- - Thursday, March 24, 2016

There was a time when Patrick Nyarko figured he’d be defined as a one-team player.

Drafted out of Virginia Tech in 2008, the winger was a staple in the Chicago Fire attack for the better part of a decade. If a team wanted to beat the Fire, it typically had to cope with Nyarko’s speed and skill out wide.

“We barely missed championships, and you see the bright future and think it’s going to continue like that with the recruitment of high-quality players,” Nyarko said. “I’d go to my end-of-year meetings and was told they’re going to build a good team the following year. So I banked on that and kept being patient.

“I didn’t see myself anywhere else, to be honest. But things change.”

After helping the Fire to the conference final each of his first two seasons, Nyarko never experienced another playoff victory with Chicago. After the Fire went a league-worst 8-20-6 last season, the veteran came to a decision he never thought he’d make.

Requesting a trade, Nyarko offered new Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez a list of clubs he’d like to play for. As Chicago underwent an offseason overhaul, D.C. United acquired Nyarko in January for a second-round draft pick.

“Once I realized mentally I was done and needed a change, I approached them,” Nyarko said. “Obviously they were going through a transition as well, so I think it helped both sides plan for the future.”

Nyarko is poised to make his third start of the young MLS season Saturday when United (0-1-2) hosts FC Dallas (2-1-0) at RFK Stadium. Patrolling the right side of midfield, the 30-year-old has added a different dimension to a retooled United attack.

Boasting awareness and physicality, Nyarko has helped United relieve pressure defensively by providing a valuable passing option in midfield. Going forward, his mazy runs down the flank were a bright spot in United’s 1-1 draw with the Colorado Rapids on Sunday.

“He’s dynamic, he’s skillful,” United defender Kofi Opare said. “He’s the guy that can draw fouls and create chances for us, which is great. He’s a guy that can be an outlet — someone you can play the ball to and expect to hold the ball and combine.”

Added midfielder-forward Chris Rolfe, who played with Nyarko over two stints in Chicago: “He wants to impress and he wants to be a good team player, which is what he’s always been. I think that this change has just reinforced those ideas in his mind.”

Although Nyarko only moved into his Alexandria apartment last week, with his new dwelling still populated by piles of unpacked boxes, he already feels at home in the region where he starred on the collegiate level from 2005 to 2007. The move has reignited bonds Nyarko had with several of his college teammates, as well as some childhood friends from his native Ghana who now live in Northern Virginia.

Only 100 miles separate Nyarko from the Richmond family of his Virginia Tech teammate Kevin McFadden, who he forged a close bond with shortly after moving stateside for his freshman year. McFadden’s family introduced Nyarko to his first Thanksgiving that fall, and ended up traveling to many of the Fire’s East Coast matches over the past eight years while also scheduling an annual trip to visit him in Chicago.

“I always say I adopted them, and they say they adopted me,” Nyarko said. “I’m really glad I met him because they helped me a lot — and they keep helping a lot. I owe a lot of my transition and adjustment and settlement in the United States to them, and I was real lucky to have met them.”

Nyarko also feels comfortable on the field after being limited to 21 starts over the past two seasons because of injuries, including a torn ACL in his right knee suffered in October 2014. Although Nyarko was sidelined by a concussion in United’s season-opening loss to the LA Galaxy on March 6, he sat out just one game before receiving clearance to return.

While Nyarko acknowledges he is entering the latter part of his career, the clean bill of health and fresh environment have the ninth-year professional mirroring the exuberance with which he entered MLS as a gifted rookie out of Virginia Tech.

“He came in very talented but so excited to learn,” Rolfe recalled. “He still tries to learn, even though he’s a veteran now. He’s still always picking apart his game, trying to figure out how he can become better, how he can help the guy next to him, how he can be better defensively. I think that’s one of his greatest assets.”

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