Ike Opara

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SKC trade Opara to MNUFC for potential 7-figure sum

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MLS’s trade market has gone a bit crazy over the last year-plus — particularly deals involving some of the league’s top American center backs — and Sporting Kansas City head coach/technical director Peter Vermes was more than happy to take advantage of one team’s desperation… again.

[ MORE: Inter Miami proposes Fort Lauderdale training center ]

Vermes shipped Ike Opara, the 2017 MLS Defender of the Year and one of the two or three best defenders in MLS over his six-year stint in Kansas City, to Minnesota United in exchange for $900,000 in targeted allocation money with the potential for that figure to rise to $1 million after incentives. ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle reported that the additional $100,000 is contingent upon Minnesota qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in its brief MLS history.

Opara made it known during the offseason that he would like to be paid more than the $325,000 base salary he collected in 2018, and requested that Vermes consider any trade offers that might allow him to do so elsewhere.

[ MORE: What did we learn from USMNT’s win over Panama? ]

While the potential of a seven-figure sum of Garber Bucks™ sounds like a massive amount of intraleague money — and it is — it’s also a fair price for a domestic defender of Opara’s quality.

  • December 2017: LAFC acquired Walker Zimmerman from FC Dallas for $500,000 in general allocation money, plus the no. 1 spot in the allocation order (the allocation spot was then traded to Orlando City SC for $400,000 in TAM)
  • March 2018: New York Red Bulls acquired Tim Parker from Vancouver Whitecaps for $500,000 in TAM, plus an international roster spot and midfielder Felipe Martins
  • January 2019: FC Cincinnati acquired Nick Hagglund from Toronto FC for $200,000 in GAM, $100,000 in TAM, plus the no. 1 spot in the allocation order

For the first time since bringing the Loons to MLS in 2017, head coach Adrian Heath has the foundational defender he’s sorely lacked en route to conceding 70 and 71 goals in successive seasons. While it’s a steep price to pay — calling it an “overpay” isn’t unfair — given Opara’s age (he’ll turn 30 before the 2019 season starts) and injury history, it’s a risk worth taking for Minnesota who are set to open a brand new stadium, Allianz Field, and desperately need to put forth a competitive product in year three. The case for “overpaying” being a worthwhile risk under these circumstances is an easy one to make.

As for the Sporting KC side of things, it’s yet another victory for world-renowned asset flipper Peter Vermes, who 1) acquired Opara for a second-round SuperDraft pick before the 2013 season; 2) enjoyed four-plus (healthy) seasons of one of the league’s best defenders while winning an MLS Cup and two U.S. Open Cups; 3) raked in a windfall of cash to be used in future signings and/or trades. Similar outgoing trades involving Dom Dwyer (up to $1.6 million), Benny Feilhaber ($400,000) and Diego Rubio ($300,000, plus midfielder Kelyn Rowe) have earned Vermes a reputation as a shrewd negotiator and maximizer of assets.

It remains to be seen whether or not Opara will get the raise he wants (and so thoroughly deserves), but one would assume Minnesota wouldn’t part with such a sum of money without intending to resolve any unhappiness which ultimately led to Monday’s trade.

Sporting KC 1-1 RSL: Western Conference playoff race stays muddy

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Sporting KC and Real Salt Lake drew 1-1 at Children’s Mercy Park on Sunday. Corey Baird and Ike Opara cancelled each other out, a valuable point for either team, but also somewhat disappointing for each side given separation is key.

The opener came just nine minutes in, as Jefferson Savarino fed such a good ball forward, it left Sporting KC defender Opara so wrong-footed he ended up on his rear end. Baird was there for the calm finish, and RSL had its valuable lead. The visitors are in a vicious playoff battle, currently holding the last playoff spot in the Western Conference standings. Still, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is leading an LA Galaxy charge that leaves them just one point back coming into Sunday’s match.

So, with the lead, RSL clammed up. The two teams shared possession, but Sporting KC began to pummel Nick Rimando’s goal. Sporting KC racked up 20 shots during the match, with nearly as many shots on target (6) to RSL’s total efforts on net (8).

Sporting KC would get its equalizer shortly after the halftime break as Johnny Russell swung in the corner and Opara lept high above Kyle Beckerman and Damir Kreilach to meet his head to the ball, powering it past Rimando.

Both sides had opportunities to grasp the victory they would like to have back. Most notably, Krisztián Németh had a glaring miss in the 18th minute for KC, sliding to meet a point-blank cross from Matt Besler but putting it wide of the post.

The point could prove valuable for RSL, especially on the road where RSL has struggled, moving them two ahead LA Galaxy. Still, the full three would have been season-altering, as it would have moved them above Seattle. For Sporting, the win would have moved them into the top spot in the Western Conference, a huge advantage for playoff positioning.

Sporting KC giving away creative “Bike Opara” bobblehead

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In his ninth Major League Soccer season, Ike Opara has scored just a dozen regular season goals.

He’s known more for his physicality in the backline, for creating space for teammates on set pieces, or heading balls on to teammates with slightly more fleeter feet.

But in June 2017, it all came together for Opara in a magical moment, where he beat an offside trap from the LA Galaxy and scored an insane bicycle kick for Sporting Kansas City.

Now, to honor Opara’s ridiculous goal, Sporting KC has announced the first 10,000 fans through the gates at Children’s Mercy Park on March 31 will get a “Bike Ike” bobblehead, with him in flight kicking the ball towards goal over his shoulder.

You’ve gotta love the creativity and fun the Sporting KC marketing department is having. Hopefully, Opara can give the team another memorable goal in 2018.

