Minnesota United added its fourth new starter since last season’s end when it acquired 2017 MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara from Sporting Kansas City in a Monday night trade.
United announced it will send away $900,000 in Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) and as much as $100,000 more in future TAM considerations for the starting center back they’ve been seeking.
Born and raised in Durham, N.C., Opara spent the past six seasons In Kansas City, part of a nine-year MLS career that was sidetracked early by injuries and rich with success these past two seasons.
He had his best season in 2017, when he played 30 games and was named the league’s best defender and to its Best XI group as well. He led a defense that allowed 29 goals that season, eight fewer than any other team.
That’s in comparison to an expansion Minnesota United team that allowed 70 goals in 2017 and 71 last season.
“You can easily say he has been one of the more dominant center backs in the league the last couple years,’’ United sporting director Manny Lagos said.
‘‘He has size, great in the air, great competitor as well. He’s a great locker-room guy. With how we’re trying to build the roster, he really can set the kind of ethos of what we’re trying to do.”
Opara started 31 games in 2018, played 2,773 minutes and was part of a defense that recorded 11 shutouts.
At 6-2, he adds more size to a team that started its off-season makeover by acquiring 6-3 Slovakia national team midfielder Jan Gregus in December.
The Loons further addressed their defense by also acquiring in January defensive midfielder and four-time MLS All Star Ozzie Alonso from Seattle and right back Romain Metanire from France’s top league.
Missing from the playoff its first two MLS season, Minnesota United has invested in those players — and still seek a starting goalkeeper — with its new $250 million Allianz Field opening with an April 13 game against New York City FC.
Lagos, when asked if they paid too steep price with at least the $900,000 in TAM, said:
“I don’t think so. The way we’ve been building the roster these last couple years, this was a roster spot and an amount we had plugged in. Overall, we think it’s a very good deal.”
Opara and Metanire join a back line that already includes Francisco Calvo, Michael Boxall and Brent Kallman.
“We’re just looking to add key pieces that we think will really raise the level of the entire team in the midfield and on the defensive side of the ball,’’ Lagos said.
‘‘We got a guy who’s going to complement our other players really well. He has been a great player in the league and a great leader. He just checked a lot of boxes for what we’re trying to do with this special project here in Minnesota.”
Selected to the U.S. men’s national team in January 2018, Opara played all 90 minutes during a friendly against Bosnia and Herzogvina. He will turn 30 next month.
Unhappy with a four-year contract signed in 2017 that paid him $342,000 last season, Opara asked Sporting Kansas City in December to trade him if it wasn’t willing to pay him more.
In Arizona for its second week of training, United came in with offers that satisfied Sporting Kansas City, with the March 2 season opener at Vancouver approaching.