Minnesota United’s defensive duo — MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Vito Mannone and MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara — received more acclaim on Monday when they were named to the league’s Best XI.
That’s MLS’s version of All NBA or All NFL for the league’s very best 11 players.
Mannone and Opara join the league’s biggest stars, including L.A. Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, LAFC’s Carlos Vela and Atlanta’s Josef Martinez.
Seven MLS teams are represented in the Best XI. All seven qualified for the MLS Cup playoffs.
Seven Best XI players are first-time selections. Opara, Ibrahimovic and Vela made it for the second time and Martinez was named for a third time.
The 11 players were chosen in voting by media, MLS players and MLS club technical staff.
Opara, 30, is one of three defenders named to the team. It follows his Defender of the Year awards in 2017 and 2019. All that recognition comes after his career was nearly ended by injuries in 2014 and 2015, when he played just nine games those two seasons.
“To be where I was five years ago, thinking I wasn’t going to play soccer again and to rattle off the last few years what I’ve done, I’m grateful for a lot of people,” Opara said in the days before United’s first-round playoff loss to the L.A. Galaxy. “Trainers, doctors, friends, family, staff, teammates, the list goes on and on. Former organizations, current organizations. I mean, really it’s awesome to sit here and be rewarded for the hard work.”
Opara agreed to a multi-year contract extension during the season.
Mannone, acquired on loan for this past season from Reading FC in England’s second division, is headed home to Italy to contemplate his future. United would have to buy his rights from Reading for him to return next season.
United coach Adrian Heath said late in the season he would like Mannone to remain with the Loons for the coming seasons, and Mannone said he had a “nice chat” with club management about such a possibility last week.
Here’s the 11:
Goalkeeper: Vito Mannone, Minnesota United.
Defenders: Ike Opara, Minnesota United; Miles Robinson, Atlanta United; Walker Zimmerman, LAFC.
Midfielders: Eduard Atuesta, LAFC; Carles Gil, New England Revolution; Maxi Moralez, New York City FC; Alejandro Pozuelo, Toronto FC.
Forwards: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, L.A. Galaxy; Josef Martinez, Atlanta United; Carlos Vela, LAFC.