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Fire's Nyarko responds to hard play with extra intensity

Patrick Nyarko and Jorge Villafaña

Photo Credit: 
Getty Images

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Patrick Nyarko seethed as he charged toward Portland’s Michael Chabala during last week’s 2-1 loss to the Timbers.

Early in his career, the Chicago Fire midfielder probably would have backed down after feeling a shove and hearing some unkind words from the Timbers defender. Instead, he bumped his chest against Chabala’s shoulder and yelled as he bucked his head toward Chabala.

“I’ve been in the league a long time,” Nyarko told MLSsoccer.com last week. “I know how to get by, and I wasn’t backing down.”

The Ghanaian midfielder feels like he’s tackled hard, shoved and taken down an inordinate amount of times, and he’s worried about his health. He’s suffered at least two concussions during his career as well as several bumps and bruises from dangerous tackles.

So this season, Nyarko has decided to call players out when he thinks they’re playing dangerously.

In the game after his scuffle with Chabala, he yelled at Dallas forward Blas Pérez after the Panamanian forward ran toward him with his elbows up off the ball.

“It’s a precautionary measure,” Nyarko said. “I take a lot of hits, and I don’t want to sit back anymore. You’ve got to let them know. In the preseason, the referees show dirty tackles, but on half of them, I’m getting murdered. I’ve got to be aggressive on that, and I’ve got to tell someone if he’s trying to play dirty that it was dirty and that it should stop.”

Nyarko has suffered 26 fouls this season, six more than any other Fire player. Teammates think his extra intensity is warranted.

“He’s a professional and he can defend himself, and he’s showing that right now,” forward Dominic Oduro told MLSsoccer.com. “We like that aggressiveness. It makes things exciting and it puts him on the edge.

Whether opponents will hear the criticism remains to be seen. But no matter what, captain Logan Pause thinks the extra fire from his mild-mannered teammate is a step forward.

“He’s maturing more, he’s defending himself more,” Pause told MLSsoccer.com. “I think he’s growing more and more as a person and becoming more confident, standing up for himself, and I think that’s a good thing.”