SBI MLS Spotlight: Opara looking ahead to new beginning with Sporting KC

Photo by ISIphotos.com

By FRANCO PANIZO

Ike Opara appreciates everything the San Jose Earthquakes did for him during his three years there and he does not want that to go unnoticed. After all, San Jose is where he started his career and learned what it took to be a professional.

It is also the same place where he never truly felt comfortable.

Opara ended a three-year stint with the Earthquakes on Wednesday after being traded to Sporting Kansas City for a second round pick in the upcoming MLS SuperDraft. The move came days before Opara was set to enter Stage Two of the MLS Re-Entry Draft and the 23-year-old centerback did not hesitate to jump at the opportunity to join Sporting KC after head coach Peter Vermes called Opara’s agent to express his fondness for the athletic defender following Stage One of the Re-Entry Draft.

The Earthquakes also wanted Opara, at a lower figure, of course, but he was not keen on returning to the place where he suffered a number of injuries and never really fit in.

“I would say just being comfortable, really,” Opara told SBI when asked about was the toughest part of his three-year stay with the Earthquakes. “Just on and off the field, when you leave the soccer field, you have to be extremely happy with where you are as a person. At times I felt like I was isolated for whatever reason.

“They’re a great group of guys on that team for sure, without a doubt, but I never truly felt like myself, especially after the injuries, at least off the field. It’s something I can learn from and everyone always says its cliche, but for me I don’t think there’s anything wrong in that, in taking it and moving forward.”

Moving forward, Opara will join a Sporting KC team that is stocking up for a busy 2013. The team also re-signed MLS Defender of the Year Matt Besler and added midfielder Benny Feilhaber this week via a trade, moves that show how ambitious the club is heading into next season.

That ambitiousness combined with the wonderful stadium that is Livestrong Sporting Park and the rowdy supporters that usually fill it made the decision to head to Kansas City an easy one for Opara.

“When I heard it was a possibility, I jumped on it,” said Opara, who was also courted by the Colorado Rapids. “It was tough to say no to that opportunity. At the same time, San Jose wanted to bring me back, but I felt it was just a move that I couldn’t say no to. I was excited about it because you look at the group of guys there, they already have a great foundation and I feel like it’s a great environment to learn from and try to help out whenever I can.”

Opara is quick to point that San Jose also has a solid foundation and great environment, especially with the Earthquakes currently in the process of having their own soccer-specific stadium built. But the 23-year-old needed a change of scenery and already was fond of what Sporting KC had to offer after visiting Livestrong Sporting Park as a member of the Earthquakes.

“They’ve got a great support group for sure, great stadium, probably the best,” said Opara. “Walking into the visiting locker room I was blown away just from walking into that stadium. It speaks volumes, it really does. … I can’t wait to see what the locker room is like and what they have for the home team.”

Like much of his time in San Jose, Opara is likely to start 2013 on the bench. Sporting KC have their two starting centerbacks, Besler and Aurelien Collin, returning and all signs point to them continuing as a tandem under head coach Peter Vermes.

That, however, does not mean Opara will stay on the bench. Aside from having league games, Sporting KC will partake in the CONCACAF Champions League and U.S. Open Cup, so there should be plenty of opportunities for Opara to see the field and make an up-close impression on a coach that has rated him for some time.

Still, the 6-foot-2 centerback is not taking anything for granted, even if he does see ample chance to play.

“Nothing is guaranteed, nothing is given,” said Opara. “There’s a lot of games and competitions, so there are games to be played. It’s a long season, grinding out results, there’s injuries, etc., so there is an opportunity with Peter’s team and it’s one of those things you have to sit back and look and say, ‘You know what this is where I really want to be and want to compete in.’

“Obviously, you would like to play game-in and game-out and if that’s not the case, so be it. But I felt like this is an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up, especially with the amount of games that will be played. It’ll work out hopefully and it was a chance I’m willing to take.”

