By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 18, 2008
BALTIMORE, Jan. 17 -- In the fall, midway through Virginia Tech's historic men's soccer season, Hokies Coach Oliver Weiss sat down with star forward Patrick Nyarko to address the future.
Nyarko was only a junior and adamant about earning his degree in psychology, but the reality was that, since his arrival in Blacksburg, Va., from Ghana, he was on a path to a pro soccer career. As the season progressed, the pressure to leave school would intensify and undoubtedly create a distraction, Weiss concluded.
"I wanted to start the process early because I didn't want some clown calling him and confusing him about what to do," Weiss explained this week. "So we laid out the facts for him because it is confusing."
After leading the Hokies to the College Cup semifinals for the first time, Nyarko consulted with MLS players Maurice Edu and Bakary Soumare, who had turned pro early last winter. He then made the decision to leave Virginia Tech and sign a long-term deal with the 14-team league.
"Talking to the coach about it so early definitely helped," he said. "It was good to start planning ahead and not letting the process build up and then not knowing what to do and hitting a wall."
Nyarko is expected to be among the top three selections in Friday's draft at Baltimore Convention Center and, if picked No. 1 overall by the Kansas City Wizards, he would become the seventh player in 13 years with ties to the Washington region to be chosen first. Previous top picks were Maryland's Edu (2007) and Leo Cullen (1998), Virginia's Jason Moore (1999) and Alecko Eskandarian (2003), North Stafford High's Chris Carrieri (2001) and Potomac's Freddy Adu (2004).
"It was the right time," said Nyarko, who turned 22 on Tuesday. "I felt I had a good enough year and I was ready. I just had a good feeling. . . . I am opening a new chapter."
Money also played a role. Although terms were not made public, salaries for players who sign early are usually higher than for the average rookie. Edu was guaranteed $132,500 last year while many first-year players took home as little as $12,900.
Europe was also an option for Nyarko, but not to the degree that Weiss had hoped. The German-born coach took the Hokies on a 12-day tour of his native country last May and, despite his team playing four exhibitions and attending two pro matches, Weiss did not think Nyarko came away inspired to play there.
"He didn't fancy it for some reason," he said.
Added Nyarko, "I thought about Europe, but I felt that MLS would be a great place for me to develop and gain experience, and then we will see what is in store in the future."
So as the 2007 season progressed, Nyarko's attention began to turn toward MLS, and vice versa. MLS coaches were impressed with his clever touch, speed, decision-making and knack to make a game-altering play. As with most rookies, some have wondered if he has the toughness to survive on the pro level, and observers at the MLS scouting combine last weekend in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said Nyarko did not stand out.
Nyarko is aware of the differences he will confront moving from the simplicity of the three-month college season to the sophisticated and grueling seven-month pro circuit.
"The pace is faster, but I know I will be able to catch up with it," said Nyarko, who had 31 goals and 24 assists in three years at Virginia Tech and scored the game-winner in an NCAA tournament quarterfinal upset at Connecticut last month. "The players are stronger and the quality of play is much higher, but I will learn everything."
Weiss believes Nyarko will adjust accordingly and, with time, provide a dynamic element to MLS.
"It excites people, the technical stuff he does, and he can bring it to MLS," he said. "You put him out there for the final 20 minutes of a close game and it's going to be fun. They don't know how lucky they are to get him."