With his stock on the rise in MLS, Kofi Opare is looking to get a taste of international competition, and he knows which country he wants to suit up for: Canada.
There’s just one little problem for the 24-year-old D.C. United defender – he isn’t eligible to play for Les Rouges. Not yet, anyway.
“I’m definitely interested in playing for Canada, if I got the opportunity,” Opare told MLSsoccer.com over the phone recently.
The issue, at least at the moment, is that Opare is not yet a Canadian citizen. He was born in Ghana and lived in South Africa and New Jersey before moving to Niagara Falls, Ontario, with his family in 2006. He attended high school there, counting the city as his home base while at the University of Michigan before joining the LA Galaxy in 2013.
Opare has permanent resident status and recently submitted paperwork to Canadian immigration officials in the hopes of acquiring full citizenship, but he said he has no idea what the timeline for that process might be.
“I feel an alliance to Canada, having lived there, and it’s where my family still lives. So there is that connection to Canada,” he said. “That’s why I want to get this [citizenship process] rolling and get this done.”
With another cycle of World Cup qualifying set to begin next month, Canada will need all hands on deck in the years to come, and Opare appears to be peaking at just the right time.
Thrust into a prominent role after an early-season injury to Steve Birnbaum, Opare has started five of eight league games so far for D.C. United, who are in a three-way tie for first in MLS with just six goals allowed this year. He credits the influence of D.C.’s defensive veterans Bobby Boswell and Sean Franklin with helping him succeed thus far.
“I’m just happy to contribute to the team’s success,” said Opare. “Obviously with injuries come opportunities, and I’m just glad to be able to help the team.”
He also wants to help out Canada’s national team – and the interest is mutual. Back in November 2013, during one of his first camps as head coach of Canada, Benito Floro said he had talked with Opare about the possibility of suiting up for Les Rouges.
“I asked him if it was true he wanted to play with us, and he said he wants to,” Floro told reporters at the time. “But these are special situations, because Kofi is not [a Canadian citizen].”
Opare has kept in regular contact with Canadian team officials since then, keeping them apprised of his situation. But even if Opare does obtain his Canadian citizenship in the near future, his FIFA eligibility remains in question.
Under FIFA rules, any player acquiring a new nationality that was not born in that country and does not have a parent or grandparent born in that country must live there for five consecutive years after turning 18.
Opare turned 18 in 2008 and considered Niagara Falls his hometown during his four-year college career at Michigan. He then moved to LA upon signing with the Galaxy in 2013. Would that be enough to qualify for Canada under FIFA’s eligibility guidelines? Opare – who participated in a US Under-20 camp in 2009 – is confident that it would be.
“I haven’t represented another nation on the [senior] men’s level,” said Opare. “So [FIFA eligibility] should not be an issue, from my understanding.”
Opare holds Ghanaian and U.S. citizenship, but his interest remains with the Canadian program – and part of the reason for that is Floro himself.
“You can really see how the team is turning around under [Floro’s] leadership and his staff,” said Opare. “That excites me, and it’s part of the reason I want to be a part of the team.”
Coincidentally, both D.C. United and Canada endured the worst years of their respective histories back in 2013. Opare joined DC during the 2014 season, as they completed a remarkable turnaround to finish the regular season in first-place in the Eastern Conference. Having been through such an experience for his club, he’s now eager to replicate that success on the international stage.
“That’s part of the reason why I want to play for the Canadian national team: to accomplish things which this team has not accomplished in a while,” he said. “We want to improve our rankings, we want to do well at international tournaments such as the Gold Cup, and have a chance to make a World Cup.”
For Canadian fans, who have witnessed a seemingly unending string of players balk at the prospect of representing the national team, Opare’s attitude will no doubt be refreshing. But the unfortunate reality is that his international fate rests in the hands of bureaucrats at the Canadian government and FIFA, with no guarantee that a favorable outcome will ever be reached.
So for now, Opare will remain an observer, watching from the sidelines as Canada seek to head into a huge summer on the right foot.