As far as camaraderie between a pair of players among the ranks in Major League Soccer is concerned – on and off the field – Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko could make a case for being the pick of the bunch.
Two of the Chicago Fire’s household names, the 2013 MLS MVP and Ghanaian winger have been sidelined for the better part of the last year with hip and knee injuries, and have endured lengthy rehab stints, looking on together as the Men in Red sunk to the bottom of the Eastern Conference table in recent weeks.
With the help of the technical staff and fitness coach Adrian Lamb, though, Magee and Nyarko made an instant impact in the Fire’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 victory over the Charlotte Independence on June 30th.
Magee appeared as a substitute against Orlando City SC and D.C. United last month before making his first start of 2015 against the USL outfit, bagging a brace and playing the full 90 minutes. His 82nd-minute goal was a direct result of Nyarko’s first touches of the ball after coming on as a substitute, splitting two defenders and teeing up Magee for a clinical finish.
Since then, the two helped the Fire snag a late 1-1 draw at the Houston Dynamo last Friday. Nyarko, a halftime substitute, was the beneficiary of Magee’s hold-up play this time, getting on the end of Greg Cochrane’s cross to log his 20th goal for the club.
Now, several months on from watching the attacking duo suffer season-ending injuries, head coach Frank Yallop is excited to finally be able to call on both as the Men in Red approach the halfway point of their MLS campaign, marked by Saturday’s home bout with Western Conference co-leaders Seattle Sounders FC (7:30 pm CT; CSN).
"We were desperate to get them back on the field, but we didn't want to push it where we set them back a few days or a few weeks,” Yallop said of their recovery Thursday. “It was a plan to not get them re-injured and I think it's worked. Both of them look, maybe not quite at their best, but quality on the field helps and both Mike and Patrick have tons of quality. It's good to have them back and they'll slowly get better as the games go by.
"Mike's a leader that's been there and done that with the teams he's been with and with us. He's a big presence. Patrick's a quiet presence where he doesn't say too much in the locker room, but everyone respects him; opponents respect him and it's good to have him back."
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Yallop, who feels both Magee and Nyarko are primed for a place in the starting lineup against Sigi Schmid’s group, faces the considerable challenge of addressing a combined six absences to injuries and national team duty that have beset the Fire as of late. The team’s style of play going forward, however, will undoubtedly reap the benefits of the return of Magee and Nyarko, who are champing at the bit to rekindle their on-field connection.
"Me and him have always found it pretty easy to play together," Magee said of Nyarko. "When I first got here, it helps a friendship very well when a guy gives you goals. It came pretty easy for me to try to get as close as I could with him, and, a couple years ago when I got MVP, a large part of that was due to Pat. A majority of my success with this club has been in large part due to him."
"Ever since he came from LA, I noticed something special about him," Nyarko added. "The guy is a really smart soccer player and for a creative guy like me, it makes my job a lot easier. We formed a partnership right away. I take a lot of advice from Mike; he's been there and won championships. I'm glad I was a part of his rehab and now, we're ready to help this team get back to winning ways."
The assurance gained from earning a point from a difficult environment at BBVA Compass Stadium – the Fire’s third draw on their travels – will surely have to carry over to a third-to-last clash with a cross-conference foe. After Saturday night, 14 of the Fire’s final 17 games are against Eastern Conference opponents.
“I think our mentality has changed, we're going to play to win,” Magee said. “At times we've said that and not played that way, but Houston is a good example of even in harsh conditions, with a lot of guys who haven't been starting, we tied the game and then we played to win it."
"From last week's result, confidence is really high," Nyarko added. "We just need to take that mentality onto the field against Seattle and try to dictate the pace of the game."