Former Sporting Kansas City defender Ike Opara has been appointed as the assistant coach of Sporting Kansas City II, the club announced today.
Opara, a two-time MLS Defender of the Year who won the 2013 MLS Cup and two Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championships in six seasons with Sporting from 2013-2018, will join Sporting KC II head coach and longtime teammate Benny Feilhaber in leading the club during the inaugural 2022 MLS NEXT Pro campaign. The new league will kick off in March and more information, including the 2022 schedule and competition details, will be announced soon.
Feilhaber and Opara, who played instrumental roles in Sporting’s on-field success as a perennial MLS contender last decade, will join returning Goalkeeper Coach Darrin MacLeod and returning Strength and Conditioning Coach Mike Steidle on the Sporting KC II technical staff.
Opara is back in Kansas City for his first professional coaching job after serving as a scout for Nashville SC since May 2021. During his time with the club, he worked alongside Nashville SC Director of Player Personnel and former Sporting teammate Chance Myers as well as Nashville SC General Manager Mike Jacobs, who was previously Sporting’s assistant technical director from 2015-2017.
Opara enjoyed an excellent 11-year playing career in MLS, including stints with the San Jose Earthquakes (2010-2012), Sporting and Minnesota United FC (2019-2020). The center back recorded 20 goals and six assists in 190 MLS matches and is one of five players to receive MLS Defender of the Year accolades twice, having won the honor in 2017 with Sporting and in 2019 with Minnesota. Opara, whose teams reached the playoffs in 10 of his 11 seasons, led MLS defenders with 30 shutout contributions from 2017-2019 while also ranking sixth during that time span in interceptions and clearances.
Opara made 36 MLS appearances in his first three MLS seasons with San Jose after being taken No. 3 overall in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft out of Wake Forest University. He joined Sporting ahead of the 2013 campaign and started 120 of 136 appearances for the club in all competitions, tallying 15 goals and six assists. He hoisted an MLS Cup title in his first year with the team, adding three goals, before missing most of the next two seasons through injury.
Opara’s return to full fitness set the stage for one of the most dominant three-year stretches by a center back in MLS history. After starting 16 of 25 matches in 2016, Opara earned 2017 MLS Defender of the Year recognition in a phenomenal fifth season at Children’s Mercy Park. That year he spearheaded a dominant defense that conceded just 29 goals throughout the regular season, eight fewer than any other team, while scoring four goals in all competitions. In addition to being named the league’s best defender, Opara landed MLS Best XI honors for the first time and helped Sporting win the U.S. Open Cup.
The 2018 campaign saw Opara hit MLS career-highs in regular season starts (31) and minutes (2,773) as Sporting finished atop the Western Conference standings and tied a club record during the non-shootout era with 18 wins. In 2019, Opara reclaimed MLS Defender of the Year accolades as the lynchpin of Minnesota’s backline. In his final career MLS appearance, Opara scored two goals for the Loons in a 5-2 win over San Jose on March 7, 2020.
On the international stage, Opara represented the United States at the U-20 and U-23 levels between 2008-2012 before making his senior debut for the U.S. Men’s National Team on Jan. 28, 2018, playing the full 90 minutes in a scoreless draw against Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nine years earlier, he was a member of the U.S. squad at the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Egypt and started all three games.
Opara’s three-year college career at Wake Forest saw him earn ACC Defender of the Year and All-ACC First Team honors in both 2008 and 2009. He was a United Soccer Coaches All-American and MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist as a junior and helped lead the Demon Deacons to the NCAA College Cup all three seasons, including the team’s NCAA National Championship in 2007.