling the ball and playing. I have to see the medical staff and see how he is feeling and doing. But I thought both guys did well, after all it is just a long layoff for them to spark all the time is tough. They did a great job tonight, held it 0-0 and end up playing well the first half to maybe get ahead in the match. But again, we saved minutes for them which are important for Wednesday night."
On the importance of getting a late goal
"I think, I have been around this game a long time and you talk about different parts of the game, late goals scored and blame. To be honest it is the same type of thing if they score early. If you score late it changes for us all the time. We talk about not conceding late goals but we seem to do it quite regularly and early in the season. I think for us throughout the season but tonight was a good example; they have a few little sniffs and a little chance but didn't score. I feel Larin's goal against us was a word class goal. And if you look at the D.C. goal, I mean you don't see a better goal then that. Those two goals are what really hurt us and we lost because of it. So good to get through this defensively and it gives you confidence going into the next match. I thought we put our bodies on the line tonight and I was really proud with how the boys fought and dug in and got the goal and then didn't let it go. I thought it was good."
On the central partnerships in midfield and defense
"I thought Razvan especially was outstanding tonight, he covered so much ground. He is really coming into his own now, playing like the great professional we know he is, he is playing very well. And Polster is obviously a young kid that is learning and his enthusiasm I love, and he gets kind of caught up in that position once in a while but I'd rather him do that and learn from it then being timid and not getting himself out around the field. So very happy with those two in the middle and I thought both Adi coming off injured in the game in Houston and he worked very hard to get himself ready for this game. He is probably still sore here and there but I thought him and Eric were outstanding again. They fought; they battled and didn't want to give anything up. I think that is important and I talked to the guys and when we had a video meeting after the Houston game and I showed a ton of clips where we out fought Houston and we didn't win the game. I thought we fought tonight and didn't allow them to bully us and I thought that is important enough in our league and for us moving forward. Forget the players that are playing and if you don't want to fight, it is bad for your teammate and yourself. Often you are in the wrong spot and the last little spill. In the last couple games we have had there was desire to win the match and that is important."
On what was said to Jason Johnson before he entered the match
"Yeah, I said, 'get on the right wing, cut in and shoot in the far corner.' No, I didn't I just said make a difference. Just get up and down wherever you're playing. We do tend to mix it up a little bit, we were going to go three in the back but we decided to put JJ up front. Just get dangerous, we need a goal so whatever you need to do to get it onto to your left foot and get a strike off, please does it. It's not really one instruction it is more be forceful, be positive, get your shots off, and get your crosses off because that is what we need in this game. He was on for 15 minutes, give everything you have and close them down when they have it. And when you get a chance to goal go at them, get your shots and crosses off and he did that. It was a wonderful goal; I haven't seen a better goal this season. Well I have seen a few against us but for us this season this is a great goal. I am very happy for him and a good kid as well."
Patrick Doody, Chicago Fire Defender
On making his MLS debut
"As a Homegrown guy, it's something that I've thought about for quite some time. So to make my first appearance at home, with my family here, and obviously, more importantly with the win, in that type of fashion, it was a really special night, something I won't forget."
On the match
"It was awesome. Even though it came late, I'm not lying, we really thought it would come, and we kept at it defensively, didn't really give them much. It was a special play, special moment, and I think it was just a fun night for the Fire, fun night for the fans and just a really big team night."
Jason Johnson, Chicago Fire Forward
On the goal
"It was quite simple. It was a good ball from Mikey Stephens. Good counter attack and I just had one thing on my mind, to shoot. That's pretty much it. No doubt. Even before the ball was played, my mind was set to the option I did. Sometimes it goes on the other side of the post but I'm thankful that it went in tonight. It was great for the team."
On the recent struggle to get goals
"I don't think the team has been struggling to get goals. What does it do for the team? I think it was great. It was a great team effort tonight to get a win and get us back on track for the next couple of games. Good momentum for the team to get a couple more wins in the next few weeks."
Michael Stephens, Chicago Fire Midfielder
On the match
"I think it started in Houston more than tonight. Houston was a good effort, I think tonight we just continued on what we did there. But I think that was a big game for us, things were more positive in training this week and then we continued into the game, but I think Houston was a big turning point for this team."
