Midfielder Nana Boateng gives Colorado boost by returning quickly from back injury.
The Ghanaian midfielder is now just focused on moving forward.
COMMERCE CITY» Nana Boateng wasn’t nervous when he returned.
The midfielder checked into the Rapids’ game June 24 against Atlanta FC in the 83rd minute — his first taste of MLS action in 70 days. He had missed the previous 11 games across all competitions because of a back injury. But there was no reason to have any jitters on the pitch. He had trained too hard over the last couple of months for his comeback.
“When I was out, I was always thinking about football,” Boateng said. “To come back and start playing again was perfect for me.”
Boateng returned to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Saturday for the first time in 2½ months, his third game back overall. His steady presence helped the Rapids snap their three-game skid with a 3-1 victory over the Houston Dynamo.
“When you can put together a performance like he did tonight, having not had a lot of minutes with this team, but really dictate the flow and intercept some balls and make some good tackles in the middle of the field and really affect the game on both sides of the ball, I think it speaks volumes of the kind of player Nana is and the hopes we have for him as a club,” said Rapids coach Pablo Mastroeni.
It all went wrong for Boateng on April 15 against Real Salt Lake.
Making his first start at home since joining the Rapids, the 23year-old was showing signs of the talent that enticed team personnel to sign him in January. He notched his first MLS assist in the 29th minute, a nice ball down the left sideline that would end in a goal for Kevin Doyle. But Boateng was pulled from the game soon thereafter. Just moments before his pass, an aggressive aerial challenge with RSL’s Luke Mulholland resulted in a hard land on his back, fracturing three vertebrae. Boateng left the game in the 32nd minute, and 10 weeks on the sideline followed.
“Coming to a new place is difficult enough,” Mastroeni said. “Coming to a new place and experiencing what he did is traumatic.”
Boateng is from the soccercrazed West African nation of Ghana. A graduate of the country’s Right to Dream Academy, Boateng signed his first professional contract with English power Manchester City in 2011. He didn’t see a minute of action in the Premier League, however, as he spent the following four seasons on loan with Norwegian club Stromsgodset IF. He scored 18 goals in 101 appearances in the Eliteserien league and, at age 18 in 2013, helped the club claim its first league title in 43 years.
But in Norway, Boateng had familiar faces to ease the transition. Mohammed Abu, a fellow Ghanaian and now a Columbus player in MLS, was his teammate for Stromsgodset.
The Rapids, Boateng said, have welcomed him with open arms.
“When I first came, it was easy for me to mingle with the players,” Boateng said. “Everyone around has helped a lot with me moving here, so I didn’t find it very difficult to settle in.”
He returned the favor in his mind-set while attacking rehab.
“Through the whole process, you saw a young man that was determined every day to come in and work and do things that even the doctors didn’t think was possible in the amount of time that he did,” Mastroeni said.
With a healthy Boateng now in the fold, the Rapids will try to maintain momentum against the Seattle Sounders on Tuesday. A trade in March that sent team captain Sam Cronin to Minnesota FC created question marks about Colorado’s midfield. The Rapids are third to last in the Western Conference with a 6-10-1 record. Boateng is expected to give them a boost with his vision, speed and aggressiveness.
He played 74 minutes Saturday, his most since joining the team, and played well with Mohammed Saeid in the midfield.
“In the second half I asked Nana, ‘How much more do you have?’ ” Mastroeni said. “He goes, ‘I want to go until I can’t go no more.’ I think that speaks to the mentality of the young man, willing to give everything he can for the group.”
From Ghana to England to Norway to the U.S., it has been a long journey for Boateng since signing his first pro contract with Manchester City six years ago.
“Sometimes I think about it. But everything that happens, happens for a reason,” Boateng said. “If it had happened that I would’ve played for (Manchester) City, fine. But now I’m here, so I just need to focus on my team here and just keep going. Hope for the best.”
The Rapids’ Nana Boetang takes the field before facing the Houston Dynamo on Saturday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Boateng helped the Rapids win 3-1.