I Like Ike

(The "other" Ike played football, not soccer, at West Point

Major League Soccer announced today that Sporting Kansas City defender Ike Opara has been named the 2017 MLS Defender of the Year.

The 28-year-old American had a breakout year, leading a Sporting defense that conceded a league-low 29 goals, the fewest allowed in a single MLS regular season since 2012. Anchored by Opara’s stellar defensive play, SKC captured its fourth Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title, tied for the most of any MLS team in the tournament’s history.

With Opara in the lineup, Sporting recorded an impressive 12-6-12 record, giving up 23 goals in his 30 games played, an average of 0.77 goals allowed per game. In matches without Opara in the lineup, SKC compiled a 0-3-1 record and conceded six goals in four matches for a mark of 1.5 goals allowed per game. Further demonstrating his importance to the club, Sporting recorded all 11 of their shutouts this season with Opara in the starting lineup, with their 29 goals allowed eight fewer than the next closest team.

After missing much of the past two-plus seasons due to injury, Opara registered career highs during his 2017 campaign in games played (30), games started (30) and minutes played (2,700). Opara also equaled a career high with three goals in regular season play, tied for the second most scores among defenders in MLS this season. SKC has made the postseason in each of Opara’s five seasons with the club, finishing 2017 ranked fifth in the Western Conference with 49 points (12-9-13 overall record). The club posted a dominant 10-1-6 home record this season, with its 24-game unbeaten mark at Children’s Mercy Park from June 2016 to September 2017 ranking as the third-longest home unbeaten streak in MLS history.

The U.S. Open Cup victory was Opara’s third major trophy with Sporting, previously winning the 2013 MLS Cup in his first season with SKC followed by the 2015 U.S. Open Cup title. Opara started all five matches in U.S. Open Cup play this season, helping Sporting to post shutouts in the first three games. In addition to his standout defensive play, the 6-foot-2 defender scored two goals for the club in the tournament.

Taken by San Jose with the No. 3 overall selection in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft, the Generation adidas signing was twice named ACC Defensive Player of the Year while at Wake Forest University.

The award was voted on by MLS club technical staff, media, and MLS players. Below is a breakdown of the voting results:

Defender of the Year Player Vote % Media Vote % Club Vote % Average %
Ike Opara (SKC) 31.42% 39.88% 14.29% 28.53%
Justin Morrow (TOR) 13.79% 15.77% 11.90% 13.82%
Kendall Waston (VAN) 10.73% 9.23% 15.48% 11.81%
Leandro González Pírez (ATL) 5.36% 10.71% 16.67% 10.91%
Matt Besler (SKC) 2.68% 7.44% 4.76% 4.96%
Joevin Jones (SEA) 2.68% 1.19% 9.52% 4.46%

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
2008: Chad Marshall – Columbus Crew
2007: Michael Parkhurst – New England Revolution
2006: Bobby Boswell – D.C. United
2005: Jimmy Conrad – Kansas City Wizards
2004: Robin Fraser – Columbus Crew
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 – Los Angeles Galaxy
1998: Lubos Kubik – Chicago Fire
1997: Eddie Pope – D.C. United
1996: John Doyle – San Jose Earthquakes