Minnesota United veteran defender Ike Opara left Earthquakes Stadium on Saturday night with two goals scored in a 5-2 victory over San Jose and a souvenir: former teammate Chris Wondolowski’s game jersey, even after Opara’s second goal came right over Wondolowski’s for the Loons’ fifth goal.
Opara said he told his buddy and MLS’ all-time leading goal scorer before the game, “I’m going to take it easy on you. I’m not going to even go near post.”
Then teammate Jan Gregus sent another set-piece kick from a left corner in Opara’s direction with good pace, and the two-time MLS Defender of the Year just couldn’t help himself.
“Poor thing came right to me and I’m thinking, ‘I’m sorry, but had to go win it,’ ” Opara said. “I’m sure I’m going to get some hate in this text from him and deservedly so.”
Opara played a part in three of his team’s five goals: He scored the game’s first goal in the 13th minute on a running header that converted Gregus’ corner kick at the near post.
He then was hauled down on another corner kick in first-half stoppage time that drew a penalty kick. Striker Luis Amarilla was stopped, but Robin Lod buried the rebound for a 4-1 halftime lead.
“When you’ve got size and people who can attack the ball and you put quality in the box, you’ll score goals, which is what we did this evening,” Loons coach Adrian Heath said.
Opara played three seasons at the start of his career with Wondolowski, 37, in San Jose and exchanged jerseys after the game with the man who has scored 159 MLS career goals. Wondolowski will retire after this season.
“It’s memory lane,” Opara said. “It’s wild. It seems so long ago that we were teammates. We’ve had a lot of battles over the years. He had the greatest underdog story in MLS history, no doubt about it. To see what he has done and be on the field with the guy who has earned every single bit of respect, it’s special. I’m glad I was his teammate and I’m glad I finally got his jersey.”
Molino’s hamstring strain
A week after he scored two goals in a 3-1 season-opening victory at Portland, veteran midfielder Kevin Molino’s bending centering pass created Amarilla’s first-half header for a 2-1 lead the Loons never lost.
Molino left the game in the 42nd minute with what Heath later called a “slight” hamstring strain.
“He could just feel it,” Heath said. “… We’ll probably get a better idea in the next 48 hours.”
The Loons have started 2-0, as they did last season, by winning at Vancouver and San Jose. This time, they head home for four consecutive games at Allianz Field starting with Sunday’s home opener against New York Red Bulls. They do so after they outscored the opposition 8-3.
“It doesn’t surprise me, the start we’ve had,” Heath said. “Maybe didn’t think we’d score eight goals in two away games. But I knew we’d be competitive and we will be all season. … I feel we have a strong group. The chemistry we have is as good as anywhere I’ve been since I’ve been in America. They’re a great group to coach.”
First goal for Lod
Lod’s goal was his first after many chances in 12 MLS games since he joined the Loons last summer.
“It’s a relieving one, for sure,” he said. “I’ve been waiting so long for that moment, so I’m happy to get it done and I hope it’s the first of many.”
Loons midfielder Hassani Dotson was named to the U.S. men’s Under-23 team’s 20-man roster that begins Olympic qualifying play March 20 against Costa Rica in Mexico. Striker Mason Toye wasn’t one of five forwards chosen from the 50-man roster.