On recovering from his injury earlier in the season
"I was out longer than I would have expected, I was out for four weeks, that takes a toll on you, obviously you lose some fitness. I've been back for the last three or four weeks training hard, trying to get back into the team so hopefully tonight helps me get more minutes."
On what the coaching staff has said about his role in the next four to five games
"Not as much as far as what my role is in the next four, five games, but we've been in communication about things they want to see me doing. We have an open dialogue. These are coaches that are honest and communicate with the players well, so I've had good conversations with them and haven't felt like I've been out of the team fully, so I've just been biding my time and waiting for my opportunity."
On the goal
"I saw that I was on a break and knew that I wasn't going to beat the guy with my speed. I saw Jason coming around my shoulder and I thought, 'the chances of him beating this guy with his pace are a lot better than mine,' so I let him go. It was a central midfielder caught in a left back position. Playing central midfield, you're not used to being in that position so I just round-footed him a little bit. He thought I'd go outside and the inside would open, but he's not used to being in that position."
Chicago Fire midfielder and defender Joevin Jones is away from the club on international duty, but he won’t be far off for his opening match.
Jones’ Trinidad and Tobago side open their 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup campaign Thursday against Guatemala at Soldier Field, with kickoff set for 6 p.m. CT. The Soca Warriors, who trained locally at the campus of UIC, will then head to University of Phoenix Stadium to face Cuba at 5:30 p.m. on July 12, before concluding group play at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium against Mexico on July 15 (5 p.m.). All three matches will be televised on Fox Sports 2 and Univision Deportes Network (UDN).
Jones, who owns 38 career national team caps, is competing in his second straight Gold Cup after helping his side advance to the knockout stages of the 2013 tournament, where they were ousted by Mexico, 1-0. He has scored one goal and added one assist in his debut MLS campaign, starting all 14 matches in which he's played.
Click here for the complete 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup TV and streaming schedule.
Prior to the start of the Fire’s 1-1 draw with the Houston Dynamo Friday, the club announced that captain and centerback Jeff Larentowicz would miss the match and an estimated two weeks with a herniated disc. On Monday, head coach Frank Yallop provided a bit more insight into the situation, explaining that Larentowicz has been dealing with recurring pain in his neck since at least the June 24 match vs. D.C. United and would meet Tuesday with a specialist to better gauge the extent of the injury.
“I’m not sure the signs are great right now,” head coach Frank Yallop said Monday via teleconference, “but there’s hope that he’ll be OK to train soon. Right now, it’s up in the air what time he’s going to be back. We’re just waiting to hear tomorrow afternoon.”
Even with the rash of injuries that have befallen the Fire of late, the news of Larentowicz’ impending absence from the lineup still came as a surprise because of his well-earned reputation as an MLS iron man.
Since establishing himself as a full-time starter for the New England Revolution by his third year in MLS, the 31-year-old has been nearly impossible to keep off the field. Larentowicz hasn’t been held out of more than two MLS regular season matches since 2006, his second year in the league, and was in the Starting XI for all but two of those appearances. In the 2010 and 2011 seasons with the Colorado Rapids, he played in every regular-season game on the schedule.
Per Yallop, Larentowicz battled through his recent neck pain and lingering groin issues for some time but, regardless of the outcome of further evaluation, is already on the verge of missing more match action than he's grown accustomed to.
The injury, coupled with a nagging groin strain felt by fellow centerback Adailton, means the recent acquisition via trade of Ty Harden from the San Jose Earthquakes is likely to pay immediate dividends for Yallop, even factoring in Harden's own recent hamstring issues. The newcomer has not played in an MLS match since scoring for the Quakes against the Fire on March 22 in San Jose.
Still, in the event Adailton is held out of the team, Harden could see his Fire debut come as soon as Saturday vs. Seattle in a centerback pairing with Eric Gehrig, who capably assumed Larentowicz' spot in Houston.
“[Harden] hasn’t been full training yet, it’s been a lot of running,” Yallop said, "but he’ll be ready to go on the weekend I’m sure."
On Tuesday (June 30), the Chicago Fire dispatched of USL side Charlotte Independence, 3-1, in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 at Toyota Park.
Four days later, it was Saint Louis FC, the USL affiliate of the Men In Red, who bested the Charlotte outfit, and they did so with the help of three Chicago Fire loanees.
