Nyarko’s re­turn from in­jury sparks of­fense

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY THOMAS FLOYD

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.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS

D.C. United went 2-4-1 when mid­fielder Pa­trick Nyarko missed seven matches this spring with a ham­string in­jury.

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