BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Chicago Fire midfielder Patrick Nyarko can feel the tackle coming as he slips past a defender, and he braces.
The most fouled player in MLS knows, more likely than not, he's going to end up on the ground, and there's a good chance he's about to add a few more bumps and bruises that have already been piling up during his six years in the league.
Nyarko has been fouled 105 times since the start of last season, 21 more than Davy Arnaud, the second-most fouled player in MLS during that span. Nyarko has been fouled 16 times this season, tops in the league ahead of FC Dallas midfielder David Ferreira.
“It's getting pretty bad,” Nyarko told MLSsoccer.com. “It's getting frustrating, just knowing that when I beat guys, here it comes. The mentality is that I'm going to get fouled. Instead of making the next play, that's what I'm thinking about.”
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The Ghanaian admits that he's taken some knocks because he's always willing to go in for a loose ball, even if there's little chance he'll win the challenge. But others, he thinks, are part of the opponents' gameplan.
Jeff Larentowicz, who was fifth in the league in fouls committed with Colorado last season, knows that defenders would rather foul the quick midfielder rather than have him turn and run at them.
“They want to get as close to possible to him and not let him turn,” Larentowicz told MLSsoccer.com. “Pat is a tricky player, though. He's found ways to wiggle out and get in behind guys. But I think you can see as that ball comes into him, guys are tight on him, and they are chopping at him. That's what you do with a good player.”
Frank Klopas has pleaded with Nyarko to pass the ball quickly when he's far away from goal. The Fire head coach coach thinks that because of how shifty Nyarko is, he's inevitably going to pick up a tackle if he holds possession.
But Nyarko doesn't think it's quite that simple.
“I don't think that's the reason why it's happening,” he said. “When I see the pass, I'll play it. I don't just dwell on the ball to dwell on the ball. If I see the pass and that person is not under pressure, I'm going to play him that ball, whether it's a flick or whatever. I don't know if there's anything special I can do.”
Nyarko's league-leading 16 fouls suffered this season are 10 more than his closest teammate, defender Austin Berry, but they haven't had any lasting effects.
Still, he knows that that something has to change, or he'll spend the second half of the 2013 season just as he finished last season – injured.
“I keep telling people, I may not make it through this whole season if this trend keeps going on,” he said. “I've worried about it, and under normal circumstances, it's not going to help over the course of my career. Maybe at some point I'm going to start to feel those effects very hard.”