Patrick Nyarko never wanted to let his teammates down.
So when the Chicago Fire midfielder felt a tweak in his back and pain in his hip during the middle of last season, he kept playing, starting 32 games and coming off the bench in three. His only respite from his discomfort came from the pain-relieving shots he took before games and the breaks he took from practice.
“I just had to fight through,” Nyarko told MLSsoccer.com shortly after the 2012 season ended. “I felt hurt, but I kind of had the belief that I could play through it.”
Nyarko was the only Fire player to make an appearance in every MLS game last year, even though overcompensation from his previous injuries caused him to strain his oblique with six games to go. He finally knew it was time to take a break when the final whistle of the Fire's 2-1 playoff loss to Houston sounded.
He didn't quite know how long that break would be.
As Nyarko eased back into training in Ave Maria, Fla., where the Fire opened training camp last week, he went on his first jog since the 2012 season ended. During the Fire's 10 days in Florida, he trained lightly.
“Pretty much the whole offseason, I did not do any soccer-related activities,” Nyarko told MLSsoccer by phone from Ave Maria. “I decided to not do anything, let my body rest.”
During his eight years of playing soccer in the United States, Nyarko has had sports hernia surgery, ankle surgery and knee surgery. He's picked up plenty of bumps and bruises, and even a few concussions. But the 27-year-old has never taken an entire offseason as easy as he took this one, when his only exercise was done with the purpose of rehabbing from injuries.
It was strange to see how an entire winter of not jogging affected him.
“It was awful,” Nyarko said. “The first training session we had a 10-minute jog and a warmup, and I was pretty much done before the actual session began. It's kind of new territory for me. It's strange to be that out of shape. I don't ever remember being out of shape like that.”
Nyarko hopes to be training fully when the Fire head to Ventura, Calif., for their second phase of preseason. And despite the unfamiliar gasps for breath that are sure to come during the next four weeks of training, he's sure he'll be ready to play the LA Galaxy in Chicago’s season opener on March 3.
But before the season starts, he's going to be cautious.
“I feel like every day, I keep improving, and I think [the trainers] have a great plan,” Nyarko said. “You just want to make sure that I'm totally 100 percent going into the season, so we're going to take it very slow and not go full in until I'm really ready to go.”