The New York Red Bulls celebrated wildly. Traveling supporters sang their hearts out as their club hoisted the Supporters’ Shield for the second time in three years. The kings of the mountain made sure they were heard in the deepest valley of the MLS – Toyota Park – home to the club at the bottom of the table.
The Fire lost 2-1 on that final October evening, never truly threatening to play spoiler. But it was that final goal scored in Toyota Park with 10 minutes remaining that gave the supporters one last reason to cheer before closing the book on an often cheerless season. Gilberto provided the fantastic finish, but it was Patrick Nyarko who expertly headed the ball to the center of the box off a bombing Patrick Doody cross.
It was Nyarko’s final assist; a final example of the play-to-the-whistle hustle that brought supporters to their feet for eight seasons.
Whether Nyarko knew that would be his final game wearing the Fire badge at the moment is unclear, but it was as fitting of a sendoff as one could have in a difficult season.
Nyarko has now joined D.C. United, netting a second-round pick in the upcoming SuperDraft for the Fire. That won’t replace 196 games of experience, but considering Nyarko’s penchant for timely assists, that second-round pick might just turn out to be the right player at the right time for the club.
The time to focus on that future is near, but it would be a disservice not to reflect on the Nyarko era – an era of unfilled potential though through no fault of his personal efforts. His departure, in many ways, is a symbolic turning of the page.
Drafted in 2008, it was 2009 when Nyarko really burst on to the scene. He was a key contributor to a playoff team, the last one to host a semifinal at Toyota Park. His speed and dribbling ability were apparent immediately. It was difficult not to think he would be a cornerstone for a team that would regularly challenge for titles.
But the team would miss the playoffs in 2010 and 2011, though Nyarko’s play remained consistent as he notched 19 assists over the course of those two seasons. His connection with Chris Rolfe in 2012 (a pairing that will be reunited in D.C.) helped lead the Fire back to the playoffs.
Those first five seasons were Nyarko’s prime attacking years. Whether it was his connection with Rolfe, electrifying counter attacks with Dominic Oduro or his endless ability to generate set pieces in dangerous areas, he was contributing.
Then came the messy years of 2013-15. Whether it was a change in the style of play or constant tinkering with lineups, Nyarko always seemed willing and able to adapt. He picked up more defensive responsibilities to help a shaky right back situation and would come off the bench more often than his earlier years. But the adversity that surrounded the club also caught up to Nyarko. His injury plagued 2014 led to a long recovery in 2015 that kept him out until July. And in typical Nyarko perseverance, he scored in his first MLS appearance that year and scored at a higher rate than any other point in his career, netting three goals in 19 games.
I, like many fans, will be forever grateful for Nyarko’s efforts in trying times. As I’ve been thinking about my favorite moment, I keep going back to his assist to Mike Magee in the U.S. Open Cup game this year against Charlotte.
It was Nyarko’s first appearance of the year and within minutes he fed a perfect pass to Magee who buried it in an eventual 3-1 victory. Maybe I love that moment because it is so fresh or because the U.S. Open Cup at the time was the Fire’s best chance for glory. But really, that moment encapsulated so much I held on to about the club during its struggles. Two broken men battling back with everything they had and for one fleeting moment embracing after capturing past glory. It seemed right then and there Magee and Nyarko could make everything OK again.
You could tell it meant a lot to the two players to be back on the field again and back on the field with each other. Maybe they knew to savor that moment because they knew they were both too broken, physically and mentally, in Chicago to ever fully recover while staying here. Perhaps they knew they would head separate ways and just wanted to give whatever they had left for each other before parting.
I always thought I would see Nyarko lift a trophy with the Fire. Chicago seemed like that kind of a team in 2009. They no longer do. Nyarko seemed like that kind of player in 2009 and he still does. I hope Nyarko does get to lift a trophy one day and maybe it will be with the team he scored his finest goal against.
What are some of your favorite Nyarko memories? The D.C. stunner? The New York bomb? Something other than a specific goal?watch.0.html