Ike Opara’s first selection to the U.S. Men’s National Team could have come six years sooner.
The 6-foot-2 center back received a call to January Camp in 2011, but as they so often did during the early stages of his playing career, injuries got in the way.
A foot ailment prevented Opara from joining a Bob Bradley-coached U.S. MNT, and for the longest time the defender thought the door had shut on his international career. Opara had previously represented his country at the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup and in 2012 Olympic Qualifying at the U-23 level. But it didn’t take long for his hopes of a sustained international career to dissipate.
Fast-forward more than half a decade, however, and Opara’s remarkable redemption story continues. After missing most of 2014 and 2015 with serious injuries, he has unleashed his potential as a dominant defender for Major League Soccer’s best backline. And after landing 2017 MLS Defender of the Year honors, Opara was named to the national team this month.
“I had been with youth national teams and I was hoping to keep progressing,” Opara said last week at U.S. MNT training in Carson, California. “I think some obstacles got in the way of that, so it kind of left my radar — left my mind for a little while.
“I wouldn’t have hope for it to take this long, but I’m just honored to be here and happy to get the opportunity.”
Admittedly, Opara’s inclusion on the national team comes during a transitory time for U.S. Soccer. With no competitive tournaments to prepare for in 2018, there is a firm focus on building a youthful core to lay the foundations for a successful decade ahead.
At 28 years old, Opara is one of the older members on interim head coach Dave Sarachan’s squad. But that won’t dash his ambitions of becoming a U.S. MNT regular long into the future.
“There’s a lot of talent and the future is bright for this group,” Opara said. “We’re trying to develop a new core and get the U.S. back to where we’re supposed to be. If you keep playing well, there’s always an opportunity for the national team regardless of age.”
With a few weeks of training under his belt, Opara could be on the precipice of a highly anticipated national team debut. The Americans host Bosnia and Herzegovina next Sunday at StubHub Center in a match that will air live at 8:30 p.m. CT on FS1 and UniMas. It’s a position he never dreamed of being in just a few seasons ago.
“For me it would come full circle just with all the things that I’ve been through, and to get a cap would be very rewarding for what I’ve done the last few years,” Opara said. “Anyone who has followed my career or had any hardships can maybe look at me for inspiration to never give up.”