Chicago Fire forward Patrick Nyarko's quickness is a given display any time he takes the field. But heading into this past offseason, Nyarko knew he needed to do something to muscle with opposing defenses.
"You see how big some of the central defenders are in MLS -- pretty much all of them are huge," Nyarko said. "I knew I needed to get a little bit bigger. Up until the Fire, I hadn't dealt with those big defenders, so it was a new thing to me."
Nyarko does not know at the moment how much muscle he has added, but the 24-year-old and third-year pro made some adjustments to mold his game. It probably helps, too, when you are pushing yourself to perform with the likes of front-line men Brian McBride and Collins John.
"Going into practice, each day you're battling with colorful players. It only helps you get better," Nyarko said. "Everyone has a little bit that they bring to the table with their strategies and the runs they make."
Should John come to terms with a contract agreement and remove that preseason trialist tag, that clearly creates some depth up front. Nyarko will have to earn every minute of his time in this group. Though with new Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos, we have also seen that he is experimental in testing how versatile his personnel is.
"He's been trying players in different positions, trying to find the perfect mix," Nyarko said of De los Cobos. "In training I've played both flanks, forward, right behind the forwards -- he takes different guys in different positions and sees what they have to offer."
The front line of any team is deciphered to the highest degree, and the Fire's potential offensive production is no exception to the rule. Last year's Fire never had that big offensive outburst. They had some blips where they held onto a lead and settled for a draw. They had some moments of strong possession but were burned by a key lapse or could not finish some high-percentage chances.
"You take some games from last year and we had lapses in concentration," Nyarko said. "It's all about our consistency and finishing chances. We're trying to change our whole mentality and we're encouraged to go forward. It's definitely a new brand of soccer this year."