Nyarko’s Stride

One assist away from tying club record

 

Patrick Nyarko has been a sparkplug for the Fire this year.
Six games in, the speedy Ghanaian has been the most consistent attacking player
in the club’s 2010 season, stretching backlines and beating defenders with
ease.

 The third-year Fire
winger enters Saturday’s match at Toronto’s BMO Field riding a four-game assist
streak, one shy of matching the club’s record of five, held jointly by Hristo
Soitchkov (2000) and Jesse Marsch (2001).

Nyarko’s reaction to the news?

“I guess I need a couple more assists,” he joked following
Wednesday’s training at Toyota Park. “I didn’t realize it was four in a row or
that a record was near – that’s not where my mind is at. I’m trying to do
whatever I can to help the team win, where I can. The assists are coming
because I’m being put in situations where I can setup my teammates and they’re
getting in the right spots to finish. I just hope I can keep that going.”

Entering the campaign with two helpers over 39 games the
previous two seasons, Nyarko has tripled his career total in six matches this year.
While the assists have come with frequency, the back of the net has thus far
eluded the Virginia Tech product in 2010.

“It’s frustrating, I’ve had a few chances in a couple games
but with the way I’m playing out wide it’s been hard. I’m getting myself into
difficult angles, so when I cut inside I have to shoot with my left which isn’t
my strongest foot. When I’m in those angles, the keeper has a chance to set his
feet and I get kind of stuck. It’s frustrating not to have scored, especially
tied 1-1 when you want to score a goal and make a difference.”

Scoring woes aren’t mutually exclusive to Nyarko this year.
As a collective this season, the Fire have seen a number of dangerous
opportunities go begging – opportunities that could mean the difference between
three points and one or one and none.

A constant threat in every game, the striker turned winger
has seemingly caused even more trouble for defenses since head coach Carlos de
los Cobos switched to a 4-5-1 formation three weeks ago at DC United. With more
numbers in the midfield, Nyarko is able to push further outside, pulling
defenders with him and opening up space for players to finish in the box.

“As a winger, going forward all those runs are important
whether the defenders try to focus on our top man or the wide guys sneaking in.
Our main reason for playing that way is to take more control over the game and
possession in midfield and we’ve seen it translate better offensively. Last
game [against Chivas USA] we didn’t utilize it as well, but it still gave us a
point. Since the switch, we’ve been doing a pretty good job using the wide guys
and the midfielders to support the top man and create more problems for the
backline.”

Having appeared in all 33 Fire regular and postseason
matches last year, many knew of Nyarko’s explosiveness and ability to beat
defenders. Though he didn’t put up spectacular numbers his first few seasons in
Chicago, his quality has always shined through. His growth as a player combined
with a team departure has seen the 24-year-old receive more notice this season.

“There’s been a lot more maturity from me and understanding
when to be aggressive and when to lay off. There’s a lot more confidence there
as well. My teammates know what I bring to the table and the coaches encourage
me to do what I do. The last few years we had Cuauhtemoc [Blanco] who was a
great playmaker but it was difficult getting a chance to make the type of plays
that I have this season. With him gone, it left a huge void and someone had to
step up this year. It’s a long season and hopefully I can stay consistent
throughout.”

The task won’t be easy this Saturday when the Fire head
north of the border to pay a visit to Toronto FC. Featuring two of the league’s
top talents in Dwayne De Rosario and Julian de Guzman, the Reds will be looking to
even out their 2-4-0 record after falling 2-1 last weekend to defending MLS Cup
champion Real Salt Lake.

“We need to stay mentally strong,” said Nyarko about this
weekend’s match. “They’re a good team with a couple of really good players that
we need to make sure not to give any space. At home they’re going to come out
firing and we need to match that intensity. If we go in with a positive
attitude and concentration for 90 minutes I think we’ll be alright.”