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Minnesota United acquires defender Ike Opara

September 15, 2018; San Jose, CA, USA; Sporting Kansas City defender Ike Opara (3) celebrates after scoring a goal against the San Jose Earthquakes during the first half at Avaya Stadium. Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota United announced the acquisition of defender Ike Opara from Sporting Kansas City in exchange for $900,000 in Targeted Allocation Money, including an additional $100,000 in future TAM considerations. A nine-year MLS veteran, Opara made 157 league appearances during his tenures with Kansas City and San Jose.

The deal comes in the wake of Opara asking Kansas City to consider trading him last December. The 2017 MLS Defender of the Year signed a contract extension with Kansas City ahead of the 2018 season. Opara’s contract is guaranteed through 2020, with a team option for 2021 that will now be Minnesota’s to exercise if desired. With centerbacks Matt Besler, Andreu Fontas and Botond Baráth each signed to relatively expensive contracts, Opara’s move to the Land of 10,000 Lakes helps clarify Peter Vermes’ depth chart at centerback.

Due to turn 30 before the start of the Loons’ 2019 campaign, Opara has proven fairly durable in recent seasons, missing just 59 days and seven games over the past three seasons due to injury, though a groin strain limited the number of games Opara was able to start in 2016. The North Carolina native did miss 35 games spread across the 2014 and 2015 MLS seasons following a ruptured Achilles tendon.

Opara will immediately challenge incumbents Francisco Calvo, Michael Boxall and Brent Kallman for a place in the Loons’ starting XI, though Opara’s addition makes a potential move to left back for Calvo all the easier for the Loons to facilitate. Coming on the heels of MNUFC using TAM to complete the signing of right back Romain Métanire, Opara is the second notable upgrade to a back line that helped concede an MLS-record 141 goals over two seasons.

“We’ve been laser-focused on adding starters in key positions of need this offseason and we feel that Ike is an excellent addition to a really good core group of defenders already on our roster,” sporting director Manny Lagos said. “He provides a wealth of MLS experience — he is coming off of two great years. We are thrilled to add his quality and leadership to our roster.”

Experience has been the word regarding the players brought in by MNUFC this winter. Absent the MLS SuperDraft, Slovak midfielder Ján Greguš — due to turn 28 tomorrow— is the youngest addition to the Loons’ roster, with 33-year-old Osvaldo Alonso the eldest. And this for what was already one of the older rosters in the league.

That quartet of Alonso, Greguš, Métanire and Opara are more than likely to improve what has been a porous defense, and any concern about Minnesota growing even longer in the tooth seems to have taken a back seat to the team’s urgency to make a good showing in 2019 as it opens Allianz Field. The season marks Year 3 in MLS, and has been preceded by sarcastic mentions of a “three-year plan” on social media from some of the Loons’ fanbase. Following CEO Chris Wright’s proclamation of “no excuses” for a repeat of a pair of 36-point seasons, both Lagos and head coach Adrian Heath head into the spring under a fair amount of pressure.

“Going into this offseason, we had targeted positions we felt were important to our success moving forward and this is another huge step to us achieving our goals,” Heath said. “We’ve just added a player who has challenged for U.S. Open Cup, Supporters Shield and MLS Cup virtually every year. He won’t accept anything other than winning. When you add him to the likes of Ozzie Alonso, Jan Gregus, Romain Metanire and the core group of players returning this year, we’ve set ourselves up to be successful going in to Allianz Field.”

Following the trade of fan favorite striker Christian Ramirez to LAFC last August, it remained to be seen how Minnesota United would reinvest a combined pool of allocation money approaching $1 million. Having added Gregus as the team’s third Designated Player, and dipped into its reserve of TAM to bring in both Métanire and Opara, Lagos and company have answered one of the questions facing the team ahead of the 2019 season.

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