The two clubs met Saturday (Independence Day, fittingly) at Charlotte’s Ramblewood Stadium, where the Independence had lost only once in six home matches this season. The visitors took an early 1-0 lead on a sixth-minute goal by Parker Maher that was set up by defender Patrick Doody, who only 24 hours earlier was on the bench in Houston for the Fire’s 1-1 draw with the Dynamo. The helper was Doody’s second assist of the season.
The hosts pulled level in the 68th minute thanks to a strike by Daniel Jackson but were done in by 2015 Chicago Fire MLS SuperDraft selection Kingsley Bryce, who slotted home a rebound in the 89th minute to lift Saint Louis FC to the 2-1 victory.
Another Fire loanee, Alec Kann, manned the net and recorded a stellar eight saves for Saint Louis FC, which improved to 4-5-6 on the year. Kann, who has made eight starts this season for the USL side, owns a 1.00 goals against average and ranks second in the league with an .846 save percentage.
Check out the highlights of the match below, courtesy of the USL and Charlotte Independence:
Chicago Fire head coach Frank Yallop
Thoughts on the match
"Obviously getting the point on the road is sort of what you set out to do, to be honest I thought we could have nicked it and won the game. Great effort from our guys, really proud of the way they fought and battled against adversity with a few injuries here and there and a couple things going on, not having a full lineup. I’m proud of the way we played and getting a point here."
On Patrick Nyarko
Well Patrick had a big impact in the game on Tuesday—the cup game we had at home—and he comes and gets the tying goal here. Just really pleased for him, it’s been a long road back. Him and Mike [Magee] off the bench… it’s a long haul back from that type of injury so I’m very happy that they’re both on the field and contributing, doing well.
On Greg Cochrane
Greg’s a guy that trains really hard and is a good squad member, he waited for his chance and he’s done pretty well. It’s a lot of injuries right now with guys out so it’s nice for guys to come in and do contribute and do well.
Others that have impressed during two-game stretch
Just on tonight, from Adi, Eric Gehrig and then Polster had a lot of pressure on them, they handled the power of Houston’s attack and I think they defended very well. Sean [Johnson] when he had to come up and make a save, he did, or come for crosses, he did, so that was good. Thought Lovell [Palmer] had a good night, good chance for Mike [Magee], Greg [Cochrane], I thought everyone contributed to the point.
Chicago Fire forward Patrick Nyarko
On scoring in his first MLS game back from injury
First of all, I dedicate this to my grandmother. She’s being buried tomorrow, so rest in peace. I’m proud, I’m proud of the guys. I think we found something special at the end of the game. How we reacted after we gave up the goal is how we need to play every game. The guys realize that. I’m glad I was able to help but kudos to the guys, they came out fighting and they know now this is what it takes to win games in this league. Every single game, this is what it will take to win it. I’m proud of the guys and I hope this play will continue.
On the goal
If it goes out wide, we’ve been taught to crash the box so I just went in the box. I knew that Greg [Cochrane] was going to cross it, so when cross came through I just decided to get to goal to get a toe on it or something like that, and luckily I think me and the defender both hit the ball and if the goalie hadn’t been there it would have gone in anyway. But then it was able to rebound off of him and I think he stayed down and I got up; I knew I was in front of the goal and just turned and hit the target and it went in.
How did the knee hold up?
It did fine besides the Houston heat and the [inaudible]. Generally I was fine for most of the game. I wasn’t expecting to play the full half but when Frank told me just keep building, keep getting some game fitness in there and keep building on it. So I’m glad I was able to get the full 45 minutes here, especially in Houston with the heat, so hopefully I feel fine.
What does it mean for you personally to get through 45 minutes?
It’s huge, it’s huge. As my recovery continues, I keep saying I still have a little bit to go but all of these are confidence builders. Fifteen minutes, 45 minutes and then sooner rather than later I’ll be considering myself for a starting position. All I want is to help this team win games. That’s all I’ve been about and that’s what I’ll keep doing.
Are the last two games a bit of a turning point for the team?
I hope so, I hope so. You know, it’s been a difficult season with injuries; someone person comes up, one person goes down. I’m really excited to get everyone back to see how the depth that we’ve been talking about. We’re going to coexist. I think it’s going to be great and I’m curious and excited to see everyone healthy and us coming back in the second part of the season.
