Minnesota United’s 2019 MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara is not training with his teammates in Orlando for the upcoming “MLS is Back” tournament because of what he calls a “preexisting condition” that kept him from traveling with the team to Florida on Sunday.
That condition is not coronavirus-related, and doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t join the team later in Orlando. The tournament starts with two games July 8, and the Loons play their first game July 12 against Sporting Kansas City, Opara’s former team.
Opara tweeted about his absence Thursday “before it’s reported elsewhere.”
“I want to let the fans know that I am currently not in Orlando with my teammates,” he wrote. “I am continuing my physical rehabilitation on a preexisting condition that was agreed upon between the league and MNUFC. I’m sad I’m not there with my guys, but will be the biggest fan from home in Minnesota!”
Opara, 31, played 30 games in his first season with the Loons in 2019. He paired with fellow center back Michael Boxall in a defense vastly improved from the season before that also included the additions of defensive midfielder Ozzie Alonso and 2019 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Vito Mannone.
Without Opara available, veteran defender Jose Aja likely will move into that open center-back spot for Group D’s three games of pool play, at least until Brent Kallman serves the final three games of a 10-game league suspension. He served five of those games at last season’s end after he tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance in September. Kallman served two more games when his team started this season with road victories at Portland and San Jose before the pandemic shutdown.
Aja, 27, was signed in February to provide defensive depth after he had previously played in MLS with Orlando City and Vancouver. Kallman, 29, will be eligible to play the tournament’s “knockout” round of 16 teams if the Loons advance from Group D play. Defender/midfielder James Musa, signed from the USL Championship league last winter, might play there in a pinch as well.
Aja showed finishing skills during Minnesota United’s Thursday training, its fourth day of workouts since the team arrived in Orlando.
“I think I can help the team in whatever position I’m needed in,” he said when asked if could play forward, too. “If, at any moment, we’re in need of a forward and [coach Adrian Heath] needs me, I can do work there too. But I prefer the defense.”
Reaching for Reynoso
Minnesota United’s pursuit of Argentinian attacking midfielder Emanuel Reynoso continues in July, five months after the team neared an agreement that would have added him as one of its three allowed designated players.
Argentina television network TyCSports reported negotiations with Reynoso’s Boca Juniors club in Buenos Aires are advanced in a deal in which Minnesota United will pay a $4.7 million transfer fee for 80% of Reynoso’s rights.
The Loons are positioned to add as many as three more players — including possibly two with the designated player slot — this summer before MLS plans to continue its season in the 26 teams’ home markets after the “MLS is Back” final is played Aug. 11. They could create another designated player position by buying down designated player Jan Gregus’ salary. Gregus and 19-year-old midfielder Thomas Chacon are the team’s two designated players now.