While Sporting KC already has the look of an MLS Cup favorite on paper, Opara is hesitant to call them that. He believes most teams consider themselves championship quality during the offseason, and that hard work must be put in during the preseason in order to really see where they stack up and how much work still needs to be done.

Opara can’t help but be excited about the future, but he also laments that things did not work out better with the Earthquakes. He showed glimpses of being a big-time player there, but injuries seemed to hamper him every time he started putting it all together.

“It was cool seeing the evolution from my first year to my third in terms of how they were making strides with the stadium and being around all that hype. It’s only going to get better,” said Opara. “Unfortunately, for me, I had some ups and had some downs. … and I think I owe it to myself to look forward and leave it all in the past and go forward and become a better person and a better player.”

Sporting KC have given Opara that opportunity and they appear to see him as a big piece of their future, having signed him to a four-year deal. Now, Opara is focused on moving on from the past and repaying the faith Sporting KC have shown in him.

“For me, short-term goals is putting it all together and be consistent,” said Opara. “Long-term wise, who knows, who’s to say? I think for me it’s getting a firm foot down in Kansas City and hopefully making it my home.”

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23 Responses to SBI MLS Spotlight: Opara looking ahead to new beginning with Sporting KC

  1. Michael F. SBI Mafia Original says:

    I hope he earns his chance and does great with it.

  2. SupporterShield says:

    Quakes fans will forever remember the “shank that lived in infamy” vs the LA Galaxy. Bye Bye babay deer, you wont be missed I hope they start you when they play us. Cant wait to see what the quakes will do with their allocation money

    • Dantana Moss says:

      Way to pull the race card.

      • BigBirdLenny says:

        ?? Race Card? Anyway, I hope he finds some minutes and develops his considerable abilities. I don’t understand all the hatred from some of the other San Jose fans here.

      • Mike in Missouri says:

        Maybe there’s some slang I’m not familiar with in his post, but where in the world was there a hint of racism?

  3. SKC Nation says:

    I also hope he starts against you. He will show you what he is capable of and what you are missing now that he has a good home.

  4. Deanna says:

    Ike, a very big welcome to Kansas City. It is a very friendly place and rewards hard work. Within the team I hope you do not mind teasing. Great bunch of young men. God bless you and give you a good off season. I will see you at practice in the spring.

  5. ec says:

    I hope Opara can put it together, he has the great athleticism and the college pedigree. Another KC move I like.

    • The Imperative Voice says:

      Except you can either play defense or not and CB is a pressure spot which will suss that out. The reason he’s out of SJ is because when given a similar “chance” by Bernandez’s injury, Opara folded like a cheap suit, they gave up 3 goals in 10-15 minutes, and the Galaxy knocked out the top seeded team in the whole league. Between that and the U23 debacle I’m not sold he’s a “keeper” yet.

      Ream’s another guy like this, flawed at actual defense. You play the good teams you will have to play actual defense.

      I dunno, to me KC’s “over the hump” obstacle is not CB, they have two good ones, and Opara will at least start out doing nothing but cameos. No, I think their real defensive issue is formational, the 433. The eredivisie loves its 433s and the teams score and are scored upon in bushels. People think KC’s offense is good enough but until they can outscore everyone 6-3 it’s still not high powered enough. They either need to lose the 433 obsession or get so offensive a tougher defense like Houston can’t stop them. Otherwise they can sign a bunch of second tier prospects and it won’t matter.

      • Dick Tracy says:

        No one thinks SKC has a high-powered offense.

        There obviously are not flaws defensively with their version of the 4-3-3. They constantly show that they are the best of the best for a year and a half now.

        You make no valid point, therefore you receive zero points in this round. Thank you, goodbye.

        • The Imperative Voice says:

          Your argument, sir, is a blatant, ad-absurdum, purposeful misquotation of my comments. I said people think KC’s offense is “good enough” but then said “it’s not high powered enough” for its purposes in a 433. If you can point out where I said it’s high-powered??????? I said the opposite. Your point is based on a gross distortion of my post. My whole point is they were underpowered for their formation.

