Nyarko's divergent path to Chicago
Throughout the years, American soccer has featured a number of stories about a foreign player realizing a dream, whether playing in or for the United States.
There's the classic tale of Joe Gaetjens, a Haitian immigrant working as a dishwasher while living in New York City during the late 1940's and early 50's. A player for Brookhattan of the old American Soccer League, Gaetjens went on to score the winner in the United States' 1-0 upset of England in the 1950 FIFA World Cup. More recently, current Chivas USA assistant coach Carlos Llamosa went from being a janitor working in the World Trade Center during the first terrorist attack in 1993, to a 10-year MLS veteran and a member of the United States squad that reached the quarterfinals at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Neither player had drawn out plans to reach those pinnacles, but ended up leaving a mark on the game in the U.S.
The Fire's Patrick Nyarko has a similar story.
Hailing from Kumasi, Ghana, Nyarko made his way to the United States by being, as he says, "in the right place at the right time." As is the norm in Ghana, students that have graduated from high school spend a year working before attending university, that path looked to hold true for Nyarko before Virginia Tech head coach Oliver Weiss spotted him during a recruiting trip to Africa.
"I was playing in a match and Oliver happened to be there looking at other players," said Nyarko. "I guess I impressed him more and he said he had one scholarship left and asked if I was interested in coming to Virginia Tech. I love soccer, but before then, I hadn't really thought about coming to the United States to play or to learn. Education was very important to me and so when the opportunity came, I took it."
Spending three years in Blacksburg, Nyarko appeared in 57 matches, tallying 31 goals and 24 assists while leading the Hokies to their first ever NCAA College Cup appearance in 2007. A finalist for the MAC Hermann trophy that year, Nyarko signed a Generation adidas contract with Major League Soccer in early 2008, eventually being selected seventh overall in that year's SuperDraft.
"I was just happy to get a good education and continue to play soccer. I didn't initially come to the U.S. looking to play professionally but this was another good opportunity and I've enjoyed my time so far as a pro."
Due to injuries, Nyarko played sparingly during his rookie year, appearing in only eight matches, though he came back strong in his sophomore season, joining Jon Busch and Marco Pappa as the only Fire players to appear in all 30 regular season matches, recoring four goals and two assists in 2009.
Entering his third season with the Fire, Nyarko has high expectations for himself and from new head coach Carlos de los Cobos and Technical Director Frank Klopas.
"We want to see a lot from Patrick this season," said Klopas. "We're obviously looking for him to continue producing offensively. He's a hard working player with a lot of ability and pace and he now has two years under his belt with this club. His consistency has improved a great deal over that time span, along with his level of maturity and we expect that to continue."
De los Cobos has played Nyarko both in a supporting striker role as well as on the wing over the first month of Fire preseason, utilizing his speed in both positions.
"I'm good in either spot," he said. "Carlos has tried out a formation different from last season and its seen me pushed out wide at times, where I feel just as comfortable. At the end, I want to play and I'm confident on the field whether it's on the wing or playing up top."
Much like Gaetjens and Llamosa, Nyarko looks to use his American soccer exploits to bolster his chances for a call up for his national team, a goal that isn't too far out of reach. The Football Association of Ghana has kept tabs on Nyarko since his MLS beginning and last season sent a coach over to scout the young player.
"The response I got from them was pretty good. I think I showed really well in that match and he told me that he liked what he saw. I'm just continuing to work on my game, I don't think I've peaked as a player and I obviously have aspirations to play for my country at some point."
Though he won't be included in his country's roster this year, Nyarko has high hopes for the Black Stars in this summer's World Cup.
"With the tournament being played for the first time in Africa, I'm full of excitement and I think the teams from the home continent will raise their games because of it. Ghana has a very competitive side but I don't think the team has peaked just yet and I expect to see them elevate their game in what will be a very tough group."
As training camp continues, Nyarko is focused on the task at hand, continuing to obtain a high level fitness and making sure he plays the role expected from him in 2010.
"We've got a strong team with a lot of good players and a good coaching staff to direct us. We've been disappointed with how our season has ended both years I've been here. We're all on the same page as it relates to where we expect to be at the end of the season."
Nyarko will be back in action this Sunday when the Fire take on FC Dallas in Ridgeland, MS at 3 p.m. CT.