Sporting KC center back Ike Opara named 2017 MLS Defender of the Year

Sporting Kansas City defender Ike Opara was voted the 2017 MLS Defender of the Year, Major League Soccer announced on Thursday.

“I am truly honored to be named 2017 MLS Defender of the Year,” Opara said. “Although this is an individual award, it wouldn't have been possible without the unwavering support from many people over the years. That includes team owners, staff, teammates, fans, doctors, friends and family.

“I want to thank everyone who has made even the smallest investment in me as a player and a person. Words cannot describe my appreciation. I'm already looking forward to 2018 and hopefully bringing more trophies to Kansas City.”

In his fifth season with Sporting KC, Opara anchored a miserly defense that conceded just 29 goals during the 2017 regular season, eight fewer than any other team. Opara set MLS career-highs with 30 starts and 2,700 minutes played, contributed to 11 shutouts and helped Sporting KC reach the MLS Cup Playoffs for the seventh straight year.

“Ever since Ike joined our club in 2013, we always believed he had this level of play in him,” Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes said. “He was unfortunate to suffer season-ending injuries in 2014 and 2015, so this was the first season he played on a regular basis in our lineup. That’s no doubt one of the reasons why our team had success this year.

“Ike has taken an extremely professional approach throughout the year, maintaining a high level of fitness and taking great care of his body physically and nutritionally. This award says a lot about our team defended in 2017, and Ike was a big piece of that.”

Sporting KC boasted a 0.77 goals against average and a 12-6-12 record in the 30 regular-season matches Opara played in 2017. The defender also scored three goals, including spectacular game-winners against Minnesota United FC on June 3 and LA Galaxy on June 24. His stunning bicycle kick in the victory over LA is an AT&T 2017 MLS Goal of the Year nominee.

Opara’s career season resulted in Sporting KC Defensive Player of the Year honors at Pitch Black on Oct. 13. His backline presence throughout the 2017 campaign was colossal as Sporting KC faced the fewest shots in MLS. Among MLS defenders, Opara ranked second with 193 recoveries and seventh with 69 interceptions.

An eight-year MLS veteran, Opara is the fourth Kansas City player to receive MLS Defender of the Year accolades alongside his current manager Vermes (2000), Sporting Legend Jimmy Conrad (2005) and current teammate Matt Besler (2012). Sporting KC is the only team to have four different players selected Defender of the Year in the league’s 22-year history.

Opara’s excellence extended into domestic cup competition, as he started all five matches in Sporting KC’s run to the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title. He scored two game-winning goals in the tournament and contributed to three shutouts, helping Sporting KC to its third Open Cup championship in six seasons and its fourth overall.

Across all competitions, Opara finished the 2017 campaign with five goals and a career-high 36 appearances. Sporting KC posted a 0.72 goals against average and 14 clean sheets in the matches he played.

Opara received nearly 30 percent of the overall vote for Defender of the Year — more than double the total of runner-up Justin Morrow. Besler was fifth in voting after starting 26 matches and assisting a career-high four goals as Opara’s partner in central defense. Current MLS players, club technical staffs and media members also voted on the award.

<p><strong>Ike</strong><strong>Opara</strong><strong> (</strong><strong>SKC</strong><strong>)</strong></p>
<p>Justin Morrow (TOR)</p>
<p>Kendall Waston (VAN)</p>
<p>Leandro González Pírez (ATL)</p>
<p>Matt Besler (SKC)</p>
<p>Joevin Jones (SEA)</p>

MLS Defender of the Year Winners:
2017: Ike Opara – Sporting Kansas City
2016: Matt Hedges – FC Dallas
2015: Laurent Ciman – Montreal Impact
2014: Chad Marshall – Seattle Sounders FC
2013: Jose Goncalves – New England Revolution
2012: Matt Besler – Sporting Kansas City
2011: Omar Gonzalez – LA Galaxy
2010: Jamison Olave – Real Salt Lake
2009: Chad Marshall – Columbus Crew SC
2008: Chad Marshall – Columbus Crew SC
2007: Michael Parkhurst – New England Revolution
2006: Bobby Boswell – D.C. United
2005: Jimmy Conrad – Kansas City Wizards
2004: Robin Fraser – Columbus Crew SC
2003: Carlos Bocanegra – Chicago Fire
2002: Carlos Bocanegra – Chicago Fire
2001: Jeff Agoos – San Jose Earthquakes
2000: Peter Vermes – Kansas City Wizards
1999: Robin Fraser – LA Galaxy
1998: Lubos Kubik – Chicago Fire 
1997: Eddie Pope – D.C. United 
1996: John Doyle – San Jose Earthquakes