          It is probably easier to argue with a distortion of my post than to actually take it head on. You’re basically arguing with yourself then.

          No flaws with their defense? They’ve given up 4 goals to Houston in 3 playoff games in 2 years. I think you ran right past my argument, which is that I think their 433 formation results in higher scoring games, which they then need to score more to win, which puts pressure on the offense to be at highest output.

          Your better argument would be that it’s a good defense except for a few teams good enough to expose it, like Houston or perhaps LA, but then I’d make a similar argument about my Dynamo, that our generally quality defense seems open to exposure by elite teams like LA, as well as particularly fast sides. Nonetheless, if your defense starts to crack against the best teams, perhaps it’s not as airtight as you suggest.

          I’m sorry, but in terms of playoff teams, KC needs either more offense or more defense, and arguably the ability to transition into more of a traditional, counterattack formation at least some of the time.

  6. mack says:

    its a great example of the extra touches at lsp the owners were willing to put in. that might be the difference in skc getting a player that all of these other teams building new average stadiums are after

    • David St. Hubbins says:

      the “extra touches” of swindling the taxpayers out of $160 million in subsidies. well done LSP owners.

      • mack says:

        i think if you ask most of us in kc, it was worth it. we have something to be proud if in a town full of losing franchises

      • David says:

        Hush, you’re so bitter Dave. For whatever godforsaken reason you miss the days of the Wizards.

        Always have some crazy conspiracy or same old recycled claimed grievances to whine about.

        As far as swindling, you’re beyond naive if you think taxpayer money going to stadiums is somehow unique. They also spent over $50 million of their own money to add on to the stadium. Like, you know, “extra touches”.

  7. David St. Hubbins says:

    Good luck to Ike, but it sounds like he is going there more for the superficial bells and whistles of the nice new amenities at LSP, and not for actual playing time or development of his career.

    He seemed to work hard in SJ and it was just bad luck things didn’t work out with all the injuries. I think if he gets some consistent playing time he could be a good player, but it doesn’t look like he will get that in KC. So again, I say it is a strange choice for a young developing player. He should have wanted to go to teams more in need of CB’s like Chivas, Portland, TFC, or NE.

    • mouf says:

      “he should have wanted”

      Ha

      Center backs seem to develop pretty well under Vermes.

    • The Imperative Voice says:

      Hmmmmm.

      I want to say, SJ is a building franchise with coach Yallop who has already put together the cup winning sides that became the Dynamo. They just won the supporter’s shield, and are on the road to a new stadium. So to me versus the actual field product in KC, which plays a gimmicky formation and can’t get past Houston in the playoffs, I think SJ is stronger. I’d want to be there.

      Except the whole point to the draft is, he was surplus at SJ, and KC wanted him, even if only to serve a similar role of understudy. So, between out of a job or desired even as an afterthought, hmm, I’ll take the job and pat that team on the back a little.

      Except, to the extent we’re talking about facilities and such, he wasn’t a free agent, he was picked in a draft. He may want to respect the side that picked him, but the reality is the teams were taking turns picking players and when KC came up they chose to pick him. The “facilities” chose him rather than the other way around. To me it should be a little more like “happy to have a job after how I handled 10 minutes against the Galaxy.” He could have ended up anywhere in any set of facilities after that nosedive. To be comparing suitors at that point is….goofy?

  8. nick says:

    He just isn’t good enough. after years and years he never looked like a pro level player.

  9. Fred says:

    First American club to win the TREBLE?

    • Mike in Missouri says:

      well,

      1. Supporters Shield
      2. US Open Cup
      3. MLS Cup
      4. Concacaf Champions league

      I prefer the quad.

      I guess the Club World Championship would actually be next year, so can’t do the quint. Darn it. ( ;