On Monday night, the future of center back Ike Opara was settled after more than a month of speculation. Sporting Kansas City dealt the 2017 MLS Defender of the Year to Minnesota United for $900,000 in allocation money, which could rise a further $100,000 if incentives are met.
SKC head coach Peter Vermes did not mince words when addressing the circumstances surrounding the trade, after it leaked in December that Opara asked the club to consider trade offers if they didn't want to sign him to a contract extension.
“To be honest, I was disappointed in the way that the situation was dealt with from he and his agent," Vermes said on a media conference call Tuesday. "We had a discussion late in November and this topic was brought up, and he never asked to be traded to another team. He wanted to finish his career in Kansas City. I made it clear to him that we had no interest in trading him. I explained to him that we had a plan, that was already created, prior to the 2018 season, that was looking towards 2019 and 2020. ... It became an issue in the public which is not something we do at the club. Maybe other clubs do, but it’s not something we do here.”
Vermes defended his club's stance and track record with players. Toward the end of the club's 2018 season, SKC re-signed a quartet of veterans — Matt Besler, Roger Espinoza, Graham Zusi and Ilie Sanchez — to new, multiyear deals.
He also elaborated on Opara's contract history with SKC after the club acquired him ahead of the 2013 season.
“When we got Ike in 2013, we did a new deal with him," Vermes explained. "It was a four-year deal. Within that time, he had two season-ending injuries. … At the end of that contract, we did a new contract for the beginning of the ’17 season. He became Defender of the Year. At the end of the season, we did another new contract with him. Over the years, we have a very strong demonstrated performance of rewarding players for doing well in our club, and a lot of times, breaking open their contracts way before they’re ending. This was a very unique situation, less than a year ago he signed a contract and was already coming in asking for a new one.”
Despite adding Andreu Fontas last August and Botond Barath earlier this offseason as center back options, Vermes planned for 2019 with Opara on the roster. The acquisition of Barath was long identified before Opara approached the club, he said.
“We were already going after another right-footed central defender, that’s how we got Botond," Vermes said. "Coincidentally, that’s when Ike came in and made his ask. But (Botond) was already in the works prior to that, so we were already ahead of the game I guess. It was not part of the plan to move Ike at this time.
Now, Vermes will likely lean predominantly on Besler, Fontas and Barath in central defense for 2019. It's a scenario he's content with.
“I feel comfortable with the guys we have," Vermes said. "But I always say this, I don’t think a roster is ever completed. It’s a living, breathing group of players. All kinds of things change within a team. … We’re constantly looking to improve our roster, but I’m confident in the group of guys we have. I felt more comfortable with Ike being part of that, but the fact that he’s not here doesn’t change the way we’re going about getting ready for this upcoming season.”