FILE PHOTO: May 4, 2019; Saint Paul, MN, Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota United defender Ike Opara (3) looks on during the second half against Seattle Sounders at Allianz Field. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Minnesota United’s Ike Opara was named the 2019 MLS Defender of the Year, the league announced Thursday.
Opara, who also won the award in 2017, is the fourth player to receive the honor on multiple occasions. Chad Marshall (three times), Carlos Bocanegra (twice) and Robin Fraser (twice) also accomplished the feat.
Adding to Opara’s day was a new deal as The Athletic’s Jeff Rueter reported that Opara and Minnesota United agreed to a new long-term contract.
The 30-year-old Opara claimed 32.64 percent of the final vote to easily outdistance Los Angeles FC’s Walker Zimmerman (16.59) and Atlanta United’s Miles Robinson (16.09) to capture the award. Opara garnered 25.75 percent of the player vote, 27.27 percent of the club vote and 44.88 percent of the media vote.
“I think after the season, I’ll truly be able to evaluate (it),” Opara said. “Initially, being a two-time winner, I think I’m maybe the fourth person to do that. So that’s really cool. To be where I was five years ago, thinking I wasn’t going to play soccer again. … To rattle off the last few years that I’ve done, I’m grateful for a lot of people.”
Opara joined Minnesota prior to the season and helped the club surrender 28 fewer goals than in 2018. He scored three goals and started 29 of 30 games played.
“Couldn’t happen to a better player, in terms of his personality, his professionalism,” coach Adrian Heath said. “(He’s) everything we thought we were getting. We made a lot of inquiries when we were thinking of bringing him into the club. We never heard a negative off of anyone who knows him — teammates, people who have worked with him. He’s been everything and more. People thought we paid a lot for him. I actually thought, at his age, we got him cheap. His performances this year have proved that.”
— Field Level Media