As Patrick Nyarko made his way around the outside of the Toyota Park field under the care of trainer Bo Leonard to the Fire bench Saturday, a few fans stood to applaud a good night's work.
The Fire's version of a Timex watch -- Nyarko takes a licking and keeps on kicking -- had made his mark on a 2-1 Fire victory, making way for Marco Pappa after drawing a yellow card on New England's Ryan Guy for a hard foul.
Don't tell Nyarko soccer isn't a contact sport.
The veteran midfielder/forward takes must feel like a punching bag after some games.
Guy's hit knocked Nyarko down, but it only knocked Nyarko out of the game with a sore back because the Fire (12-7-5, 41 points) had someone like Pappa, the team's leading scorer, ready to go in and seal the team's third straight win.
"I keep asking the guys, I know some people get hits, but I feel like mine hurts more. What is it?" Nyarko said. "I don't know, but for some reason over the years it's been like that, and I've come to terms with it. I know sometimes the hits are coming and in my mind I'm thinking, oh, how bad is it this time?"
Maybe it's because he has so much speed, a hit that knocks him off his feet seems spectacular as he goes flying. But at a slender 6 feet, 165 pounds, Nyarko is an easy target.
Then again, he has a way of making opponents mad by making them look bad.
Nyarko caused problems for New England the entire 75 minutes he played.
His pass into the New England penalty area forced a foul on teammate Chris Rolfe, and Rolfe converted the resulting penalty kick for a 1-0 lead in the fifth minute.
After New England made it 1-1 in the 11th minute on a Fire defensive lapse, Nyarko assisted on the game-winning goal, chipping a pass to newcomer Sherjill MacDonald in the 25th minute for MacDonald's first MLS goal on a header. It was Nyarko's team-leading sixth assist of the season.
He also peppered New England goalkeeper Matt Reis with 4 shots, forcing Reis to parry one point-blank shot out for a corner kick.
Not bad for a guy taken out of the starting lineup the previous two matches.
"He played fantastic," coach Frank Klopas said. "Even when he's been (of the starting lineup), I think he's been a game-changer for us coming in, in different games. ... I think he was very aggressive when he had opportunities, and that's one of the things that I keep reminding him, when he gets in the final third. And you can see how many times he broke through. When he gets opportunities like that I think he can be even more dangerous as far as his final pass, finishing plays off, because with his ability to take guys on 1-on-1 in space, he creates a lot."
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