Sports News of Tue, 29 Aug 20175
Ghanaian defender Kofi Opare growing steadily in MLS
Now in his fifth season in Major League Soccer, defender Kofi Opare has gone from raw talent to an established, prominent figure in the Black-and-Red backline.
The 26-year-old has proven to be a reliable and pragmatic defender with the vision to read attacking threats while providing United with an aerial target on set pieces.
Opare has worked his way to the forefront of the starting XI by showing signs of progression each time he steps on the field for head coach Ben Olsen. After not featuring in the first five matches this season, Opare has appeared in all but two since April 8 (19 of 21).
“We’re looking for guys like Kofi [Opare] and younger guys to progress each year, get better and ultimately win starting spots. Kofi is an example of that,” Olsen said. “He’s a good defender and he’s good on set pieces. I think he has an understanding of the league now and how to go against some of the dynamic attacking players in MLS.”
The former Michigan Wolverine’s innate ability to quell dangerous opportunities for the opposition with well-timed and instinctive tackles has helped United time and again in the defensive third. This year, Opare leads the team with 16 blocked shots and duels won percentage. At 6’2 and 190 pounds, the defender’s imposing stature and athleticism also make it a difficult task for opposition to compete with him in the air. All season long, as soon as a ball is launched into the penalty area, chances are it lands on Opare’s forehead.
The 24th pick in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft is accompanied by USMNT players Steve Birnbaum and Bill Hamid in the heart of the Black-and-Red defense. Being surrounded by the two talented players has given Opare the resources necessary for sharpening his own craft. Birnbaum is another aerially gifted center back and as they play more matches together, fans can look forward to the two players forging a strong partnership in the backline.
“As Steve [Birnbaum] and I continue to play more games together we’re starting to understand each other’s tendencies and style of play,” Opare said. “He’s another vocal leader back there who helps simplify my game.”
United veteran Bill Hamid is renowned for pulling off remarkable saves, but the goalkeeper’s attention to vocal instruction also helps keep Opare and Birnbaum organized in the backline.
“Communication is key and with Bill [Hamid] behind me you can always hear his voice,” Opare said. “His instruction helps keep me and everyone else on the field alert to what’s happening in front of us.”
The center back also provides the team with another attacking dimension with his aerial ability on set pieces. His aptitude in the air is supported by the fact that he is second in the league for headed shots (20) behind the U.S. Men’s National Team’s all-time leading scorer, Clint Dempsey (23). In 2017, Opare has shown the entire league what he’s capable of on set pieces, and it comes down to his mindset and hunger to win the ball.
“My mindset is to be determined to go up and win the ball before anyone else on the field does,” Opare said. “I’m one of the taller ones on the field so that always plays to my advantage. More than anything, I’m determined to get to that first ball and either get the ball on frame or knock the ball down to a teammate.”
Only 26, Opare still has his best years in front of him, and the coaching staff and fans can look forward to his continued maturation as a player.
“The important thing for Kofi now is to take this spot and continue to develop into a good center back in this league,” Olsen said.
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