CARSON, Calif.—Ike Opara has a handful of goals in his MLS career, but his bicycle kick goal for Sporting Kansas City against the LA Galaxy has him in an unfamiliar position -- a shoo-in AT&T Goal of the Week candidate.
Not that the goal was all that surprising to those who seem him at practice every day. For manager Peter Vermes, the most impressive thing wasn't Opara's athleticism, but the center back's quick decision-making.
“Ike’s a really athletic guy,” Vermes said, after Opara's goal helped Sporting win 2-1 and widen their lead to five points atop the Western Conference. “The fact that he was able to pull that off doesn’t surprise me. It was a very heads-up play because there were a lot of things you could have thought about - he didn’t know if the goalkeeper was coming, where he was, all those things. Just a really heads-up and athletic play from him.”
The play involved a number of split-second decisions, each of which could have gone quite differently. Graham Zusi played a long ball from midfield that Galaxy defender Jelle Van Damme cleared at the top of the penalty area. The clearance fell to Matt Besler, who chose to chip it back into the same space rather than play the easy ball to Benny Feilhaber.
When Opara broke free of the Galaxy back line, he had to keep Galaxy goalkeeper Clement Diop in his peripheral vision. When he saw the Galaxy keeper come up to try and make a play on the ball, Opara knew he had to act fast.
“Decent ball from [Besler] to create some havoc and I just wanted to time it," he said. "I didn’t think I was going to be able to get power with my head, so I just got a little balance and attempted it, and it went in.
“I guess at the moment I’m only scoring crazy goals.”
Opara had to run onto the ball and twist his body to get into position to get the bicycle kick off before Diop got there. But as his coach confirmed, he knew he had the skill to pull it off.
“I’m pretty flexible and athletic so that’s not out of the norm for me," Opara said. "I’m able to do some weird things with my body.”