CARSON, Calif. – Kofi Opare isn't much of a goalscorer – not many center backs are – but the LA Galaxy rookie had a premonition he was going to get one Wednesday night.
He did, knocking the ball into the net out of a 68th-minute scramble in Montreal's box to give LA a 1-0 triumph over the visiting Impact and push them to third place in the Western Conference.
And it enabled him to honor a friend.
Opare, who had to spin around to chip the ball past Montreal goalkeeper Evan Bush following a corner kick, celebrated by displaying a T-shirt under his jersey that read “R.I.P. Arif” and pointing to the heavens.
Arif Merani, Opare's friend and neighbor during his high school years in Niagara Falls, Ontario, was struck by a car and killed Monday night while checking on a flat tire as he drove to school in Ottawa after spending the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday with his family, according to news reports.
“I said I was going to honor him by scoring,” said Opare, a rookie whose goal capped another in a line of fine performances in place of injured teammates – Omar Gonzalez, on this occasion. “I said I was going to score and dedicate it to him ... I told people I was going to score my first goal for him. I'm glad that all went to plan, I guess, and we got the three points.”
The Galaxy were the dominant side all evening but had nothing to show for it until Leonardo nodded Juninho's corner kick, Bush leaped to knock it away, Jose Villarreal blasted it back into the goalmouth and it ricocheted into the open near Opare. He turned on it, and the Galaxy were ahead.
“I just happened to be at the right place at the right time,” Opare said. “I just took a touch, and I placed it to the side corner.”
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said it was “not surprising that the goal came off a bit of a scramble, which was likely expected given the circumstances of the game and all.” Neither team had its first-choice lineup, and chances did not come easily. LA took a huge step forward after Robbie Keane came on for the final half-hour, and the Irishman was looking to get his foot to the ball when Opare struck.
“He stole it off me. I told him to never do that again,” Keane joked. “Nah, it was a good finish, actually, because he was facing the wrong way, and he spun his body nicely and got the shot off and scored.”
Opare, who scored six goals in 76 games in four seasons at the University of Michigan, said the three points were most important, and he enjoyed contributing so massively to the victory.
“[It's] true [that defenders don't often score],” he said. “I don't know, I had a feeling something was bound to happen today. I'm just glad I was able to get the goal for Arif and, obviously, for the Galaxy [to get] three points. That's what we need to make a statement.”