Midfielder Patrick Nyarko is nearing a forgettable one-year anniversary: Oct. 18, 2014, the day he tore his ACL in a road match at D.C. United.
The injury was an unfortunate end to a 2014 campaign that already was laden with injuries, one in which he appeared in exactly half of Chicago's 34 matches with only nine starts. That came on the heels of five straight seasons of 27 or more appearances, with at least 20 starts in all five.
After ultimately re-signing in the offseason with the only MLS club he has called home, Nyarko dedicated himself to rehabbing his injury and, after months of strenuous work, made a triumphant return to the pitch in a U.S. Open Cup match on June 30.
And, while tugging at the reins at times to maintain the proper strength, he's largely been able to return to his playmaking ways of old.
"Everybody comes off an injury differently, some guys take longer," said technical director and interim head coach Brian Bliss. "Patrick was right back at it early on (after returning), despite the long layoff. His contribution, points-wise to minutes played, is pretty fantastic when you look at it. If you'd had him for 28 or 30 games who knows what his numbers could be."
Bliss is on point in his evaluation of Nyarko's injury-shortened season. With four goals and four assists in 18 total MLS and U.S. Open Cup appearances, Nyarko's goals-plus-assists average per 90 minutes stands at 0.70, easily surpassing his previous high set in 2010 (0.46) when he tallied one goal and 10 assists in 28 games played.
Last week, he unlocked the Toronto FC defense with a penetrating pass in the game's first minute to set up Gilberto's first goal, and set in motion his second-half strike when he spun off Michael Bradley and found Mike Magee for a one-timer onto Gilberto. The two assists increased his total to 38 for his MLS career, tying him for third on Chicago's all-time list.
Nyarko left the match at TFC in the 55th minute with a slight knock but was back in full training this week in preparation for Saturday's matchup with New England. With so much of Chicago's offensive success in 2015 stemming from Nyarko and David Accam on the wings, there's reason for Bliss to expect more of the same come next season.
"My guess is, as we (often) see medically, guys get stronger and better the year after an ACL injury," Bliss said. "Hopefully it's the same and even better next year for Patrick."