For various reasons, D.C. United has needed to be very good when making acquisitions within MLS. Every team in the league wants to make good moves, of course, but United's needs are more acute. No stone can be left unturned. It's no accident that United's best 11 to start this season will probably be comprised of more players acquired via trade or Re-Entry Processes than from anywhere else.
Most of the time, the idea is to wait for the wealthy teams to sign one more big player, which forces the LAs, Seattles, and TFCs of the world to push a good MLS player who isn't as famous out the door. United got Fabian Espindola because he wasn't compatible with Thierry Henry, and picked up Kofi Opare came to town when LA needed roster space to sign Sacha Kljestan (a move that broke down for the Galaxy twice). More recently, Lamar Neagle came from Seattle after the Sounders used every bit of TAM they had to fit Andreas Ivanschitz and Nelson Haedo Valdez under an already crowded salary cap.
However, United doesn't restrict their sale rack shopping to the high-end stores at the fancy mall. They hit the thrift stores just as enthusiastically. MLS will always have its share of teams who are struggling. In some cases, it's a change of management; in others, it's simply a team admitting to themselves that they need to get younger and clear cap space. Either way, that's how Bobby Boswell was available, and just recently Marcelo Sarvas was brought in from the train wreck in Colorado.
That's also the situation that applies to Patrick Nyarko. Chicago was the worst team in MLS last year, and the end result was a new GM as well as a new head coach. Nyarko, meanwhile, knew he'd be turning 30 this offseason. How long will the Fire need to put together a good team? Who knows? This was probably the ideal moment to get out and head to a team with a better foundation and fewer question marks. Nyarko requested a trade, and his connections to the region - family in Virginia and a college career spent at Virginia Tech - made United a good landing spot.
Lost in the wreckage of Chicago's 2015 was the fact that Nyarko was one of their better players when available. He missed virtually all of the first half of the season rehabbing a 2014 ACL tear, but crucially did not miss a game after making his first appearance in the summer. 3 goals and 4 assists in 19 total appearances are a pretty good haul for a winger on a very bad team.
Going back to Nyarko's reasons for wanting to come here, he's said to be pretty close with Chris Rolfe, his ex-Fire teammate. Rolfe came to DC in rather similar circumstances: Chicago was a mess, and Frank Yallop's unwillingness to play Harry Shipp centrally meant he had to choose between Rolfe or the club's brightest hope for the future. United snatched Rolfe up, and the rest is history. Rolfe has as many MLS goals since joining United as anyone on the team (tied with Espindola on 16), and his 10 assists in the same period are tied with Nick DeLeon for 2nd (Espindola is way out in front with 16).
It's natural, then, to wonder if the Black-and-Red just grabbed another very noteworthy contributor from a conference rival. Nyarko adds two things that United's attack badly needed in 2015: Speed and dribbling ability. Speed was probably the #1 thing on the club's shopping list this offseason, and having someone who can get around their opponent without having to complete a pass couldn't have been far behind. Nyarko will open up the field both horizontally and vertically for a team that was too easy to box in throughout 2015.
It's safe to assume that Nyarko will enter the season as Ben Olsen's preferred starter on the right wing precisely because he can pull teams out of their shape. However, it's important to note that he'll have to make his impact in a different manner from Rolfe, whose goalscoring has often carried the team. Nyarko is not a particularly sharp finisher, and will usually need either a very easy chance or several opportunities to get his name on the scoresheet.
Instead, Nyarko's target for the season should be to rack up assists. Thanks to Sean Franklin's deceptively solid passing numbers, United tends to attack more down the right than down the left. That will likely continue this year, but with a more dangerous threat getting time on the ball. Nick DeLeon usually brushed past a defender or two a game, but he didn't have the speed or the instincts to go direct afterward. DeLeon's dribbles usually helped United advance a bit upfield and then move possession along somewhere else.
By contrast, Nyarko is more likely to beat his man and then play a threatening ball into the box. It's more to the point, and that danger will force teams to cheat towards him, which in turn opens up room for everyone else. This is a dimension that United's attack didn't have last season, and when you throw in Sarvas having a knack for scoring more goals than Davy Arnaud, the scoring threat Lamar Neagle should be able to provide from the left, and (hopefully) the playmaking of rumored acquisition Luciano Acosta, and we might be looking at a United attack that is more effective and more fun to watch.
The one concern fans may have about Nyarko is that he came back from an ACL tear just before turning 30. However, from his first appearance last season he looked confident in his knee and didn't shy away from contact. Just as importantly, he seemed to build up his speed as the season wore on. Nyarko may be a "scratch and dent" model, but all signs point to him being in good shape for years to come.