Mid­fielder Nana Boateng gives Colorado boost by re­turn­ing quickly from back in­jury.

The Ghana­ian mid­fielder is now just fo­cused on mov­ing for­ward.

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Ben­jamin Arthur

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.”

Gabriel Scar­lett, The Den­ver Post

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.

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