Chicago Fire midfielder Harry Shipp
On the difficulties of playing in Houston
It’s a lot different than being back in Chicago for sure, but I was really proud of the effort and the intensity we showed throughout the night. It’s hard when you’re in the 75th minute and you’ve got to step 15 yards to an outside back and you don’t want to do it and you’re tired, but we consistently did it all night and we won the ball and created some chances to potentially win in the last 15 minutes.
Has this been a turning point?
Yeah, I think this group of guys -- obviously we’re not at a hundred percent right now—but for us there’s no excuses. We had guys that came in and battled. Patrick [Nyarko] came back, first MLS game in 10 months or whatever, and Mike [Magee] came in and was a spark. I think the guys that we’ve got on the field and the guys that are coming off the bench this game did a really good job for us.
On Patrick Nyarko scoring on his MLS return
It’s special. I’ve never had to go through an injury recovery process like that, fortunately, but just seeing him every day, kind of the ups and downs with his emotions and his attitude and to finally come back and be playing well and to make a difference it’s something obviously you hope for during those last six months of recovery.
On a large cast of players getting a chance to impact the game
It’s kind of just ‘next man up.’ We’ve got Polster sliding around from centerback to midfield, me kind of playing everywhere in the midfield, you’ve got J.J. playing. We’ve got a lot of guys playing different positions and not complaining, just doing what they need to do. In previous games I think we weren’t always doing the little things effort-wise to get results in difficult places and I think tonight we did all the little things to get the win—unfortunately it didn’t happen but I think we showed promise that we can build off it and get it the next game.
If you’re looking for the perfect way to cap the Fourth of July weekend, Chicago Fire Rec Soccer has the answer. Reserve a spot now in the CFRS Fourth of July 7-v-7 Tournament on Sunday (July 5) at The PrivateBank Fire Pitch in Chicago (3626 N. Talman Ave.).
Players are invited to register their men’s, women’s or coed teams for $299 per team, or to sign up as an individual for $30. The tournament runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and offers 3-5 games lasting 25 minutes each.
Happy Fourth of July and best of luck to all participants!
As convincing as the Chicago Fire attack was Tuesday in the U.S. Open Cup Round of 16, the Men In Red also were the beneficiaries of several moments of brilliance by goalkeeper Sean Johnson.
Charlotte Independence striker Ryan Finley came on as a substitute in the second half Tuesday at Toyota Park and found two point-blank chances that looked to be sure goals. Both times, Johnson pulled off spectacular saves, leaving Finley dumbfounded with his hands on his head.
“Sean Johnson was outstanding tonight,” Fire head coach Frank Yallop stated matter-of-factly after the match.
WATCH: Match Highlights
It was a totally different scenario for Johnson than in Chicago's first U.S. Open Cup game against Louisville City FC. In that match, the 26-year-old wasn’t asked to do much at all, even as the match remained deadlocked into extra time. But on Tuesday, there were a couple occasions when his quality was called upon to preserve a 3-1 Fire win.
As Kevin Egan discusses in this week's edition of Fire Field Vision, the veteran of 160 career matches with the Fire has looked in top form since being reinserted in the Starting XI following a five-game absence. In three games, he's allowed only two goals, neither of which could be considered his fault. And despite conceding the opener against Charlotte, Johnson and the Fire fought back to claim victory.
“In those moments, you’ve got to have true character in going down 1-0 early on and battling back,” he said. “Ultimately coming into the second half and being dominant in the second half, we’re learning what things we can and cannot do in matches. I think that’s the most important thing is being able to learn from experiences like yesterday and be on the winning end of things instead of the losing end.”
With the Fire in search of their first MLS win since May 30, Johnson and his teammates were pleased with Tuesday's Open Cup effort. Coming out on top can be a big boost, both for the team as a whole and for Johnson, who has certainly found his form.
“It’s all the same,” Johnson said. “I think performances, regardless of what team you’re playing, provide confidence. … Any performance – doesn’t matter if it’s Open Cup or a friendly – any performances like that can prove vital going into league play.”
Frank Yallop, Chicago Fire Head Coach and Director of Soccer
Thoughts on the match:
"Obviously great to get through into the next round, coming from behind is always important as well. But I probably think the highlight of the game was seeing Patrick and Mike being back on the field and contributing to us. Very happy for the team and those two guys as individuals. It's being a long way back for them. Happy to see them on the field, very proud in the way the team kept going and got the result. I thought Sean Johnson was outstanding also."
