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.”