Patrick Nyarko knows what the Fire can be.
A forward with the club for eight seasons, Nyarko was on the team that came within a penalty shootout of making the MLS Cup in 2009, when Toyota Park was jammed with more than 20,000 rowdy fans for the Eastern Conference final. Since then, the Fire have slipped as one of American soccer’s top clubs, and Nyarko is eager to help them get back to that point — or beyond.
“It would mean a lot to be part of that process,” Nyarko told the Sun-Times. “That’s what the standard is for the club, and everybody that’s working here — on the field, off the field, front office — needs to understand that’s the standard they need to hold themselves to to help or contribute.”
On Monday, Nyarko joined the Fire as an assistant coach for the club’s U-19 team. He will assist head coach Ludovic Taillandier in the development of the players.
Beyond that, Nyarko can remind the youngsters of what the Fire once were and hope to be again: a consistent contender that routinely fields star players.
That’s something Nyarko saw firsthand when he was establishing himself with the Fire and building a relationship with the fans. Those fans, who have been put through so much, embraced Monday’s announcement.
“It’s overwhelming, but then again, but I know what Fire fans embody,” Nyarko said. “This fan base has been really loyal to the club through the ups and downs in my career and even up to this point. They always have and will be there to help to support the team.”
Supporting the Fire hasn’t been easy since 2009.
One reason is that many of the figures who made the team what it once was, aside from assistant coach Frank Klopas, haven’t been around a lot. A number of them are leading other clubs to the upper reaches of the league, while the Fire have struggled to find success or goodwill from their fans.
Under owner Joe Mansueto, there have been signs of that changing.
DaMarcus Beasley attended the April 17 home opener, while former executive Peter Wilt and star defender C.J. Brown were recognized on the Soldier Field video boards during the May 8 loss to the Union. Since last summer, former forward Andy Herron has worked as a scout under technical director Sebastian Pelzer.
Nyarko’s hire is another move in that direction. He said it helps to bring back former pieces of the franchise because they embody what the Fire are and know what it takes to represent the club.
“I hope it’s trending that way and more and more guys get the opportunity to come back to the club and contribute their experiences and their knowledge of the game to help establish and cement this club as one of the top clubs, be it on and off the field, in MLS,” Nyarko said. “We know where we need to be, and we know what this club is in the history of MLS, and the goal is to get there and stay there like it used to be.”