Three things from the USMNT draw with Bosnia and Herzegovina

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There wasn’t a ton to takeaway from a friendly nil-nil between the United States men’s national team and Bosnia & Herzegovina on Sunday in Carson, Calif., but we could find three things.

[ MORE: Match recap | Player ratings ]

That’s because “That’s Entertainment” is a song by The Jam, not a way to describe this match.

Playmakers needed in the Starting XI

In what would’ve qualified as infuriating had this game meant anything besides minor evaluation, Dave Sarachan kept Paul Arriola, Kelyn Rowe, and Juan Agudelo on the bench in favor of — in no particular order — Gyasi Zardes and Cristian Roldan.

There weren’t many chances in the opening 45, with CJ Sapong providing the best chances for the U.S. (Young Tyler Adams had a moment or two as well).

It was no surprise that Jordan Morris (above) and the rest of the U.S. squad found chances almost immediately once Rowe and Arriola were subbed into the match at halftime. In fact, a slightly tamer touch from Morris in the second half probably produces a goal that may have just busted open the match.

Opara meets his chance head-on; Zimmerman? Well…

Sporting KC center back Ike Opara is 28 years old and a much more finished product than the kid who represented his country at youth levels. He had some fantastic interventions in the first half, was aggressive when meeting Bosnian attackers out wide, and nearly mistake-free aside from giving away a free kick.

LAFC’s Walker Zimmerman, so good for some time in MLS, was not as solid as his partner, and gave away a bad but unconverted penalty kick early in the second half. A foul should’ve been called a moment earlier against the player he dropped in the boss, but it was a silly foul.

“Just had fun,” Opara said on FS1 after the match. “Sort out the aftermath later. It was a good time. … (I’ll remember) just the hard work that I put in over the years and the people who helped me get here. I know it’s my reward but a lot of people helped me get here.”

Absence makes the heart grow fonder?

This match was so non-descript and so much of a slog at times that it bears repeating the USMNT produced what was essentially a C-Team.

Don’t believe us? Assume 23 players in any given call-up, and here are nearly 40 players who weren’t there: Pulisic, Brooks, McKennie, Dempsey, Yedlin, Cameron, Chandler, Acosta, Bedoya, Gooch, Williams, Bradley, Howard, Guzan, Nagbe, McCarty, F. Johnson, Kljestan, Jones, Lletget, Altidore, Wood, Miazga, Lichaj, Miazga, Ream, Sargent, Saief, Spector, Hedges, Zusi, Besler, Beasley, Horvath, Carter-Vickers, Palmer-Brown, Feilhaber, Evans…

So while we didn’t really learn anything from point No. 3, we are reminded that it shouldn’t be surprising when two less than ideal groups culled from sides that missed the World Cup fail to entertain the masses.

USMNT, Bosnia and Herzegovina play to sleepy 0-0

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  • Second game, draw since World Cup failure
  • KC’s Opara easy Man of the Match for U.S.
  • Medunjanin misses PK for BIH

The United States men’s national team and Bosnia & Herzegovina staged a scoreless match that provided little entertainment for anyone other than a boisterous, pro-Bosnian crowd in Carson, California.

Philadelphia Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin hit a penalty kick off the post for BIH.

USMNT boss Dave Sarachan has two draws in his caretaker stint, but surprisingly did not use all of his subs despite having a number of players craving a first career cap (Russell Canouse, Marky Delgado, Nick Lima).

[ MORE: 3 things | Player ratings ]

CJ Sapong made noise in the first minute, running onto a long ball down the left and crossing for Tyler Adams to head onto goal.

Sapong then forced BIH keeper Ibrahim Šehić into another save, earning a corner kick after beating club teammate Haris Medunjanin to a back pass.

Adams earned a free kick for the U.S. from the right, played short to him and kicked out for a goal kick.

Ike Opara had a sterling first half up to the 40th minute when he gave away a free kick with a hard foul, but Bosnia’s quick-played corner led to a shot sent over Bill Hamid’s goal.

[ MORE: Ibrahimovic to MLS has “serious legs” ]

It was a precursor to his first big save, getting low to save Walker Zimmerman blushes when Luka Menalo hit a mishit clearance on goal from in-tight.

The game within the game was finding entertainment. Save us, second half:

USMNT head coach Dave Sarachan gave Zack Steffen a debut between the sticks in the second half, and brought on Kelyn Rowe and Paul Arriola in place of Sapong and Gyasi Zardes.

Arriola made an instant impact, sending a ball to meet a perfect Jordan Morris run. The forward’s cross invited Rowe, but the New England man couldn’t sweep his trailing leg to turn the pass on goal.

Morris then ran onto a gorgeous pass from Wil Trapp, and an inventive first touch proved too strong as he carried himself too wide to turn a shot on goal.

Menalo then turned the early stages of the half on its ear. He was allowed to get away with a 52nd minute foul, but Zimmerman then hip checked Menalo to the turf for a simple penalty. Medunjanin made Steffen guess wrong, but hit the post.

Roldan was presented with a tremendous chance to make it 1-0 when Matt Polster’s cross deflected into his path but was betrayed by his first touch. Rowe hit a magnificent pass to start the play.

Steffen got low for a languid slap of a Menalo strike in the 66th minute.

Sarachan then put Juan Agudelo into the match for Roldan.

Bosnia produced several good chances down the right as the second half crawled into its final 20 minutes.

Morris comically saw his shirt ripped through the chest on a 75th minute foul.

Omaha-Nebraska player Elvir Ibišević subbed into the match for BIH in the final few minutes of the contest.