On what was said at halftime to change the tempo of the game
"Yeah, I would say the first twenty minutes were edgy, and we didn't really have any confidence, as we know in sports, is everything. We didn't go out with any confidence to start the first half, we looked nervous and edgy. Then we started coming to it towards the end of the first half, and obviously got the first goal. So, I said we just got to up the tempo, I liked from the outset we pushed on. After halftime we kind of allowed them to play and I felt we weren't too bad going forward at the end of the first half. I felt we allowed them to play too much and giving them too much respect on the ball. The demeanor was a lot better the second half but they created some good chances for sure. It was good tonight, we weren't our best against them but thing is here is having your goalkeeper play well. And finish off chances and both boxes have said it enough, we were pretty good in both boxes tonight."
On Mike Magee's return
"Mike gave everything he had. He still has a little bit of a catch up but I think after he scored the second goal, he went over to our fitness coach Adrian Lamb and gave him hug because he worked very hard to get him back to this point. When you have surgery, you think you're going to get back pretty quickly but you realize it is 9 months and it's a long time. I think he is very appreciative from the work he put in himself and the staff we have here to get him to this point. I'm pleased for him and I think he showed tonight, took three shots and scored two goals. His ratio is pretty good and he's got to keep that up. Its nice to have him back, we obviously got through this game and need to get our team together. I thought Patrick looked outstanding in only 10-15 minutes, you miss guys and when they are on the field, you realize how good they are. It's not in training, it is actually in play, in the proper game. I thought Patrick looked great, I thought, and obviously Mike's goals were great. Very happy for both guys and pleased to have them out there."
On the play of Lovel Palmer
"I wanted Lovel to get himself forward and get back to the old Lovel, where he use to bump forward. Especially last year we kind of free front and I have not played him as right back a lot so maybe it has not been his fault all the time. He is very good going forward and I said go on please, and express yourself and do your thing. Obviously a great long range shot and great ball from Mike for the goal, so he had a good night. Has a little bit of a tight groin but we will see how he is doing but hopefully he is okay. I thought he had a good game tonight."
On missing Joevin Jones and potentially Jeff Larentowicz for the Houston match
"It was a tough turn around, but Houston is playing as well tonight. It is just an injury problem and it does weaken you a little bit. Again, our guys got through this game tonight and do we play particularly well at times? Probably not. But did we do good stuff going forward and were dangerous? Yes we did, and I think and hope this is the turning point. So we can come out with a good result on Friday, it's a tough game, but we will just see how we are tomorrow. We will see how Lovel and Jeff are, and both David and Shaun are definitely out. Lovel is a slight risk with coming off with an injury but it is what it is. It's a squad game and we have lost four in row in our league play, which is not good. So we got to go down there and try to get a result and then look forward to the next few games we have at home."
On facing Orlando City in the next round
"I think the context of it, you're playing against players you don't really know. I felt they came out pretty strong and energetic and did well for 30 minutes. Its always that way, its very easy to sit and say we should win 4-0 because we are a MLS team and they are USL but they beat New England away and they are not bad. They proved that tonight, they had some good chances but we had the better of clear cut chances but it was still a dangerous game. We've just got to get our guys back on the field and look forward to the next game versus Orlando, which I am looking forward to. It's a great tradition of this club to do well in the Open Cup and I am no different to that. I want to do well for the club, the fans, and everyone involved and do well in this competition."
On looking towards the next transfer window
"It is still undecided in how it is going to look, and we are still waiting on the final makeup of how that sort of mechanism is going to work to have players. I can't really comment on what is going to happen but we are actively looking and it is nice to have Mike and Patrick back, those two spots are covered in the attacking core. So, we will look at it closely and we will have a meeting tomorrow and go over our wants, needs and hopes and the list of players we have targeted in different spots and see what we come up with."
Mike Magee, Chicago Fire Forward
On scoring twice upon his first start of the season
"The first goal was great, and tying the game in the first half is not all that glorious. But in the second half, I'm ten times happier to see Pat on the field, first of all. Then, for him to give me a lay-up, it feels pretty similar to how it was two years ago, when we had that great run. He's brilliant over there, and for some reason, he always seems to give me the easy goal. So, thanks, Pat Nyarko."
