Opara doesn’t miss a beat stepping into Sporting KC defense

Opara (Getty)

By THOMAS FLOYD

WASHINGTON — As far as Ike Opara is concerned, he should have had a brace Sunday at RFK Stadium. One goal at the least. But with one tally wrongly called offside and another ruled an own goal, the Sporting Kansas City defender found his name absent from the score sheet.

Make his goal drought 34 months and counting. Such is the life of a centerback.

“Either way,” he said with a laugh, “I think I got screwed tonight in terms of goals.”

Luckily for Opara, scoring goals isn’t an integral part of his job description. Preventing them is his specialty, and he’s been doing that with efficiency over the past four matches.

Filling in for the injured Matt Besler (knee) for three games and the suspended Aurelien Collin during Sunday’s 1-1 draw at D.C. United, the offseason acquisition hasn’t missed a beat while helping Kansas City allow just two strikes during the 2-1-1 stretch.

“I was biding my time and I finally got a little bit of a breakthrough, and I think I’ve shown well,” Opara said. “The coaching staff, I had their full trust to begin with and I think it was just a matter of finally getting a window of opportunity and making sure I do well with it.”

Opara certainly enjoyed an active evening against United. In the first half, he knocked home Jacob Peterson’s pass at the far post for what looked like his first goal since July 2010, only to see the assistant referee intervene. As replays showed, Opara was 3 or 4 yards onside.

But he did eventually put his team in front in the 60th minute, when he redirected a Graham Zusi corner kick off United defender Ethan White and in for an own goal. And the 24-year-old also partnered with Besler to deny service to United strikers Casey Townsend and Lionard Pajoy, who saw little of the ball over their combined 90 minutes.

“I think you either adjust or you don’t, and if you don’t adjust you’re not going to succeed,” Besler said. “He’s bought into the team system, and credit to him — he’s done very well.”

Added Zusi: “There was absolutely no letdown when he came onto the field.”

When Opara steps in, he’s filling big shoes. Last season, after all, Besler was named MLS Defender of the Year while Collin finished third in the voting.

Yet it’s still a luxury for Vermes to have Opara available on the bench. Although the third overall pick out of Wake Forest in the 2010 SuperDraft struggled with injuries during his three seasons with the San Jose Earthquakes, his pure skill set has never been in question.

“His recovery speed to get back and cover a guy, his aerial presence, it’s absolutely incredible — it’s dominant,” Kansas City coach Peter Vermes said. “There are certain aspects that we expect from our central defenders, and he’s adapted very quickly, he’s extremely coachable, and that’s going to bode really well for him as he goes forward.”

Considering Kansas City’s schedule, Opara should get plenty more opportunities to prove his worth. Besler is set to miss time while playing for the U.S. national team, and fixture congestion brought on by the CONCACAF Champions League and Sporting’s attempt to defend their U.S. Open Cup crown further establish the need for depth.

Whenever he is called upon, Opara relishes proving he is up to the task.

“For me, when I play in place of [Besler] or Collin or whatever, I know that teams most likely want to think of me as a weak link, maybe because I’m not proven with these guys or whatnot,” Opara said. “But for me, it’s a challenge to raise my level to their level and be just as good as them on the day. That’s what I take pride in.”

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17 Responses to Opara doesn’t miss a beat stepping into Sporting KC defense

  1. BigBirdLenny says:

    Very happy to see Opara doing well with his new club, even if it means he had to leave San Jose. The guy should have an excellent career if he stays healthy.

    • TomG says:

      Yes. I still haven’t given up on this kid for one day having a presence on the MNT. With the high line we play, a guy with his tools and recovery speed could be invaluable if he can figure things out.

  2. Old School says:

    Chad Barrett is with New England?

    Apparently I’m completely out of the loop.

  3. 2tone says:

    Defenders get better with age. Ike Opara has incredible athletic gifts, and his reading of the game is getting better along with his passing.

    He could very well be in the USMNT CB player pool for the 2018 WC cycle.

    • 2tone says:

      Another comment awaiting moderation. This is just getting ridiculous now.

      • Old School says:

        Not blaming Ives or trying to pile on but it completely kills conversation at times which ultimately reduces posts and general interest in that story/website long term.

        I’m not going anywhere but I can’t imagine it’s good long term for newer posters.

      • TomG says:

        You can’t write pa$$ing or anything with a$$ in the word. I’ve had that problem before.

  4. Eric says:

    SKC always seems to have the luxury of an extra starting-caliber defender on the bench–for the last couple of years, it was Michael Harrington, who is now doing great as the Timbers’ starting left back. This year, it’s Ike Opara. It’s definitely a luxury having that sort of security, especially considering a year ago, SKC was extremely thin at CB, with only Besler, Collin, and Olum as viable options–which I think was also part of the impetus of PV acquiring Yann Songo’o in the offseason.

    • Teemu Selanne says:

      Songo’o is performing great on loan to Orlando SC at the moment, I might add.

      Granted, that league makes Dom Dwyer look like Wondo2012.

  5. Nick4235 says:

    So is it possible SKC got Opara as a long term replacement for Besler if he moves this summer? I mean he just signed long term this offseason so I’m not sure if he’s going to Europe but just a thought.

    • Eric says:

      I doubt Besler leaves for Europe this summer (next summer, after the World Cup, especially if he starts there, is a much bigger possibility). But if Besler does leave, I would be very much in favor of offering Opara a long-term deal. When healthy, he is an excellent MLS-caliber center back.

    • Teemu Selanne says:

      I think that is best-case-scenario by far.

      PV has a great track record with pick-ups like this, but listening to Matt Besler speak, moving on per se, is not in his mind at the moment… but more good showings with the MNT, I suppose its only a matter of time before a Southampton or Cardiff City come calling.

      Kudos to SKC for getting a young guy like Ike headed toward his full potential.

    • Alan says:

      I honestly doubt Besler will ever leave, even for Europe. Kansas City is where he grew up and lives his whole life. The CEO of Sporting uses him as poster child for home grown talent and has extended a contracts numerous times. QPR was interested but Matt wanted to stay in KC. I believe Collin will leave before Matt

      • Old School says:

        Positive spin but I doubt he passes Europe entirely.

        We’re talking about QPR, after all. A lot of people should have followed Besler by turning down a move to the sinking ship.