Nyarko: Chicago captain Pause "has to play" in 2012

Patrick Nyarko couldn’t tell you where he was the first time he met his Chicago Fire teammates in his rookie season, but he still holds at least one vivid memory of that introduction: when Logan Pause came up to him and shook his hand.

“Not everyone will do that,” Nyarko told MLSsoccer.com by phone from the Fire’s training camp in Charleston, S.C. “As a new guy on the team, you have to feel comfortable. You don’t want to feel like an outsider. You want to feel like you’re a part of the family already. I think Logan sees to that.”

Pause wasn’t the Fire’s captain that season; CJ Brown wore the armband in 2008. But Pause learned early in his career what it meant to be a leader. He and former captain Chris Armas, who played the same defensive midfielder position, grew close during the first five years of Pause’s career, and the two still keep in contact.

“I think in every way Chris has had the biggest impact on my professional career and my development through my 20s as a person,” Pause told MLSsoccer.com by phone from Charleston. “I was just blessed to be on the same field as him.”

This season will be Pause’s 10th with the Fire and his second as captain. He’s one of the last remaining links to Chicago’s winning tradition – Gonzalo Segares, who has played in parts of six seasons with the Fire, is the only player who has been with the Fire for more than four years.

He’s the only player remaining from the Fire’s last trip to MLS Cup in 2003, a 4-2 loss to San Jose. He’s played with five Fire originals – Armas, Jesse Marsch, Zach Thornton, Ante Razov and C.J. Brown.

“During my first couple of years, those were the guys that were running things,” Pause said. “I by no means think I’m a link, as an extra added responsibility. I just think that those are the guys that I learned from. I try to do my part in shedding light and letting guys who are less experienced than me learn from what I’ve learned.”

In 2012, at least one midfielder with starting pedigree probably won’t be in the Fire’s starting lineup. Five midfielders who started during the Fire’s late surge last season are back, and the Fire acquired former Millonarios midfielder Rafael Robayo in the offseason. That leaves Pause without a guranteed place in the starting XI.

“I’m going to play the best players on our team, always,” coach Frank Klopas said last week when asked whether he’d be compelled to find a place for his captain. “We have the utmost respect for Logan as a player. He’s earned the right to be the captain. But look, if he’s not in good form and he’s not playing well, it’s about making the right decision for the team.”

Last year, Pause was forced to move out of his natural central midfield position when the club acquired former Mexican international Pável Pardo. Now, he plays on the outside, but with more defensive responsibilities than a natural winger.

It might seem logical to sit the player who doesn’t seem to have a natural place in the starting lineup.

Nyarko doesn’t think that can happen.

“He has to play, there is no question about that,” Nyarko said. “He is the team captain. That’s a no-brainer.

“He is the sort of the guy that does the little things. He breaks up plays, he destructs opponents’ flow. Sometimes fans don’t recognize that because obviously they look for the flair, the goal scorers, and all that stuff. But he is one of the most important players on our team.”