LA's Kofi Opare celebrates his goal with Leonardo and Laurent Courtois
USA Today

Rookie Kofi Opare blossoming as a regular starter on the LA Galaxy backline

CARSON, Calif. – Kofi Opare has all the tools to be a top center back – size, strength, speed and smarts – but his sudden ascendence along the LA Galaxy's backline has surprised nearly everybody.

The rookie didn't make his first-team debut until August's International Champions Cup friendlies, hadn't played in a match that mattered until a forceful debut in LA's CONCACAF Champions League win Aug. 20 over Cartaginés, and didn't see time in MLS until stepping in for Omar Gonzalez, who was with the national team, for the Sept. 7 loss to Colorado.

Opare has since emerged as the first-choice partner for Gonzalez, with solid showings as he's started the past five league games, a span in which LA have conceded just two goals and posted three shutouts.

He'll likely get the call again Sunday night at the StubHub Center, when the Galaxy open their Western Conference semifinal series with Real Salt Lake (9 pm ET, ESPN).

“Kofi Opare has done brilliant for us,” Gonzalez said. “At the beginning of the year, you would think this guy might not see the field this year -- some rookies don't see the field, because we have so many good players -- but Kofi just kept on working hard, kept his head down, asking for help, and when he got his opportunity, boy, did he take it.”

Said head coach Bruce Arena: “There are some people, it's too much too soon for them, but he's been able to handle it on a relatively quick turnaround. ... And, obviously, he hasn't indicated in any way that he doesn't belong on the field.”

Opare, who was born in Ghana, raised in South Africa, then lived in New Jersey before moving to Niagara Falls, Ontario, as he started high school, revealed his gifts suddenly once summer arrived and he'd finally gotten past a rash of injuries that had slowed his college career at Michigan and delayed his start with LA.

He saw time in the Galaxy's first seven Reserve League games and absorbed everything Gonzalez and the other defenders taught him in training. He was revelatory in the Cartaginés match and has followed that with solid MLS work.

“The game isn't too fast for him, which is generally a problem for younger defenders ...,” associate head coach Dave Sarachan said. “His pure one-on-one defending and his aerial play, he's done really well. He just seems to have really blossomed.”

Sarachan says Opare has “a brain for” the game, and Gonzalez thinks “he's really easy to coach.”

“He's very open to [instruction] ...,” Gonzalez said. “I don't have to say too much to him, and he does it right away.”

What most impresses is Opare's demeanor. “I'm a cool cat,” he says, joking, but it's true.

“He doesn't get perturbed,” Sarachan said. “He hasn't allowed anyone to get under his skin [and] he doesn't lose focus. He's pretty locked in.”

Opare says it's who he is.

“I'm a pretty relaxed individual, and I try to bring that on the field,” he said. “When things get hectic, it's easy to lose your head, but I know if I want to reach that next level of my game, I need to keep my emotions in check, because that's also a great way of winning the psychological battler over your opponent.”