MLS SuperDraft week is upon us and we wanted to speak with Fire players about their previous experience regarding their entry into Major League Soccer. In this piece, Jeff Crandall looks at Patrick Nyarko’s path to Virginia Tech by way of Ghana, his successful collegiate career, decision to leave school early in 2008 and his thoughts on the combine and SuperDraft .
Education has always been important to Patrick Nyarko.
Growing up in Kumasi, Ghana, his father Dominic instilled the importance of academics in the Fire striker from a young age. Every step made in his soccer-playing career has been in concert with what was best for him in the educational route.
Found by chance on a recruiting trip to Africa by Virginia Tech head coach Oliver Weiss, Nyarko’s scholarship offer to play for the Hokies in 2005 was contingent by his father on making sure education remained a focal point in his life.
“It was the main priority even before I came to the United States,” said Nyarko. “Knowing how important education is in Ghana, my dad was going to make me go to the U.S. even if I didn’t get a soccer scholarship. He wouldn’t let me branch out or do anything else until I got my education.”
As he majored in Psychology in Blacksburg, Nyarko took the collegiate soccer scene by storm, tallying 31 goals and 25 assists over three seasons, helping the Hokies to their first NCAA College Cup and finishing as a finalist for the MAC-Hermann Award in 2007, what would eventually be his final year at Virginia Tech.
Like you might expect, his decision to turn pro early was a heavy one. He’d thought a lot about returning for his senior season and finishing school to fulfill the promise made to his father. The fact that he’d done so many summer course combined with the offer of a Generation adidas contract, allowing him money to go back to school, greased the wheels for his signing with Major League Soccer.
“I was an international student so a lot of my summers were spent taking more classes. I didn’t worry as much as my dad did about getting my degree. It was tough to convince him that this was the route because he wanted me to get my degree first but I set myself up well in my summer courses and Generation adidas made him feel comfortable enough to let me do it.”
The offer, decision to sign, attendance at the combine and draft as well as his seventh overall selection by the Fire in January 2008 in Baltimore all happened, “in the span of about two weeks,” said Nyarko.
Given the short amount of time between his decision and draft day, the fleet-footed Ghanaian said there wasn’t much to think about in terms of nerves.
“There’s a lot that goes through your head from the combine to draft day. I really didn’t know what to expect with the draft. Coming from Ghana, I wasn’t familiar with what a draft was and I hadn’t paid attention to it for the years that I was at Virginia Tech. I’d been told anyone could pick you and you could land anywhere. There weren’t really expectations and I didn’t know many other places outside Virginia so I was prepared to go anywhere.”
As most Generation adidas signees normally are selected within the first 10 picks, Nyarko might have had an inkling of where he could end up but leaving things open worked out for the best.
“I was predicted to go high and I went seventh to the Fire. I think it all worked out pretty well. Obviously I had nerves but for me there weren’t expectations in terms of choice. I didn’t know much about any team at that time but I’m glad that I went to Chicago eventually.”
According to Nyarko, the moment at which becoming a professional athlete had all sunk in wasn’t when he put pen to paper on his GA contract, hearing his name called or even shaking Don Garber’s hand, but rather the MLS SuperDraft right of passage which requires all selectees in attendance to give an impromptu speech when they’re chosen.
“You could see the stage setup and the bright lights. If you know me, you know how shy I am – it was a very surreal moment for me to have to get up and address the crowd. I wasn’t prepared for that but at the moment you have to make something up. Looking at all the people that showed, my American family, my coaches, it meant a lot. It made you feel special but also you know it’s a big jump with a lot of responsibility. It was all a very exciting day.”
The SuperDraft process has changed a little bit since Nyarko entered the league in 2008 as many young players bypass the collegiate game altogether to join the clubs that developed them as Home Grown players. Nyarko believes the combination of young players directly signing with teams along with the college entry draft is the best way for players to enter MLS right now but still sees flaws in the setup.
“One thing that I’m critical about when it comes to the draft and combine is the fact that it doesn’t give guys at the lower-level schools that much opportunity to show what they can do. I would like to see deeper scouting, in terms of catching a few games at those places, trying to see the one or two talents they have just to give a better opportunity for all players. I think you’d find a few more gems out there.”
Capable of playing on the wing or up top, Nyarko heads into his fifth season in Chicago as one of the longest tenured players on the Fire roster. With 113 games played, the Ghanaian attacker sits behind only captain Logan Pause (268) and defender Gonzalo Segares (174) in competitive appearances for the club and has been one of the most consistent focal points in the team’s attack the past two seasons, racking up 19 assists to go along with two goals.
Just as important as his personal accolades, Nyarko kept his word with his father, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology in May 2009.
Stay tuned Tuesday as Jeff speaks to Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson about his experience during the 2010 MLS Comebine and SuperDraft.
Jeff Crandall is the Team Writer for the Chicago Fire. Follow him on Twitter @JefeCrandall.