Nyarko’s return from injury sparks offense
A quick look at the numbers ranks Patrick Nyarko among the most influential attacking threats MLS has seen in the past decade.
Over Nyarko’s 10-year career with the Chicago Fire and D.C. United, only nine players have compiled more assists than his haul of 47. The 31-year-old makes myriad contributions that don’t show up on the stat sheet as well, including a knack for winning loose balls and putting defenders on their heels.
Yet Nyarko has never been an MLS All-Star. The midfielder hasn’t earned a spot on the end-of-year all-league team, either. When it comes to individual accolades, he fits squarely in the “perennially overlooked” category.
“I don’t even worry about that,” Nyarko said. “As long as my coaching staff appreciates what I do, that’s what is important. It’s my teammates who I’m working for — I don’t do anything for myself.”
Last season, United found itself averaging less than a goal per game when Nyarko returned in July after six matches on the sidelines because of a concussion. United promptly became the highestscoring team in MLS down the stretch, and while midseason additions Patrick Mullins and Lloyd Sam grabbed the headlines, Nyarko’s comeback was no small factor in the turnaround.
His absence again loomed large this past spring, when Nyarko missed seven matches with a hamstring injury — a 2-4-1 stretch for United that included three straight losses at home without scoring a goal.
As United ended that RFK Stadium drought with a 2-1 win over Atlanta last week, it was Nyarko who stepped up to score the game-winner.
“He’s a very well rounded wide midfielder in this league,” United coach Ben Olsen said. “His hold-up play is good when he allows us to come into the attack, he’s able to go after you one vs. one, he’s willing to do the defensive work, he’s very unpredictable and he’s got a final product.
“Sometimes in the MLS you get two out of four, when it comes to boxes you want to check on a wide guy. He’s got a lot of them, and it’s why he’s so vital to us.”
Nyarko is poised to make his fourth start since returning to the field when United (5-9-3) travels to face the Montreal Impact (4-5-6) on Saturday.
Although Nyarko entered 2017 facing competition for minutes on the left flank from Lamar Neagle, the club’s leading scorer last year, and decorated offseason acquisition Sebastien Le Toux, the veteran has remained a near-automatic starter when healthy.
Olsen’s faith paid off in the triumph against Atlanta, as Nyarko constantly threatened — taking a game-high six shots and hitting the crossbar — before breaking through with a volleyed strike in the second half.
“Obviously it makes everyone work harder, and the more quality we have the better,” Nyarko said of United’s depth. “If the team wins there’s a good mood around, and Benny is smart enough to rotate around, so he needs to have that option to trust everyone. None of us were worried about losing spots or anything, but it just makes you get better.”
While Nyarko hasn’t achieved mainstream stardom in the eyes of MLS fans and media, few players across the league have managed the type of sustained productivity he has offered since being drafted out of Virginia Tech in 2008. When it comes to Nyarko’s teammates and opposing defenders across the league, his reputation speaks for itself.
“I remember going against him when I was in LA and he was in Chicago, and I was a right back and he was an outside mid — and I hated it,” United defender Sean Franklin said with a grin. “I think he’s a player that gets overlooked. Unfortunately he’s had some injuries, but he’s still a great player in this league and a great player for us.”
D.C. United went 2-4-1 when midfielder Patrick Nyarko missed seven matches this spring with a hamstring injury.