On playing a full 90 minutes
"That was huge. Adrian Lamb, our fitness guy, many people haven't seen the work we've done together, and more importantly, the work he made me do. Probably half the time, if I was trying to quit, or trying to give him a better idea of what I thought I should do, which was half of what he had planned for me...if it weren't for him, I probably wouldn't be playing tonight, let alone finishing 90 and playing well."
On being named captain for the match
"When you wear the captain's armband, you feel a sense of pride that's kind of hard to describe. Jeff's an incredible captain, so I'm in good company when I put it on, but it's a surreal feeling, especially for your hometown club."
On the victory serving as spark for the rest of the season
"I hope so. There was definitely something a little different in the group tonight, the way we got after it. We kind of had the sense after the game, and even before the game, that we were ready to fight for each other. First of all, we need to get everyone healthy and on the field; once that happens, I truly believe the sky's the limit."
Patrick Nyarko, Chicago Fire Midfielder
On returning from injury
"It feels good. It's been a long road. All the rehab, all the tough days waking up and trying to get back. Once again, I appreciate the patience of the club, waiting up on me, being patient with me to take as long as I can to come back stronger. I still think I have a little bit to go to get in tip-top shape, but it's a good start. I think the guys worked their ass off today to get us the win, and I'm glad to win."
On his first touch leading to goal
"I'm not quite that good, but surprisingly, me and Mike [Magee] had talked about it; the celebration was going to be, he was just going to tackle me, and I was just going to run off, out of the tunnel, but I think it didn't come to that yet. But we definitely talked about me coming in and setting him up for a goal, for sure."
On his and Mike Magee's return serving as a spark
"Surprisingly, I think we've been okay. It hasn't been as bad as the results or the positioning in the league table seem to suggest. We've been in games, we've been in leads, we've given up leads and stuff like that. I think we just have that edge to win games, and everyone needs to learn how to win games, it becomes a habit. I think the results haven't been there, but I believe in us. As you guys might know, we've had some slow starts here in the past, and besides last year, we've actually kind of picked it up towards the middle of the season, towards the end of the season. So, I'm hoping for that. Obviously, Mike was a huge loss, and now he's back; look at what he did today. I think we're going to count on him, he's delivered for us, and he will keep delivering for us."
On the emotional meaning of his return from injury
"Like I said, I just appreciate the patience the club and the fans have had. They deserve better for all the support they've given us even in the bad times. Mike is a huge part of the club, he's going to lift us big time; I'm going to chip in and do the work I do, and hopefully it turns around. I think all the guys are on the right path; it's just that little bit, the young guys learning how to win in this league, it'll be a huge boost in the second part of this season."
Patrick Nyarko expected to be pretty good in his debut appearance in the 2015 season. Just “not quite that good,” he said.
After an absence of over eight months while recovering from a knee injury, the 29-year-old Ghanaian winger came on as a 77th-minute substitute Tuesday in U.S. Open Cup action against Charlotte Independence. It was the 201st appearance in a Fire shirt across all competitions for Nyarko -- the longest tenured player on the current roster -- and it's likely one that will feature prominently in his memory whenever his professional playing days are over.
About five minutes after stepping onto the field, he made his first touch one to remember, splitting two defenders before setting up Mike Magee perfectly for Magee's second goal of the game.
With that moment came the rush of emotions typical of a long process now nearing completion. He harbors a great deal of gratitude for the coaching staff, the supporters and the club as a whole for sticking by him through it all. Though Nyarko is still not back to full fitness, the tallest mountain has been climbed. He had come full circle since posting an assist in his last previous appearance on Oct. 18, 2014.
“All the tough days waking up and trying to get back,” he said, “you appreciate the patience of the club waiting up on me, being patient with me to take as long as I can to come back and come back stronger.”
He and Magee had talked about this moment. They had both returned from lengthy injury absences and wanted to make their mark. The plan was for Nyarko to set up Magee for a goal, and that plan came to fruition.
The celebration, on the other hand, didn’t go as scripted. Magee was supposed to tackle Nyarko, who would then get up and take off for the tunnel. Instead, Magee picked his counterpart up and carried him about 10 yards before teammates mobbed them.
Close enough. It didn’t take away from the beauty of Nyarko’s return. And it seemed like a fair reward for months of hard work just to get back on the pitch.
“It feels good,” Nyarko said. “It’s been a long road.”