SANTA CLARA, Calif. – For San Jose Earthquakes center back Ike Opara, 2010 and 2011 ended with a broken left foot. In 2012, Opara is hoping his summer will bring something much more enjoyable: a spot on the United States Olympic men’s soccer team.
Opara took a giant step in that direction Monday, being named to coach Caleb Porter’s 19-man roster for the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament, which will be hosted later this month by the US. The top two finishers from the eight-team field of Under-23 national sides will move on to London’s Olympic draw.
“I think it’s self-explanatory,” Opara said last week of possibly making the Olympic roster. “It’d be a big honor.”
It’d also mark a full turnaround in Opara’s international fortunes. The springy center back was a mainstay of US international youth sides while growing up in North Carolina and turning into an All-American at Wake Forest. He featured in all three group matches for the United States at the 2009 Under-20 World Cup in Egypt.
But a recurring broken bone in the bottom of his left foot meant Opara never got a chance to play for the US Under-23 side until the team’s most recent training camp, which culminated in a friendly against Mexico’s U-23 squad, the Americans’ biggest CONCACAF competition. Opara captained the US in a 2-0 victory on Feb. 29.
Joining that group was less of a sharp transition and more of a smooth reintegration for Opara.
“They’d called a few times, and I was just rehabbing and it wasn’t the smart time to go,” Opara told reporters upon rejoining the Earthquakes last week. “It was good to finally get in there. It was nice because the comfort level was already there, just because of growing up with those guys, and meeting coach Porter in the past. So it wasn’t too foreign. I felt at home, for the most part.”
Now he’ll be away from home for a bit. Opara is slated to miss the Quakes’ next two matches – hosting Houston at AT&T Park on Saturday, then away to Toronto FC on March 24 – and probably will miss a third (March 31 at Seattle) unless the Americans fail to get out of the group stage.
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org