BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – The Chicago Fire needed an attacking spark, anyone to put the ball in the back of the net after getting shut out in half of their first eight games.
So Frank Klopas decided to put his most dangerous attacking player this season, Patrick Nyarko, up top for Saturday's game against Philadelphia. Even before designated player Sherjill MacDonald was ruled out with strep throat, Nyarko practiced up top in the weeks leading up to the match.
“Right now, I think he can really help us up top, I think he's our best attacking player right now,” Fire forward Chris Rolfe said. “So get him close to the goal and make him dangerous.”
But despite firing 15 shots at goal and hitting the target six times, the Fire once again went goal-less, highlighting their glaring lack of scorers.
And visions of Nyarko leading a goal-scoring surge may be far-fetched.
The 27-year-old has always been more of a table-setter than a finisher throughout his career, despite playing both on the outside and up top. He has scored 12 goals while dishing out 28 assists during his career, and he showed that inclination early, when he looked as if he had a shot lined up in the 37th minute. But instead of shooting, he dished the ball to Rolfe, who in turn laid off a pass for Joel Lindpere to take a shot from a poor angle.
“It's just a different mentality,” Nyarko said. “Most of the other players think I'm better up there [in the forward position], but I'm just out there trying to do what I do best - creating a bunch of chances and hopefully finishing a few."
After the break Nyarko clanked a shot off the post and just missed a sliding connection on a cross from Rolfe. When Alex entered the game in the 64th minute, Klopas moved Rolfe outside and left Nyarko up top, a first for the Fire boss this season.
“Patrick, when he got the ball, he was very dangerous,” Klopas said. “He was very good off the dribble, and he created a lot of opportunities. It's just a shame he didn't get rewarded with a goal.”
While history says Nyarko isn't the long-term answer to the Fire's goal-scoring problems up top, he may be the closest thing to it among the players currently on the roster. Going forward, Klopas may start him along Maicon Santos, who started on the bench Saturday after missing practice with a knee injury.
With MacDonald and Rolfe combining for just one goal this season, the Fire are clinging to hope that the goals will come -- eventually.
“It's been frustrating, it's nothing new,” Rolfe said. “I think, again, we created some good chances. You've got to think at some point we're going to start scoring.”
"There were shots on goals, opportunities," Klopas said. "All I can tell you is we had opportunities, but we need to finish. We had five, six, seven chances. It would be nice to score a couple goals to take the pressure off.”
Anthony Zilis covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com.