D.C. United's Nyarko returns to face Chicago Fire

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • After eight seasons with the Chicago Fire, Patrick Nyarko returns to Toyota Park on Saturday as a member of D.C. United.

    After eight seasons with the Chicago Fire, Patrick Nyarko returns to Toyota Park on Saturday as a member of D.C. United. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 4/27/2016 10:26 PM

Patrick Nyarko knows he will be tested this weekend at Toyota Park.

"My first task is to go to the away dressing room instead of the home dressing room," Nyarko, traded to D.C. United from the Chicago Fire in the off-season, said with a laugh. "I don't want to fall prey to that. I don't want to be a laughingstock. I think I'm concentrating harder on that."

 

You don't return to the stadium you called home for eight seasons without a few emotions -- and the risk that habit will take you down the wrong hallway -- and Nyarko always had a special relationship with the Chicago fans.

Nyarko compared the nervousness he feels for Saturday's game against the Fire at Toyota Park (4 p.m., Comcast SportsNet) with the extreme nervousness he felt before he returned to the field in 2015 following his 2014 ACL injury.

"I'm pretty excited," he said with his usual candor. "Obviously, it'll be very emotional. I'm going to have to keep that in check. The whole week has been very difficult. I'm trying to focus and prepare for the game, and also the excitement of playing in front of the Chicago fans again.

"That's the main thing I look forward to. Their fans are unbelievable in their loyalty to the team. They made it really hard for me to leave, but it'll be good to play in front of them again. I expect them to do what they do best, cheer their team on to victory, but we'll be coming in there to try to snatch it away from them."

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Nyarko has plenty of company being in this situation. Harry Shipp, a two-year Fire player who grew up a Fire fan in Lake Forest, made his return April 16, helping the Montreal Impact take a 2-1 victory. United teammate Chris Rolfe left Chicago via trade in 2014, having played seven seasons in a Fire kit. He has been back already.

If Nyarko has any regrets from his time in Chicago, it's that he couldn't bring more wins to the fans while he was here.

"There were some bad times, and they kept sticking with the team," said Nyarko, the Fire's first-round draft pick out of Virginia Tech in 2008. "They came back and kept cheering us on."

As comfortable as Nyarko was here, he knew it was time to move on. At 30, he wanted more stability and a chance to win sooner rather than later. The Fire was starting over again with new management.

"The Fire accepted that and they were very good about it and actively tried to move me as I requested," he said.

There were other options in MLS for Nyarko. He almost wound up in Los Angeles with the Galaxy, where former Fire teammates Mike Magee and Jeff Larentowicz landed in the off-season and where former Fire teammate Baggio Husidic, a Libertyville native, has been since 2014.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I was actually pretty close to joining L.A. before D.C. came in," he said.

Sporting Kansas City and Portland also were possibilities, but Nyarko is happy in Washington. He's learning the city, getting to know his new teammates and bonding with Ben Olsen, the United coach since 2010. He has started seven games for United this season, scoring once.

"I couldn't have asked for a better situation," he said.

And he hopes the Fire also is on its way to becoming a better situation.

After Saturday's game.

• Follow Orrin on Twitter @Orrin_Schwarz

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