Wiebe: Why the Ike Opara trade makes sense for everyone involved

Boring Monday night, huh?

Nothing like a blockbuster trade to get the MLS news cycle rolling. In case you missed it — shout out to The Kansas City Star's Sam McDowell, who first reported the move — here are the basics:

Now here’s some context for each of the three parties involved.

Ike Opara

Opara, right, and center back partner Matt Besler have been broken apart after being among the MLS' most consistent CB pairings the past two seasons | USA Today Images

The deal went down on Monday night, but it’s been a slow build to get to this point.

Here’s a quick timeline for you: Try to put yourself in Opara’s shoes.

  • Nov. 2017 – Opara wins 2017 MLS Defender of the Year

  • Jan. 2018 – Opara signs contract extension with Sporting KC ($342,000 guaranteed compensation, according to MLS Players Association)

  • Aug. 2018 – Sporting KC sign CB Andreu Fontas via TAM ($999,999.96, guaranteed compensation, according to MLS Players Association)

  • Nov. 2018 – Opara starts all but one game following Fontas signing, including playoffs

  • Dec. 2018 – Opara asks Sporting KC to consider trade offers per an ESPN report

  • Jan. 2019 – Opara traded to Minnesota United

If Sporting KC doesn’t sign Fontas for the number they did – per the MLSPA, the Spaniard was the third highest-paid defender in the league in 2018 – maybe Opara never goes public with his request. Maybe we never get to this point.

But Sporting did, and you can’t blame Opara and his representation for looking at his compensation (46th among MLS defenders in 2018, per MLSPA) and deciding it didn’t match his ability, performance or profile.

He turns 30 in February. His fiancée has family in Minnesota. He could be one of the faces of a new era of Minnesota soccer. What would you do? I’d be trying to get paid while I still had leverage. I’d want to be at a club that valued me on the field and on the cap.

Opara got his move – for a massive chunk of allocation that proves just how much the Loons wanted him – and now comes the next step: a new contract. My understanding is that there’s no deal in place at the moment, but it's on the agenda. Does that mean TAM? That's TBD.

Verdict: Win

Sporting Kansas City

That’s what I tweeted after the trade became official on Monday night. Let me explain, first with a little background.

Peter Vermes traded for Opara after the 2012 season, sending a second-round SuperDraft pick to San Jose for a center back who had never hit the 1,000-minute mark as a pro. Opara helped Sporting get to MLS Cup in 2013, lost the 2014 and 2015 seasons to a broken ankle and a ruptured Achilles and then came back to help anchor arguably the league’s best backline.

OK, back to the poker analogy.

Vermes sat down at the table in Dec. 2012 with a second-round pick that turned out to be Dan Delgado, who never played a minute in MLS. Six years later, he is walking away with close to a million in TAM, a three-deep depth chart at center back and a couple trophies. Vermes turned an asset he didn’t need or want into a big ol’ pile of chips.

He also didn’t blink when the ESPN report came out in December. He didn’t blink when the first trade offers trickled in. He was patient. He knew Minnesota United needed a center back. He used the trade of Nick Hagglund trade to put pressure on the Loons to up their offer. Eventually, Vermes got what he wanted. Don’t play poker with Peter Vermes.

Would it have been nice to keep Opara around for another Concacaf Champions League and MLS Cup run on a very friendly cap hit? Absolutely, but Vermes has shown repeatedly that he has a good feel for when to move on from a player. When Opara and his camp upped the ante publicly, Vermes flipped him while his value was sky high, netting an MLS-record trade figure for a defender.

In the end, Sporting KC did right by Opara, but did so because their own interests were also met. Now, about that No. 9

Verdict: Win

Minnesota United FC

What does a team that gave up an more than 70 goals in back-to-back years need? A proven central defender.

What can’t a team that’s opening a new stadium with hopes of making the playoffs for the first time afford? Another Vadim Demidov.

Once Opara's contract impasse went public, Minnesota sporting director Manny Lagos had no choice but to pick up the phone. Sporting KC knew how much they needed Opara, and the price tag reflects that. Here’s the Armchair Analyst’s take.

I don’t think desperation is too strong a word given the need and fact that Allianz Field opens in a couple months. And while it could be characterized as an overpay given Opara's age compared to other similar deals – Tim Parker and Walker Zimmerman, in particular – it’s not outlandish business by the Loons. They may have traded almost a year’s worth of TAM ($1.2M), but they banked close to $1 million from the Christian Ramirez trade last year and can dip into discretionary TAM if necessary.

It’s a lot of allocation money for a player who is almost 30, but if Minnesota get 2017 and 2018 Opara for a couple years, nobody will bat an eye at the cost. They’re in win-now mode (Ozzie Alonso, Darwin Quintero, Angelo Rodriguez etc), and the hole at center back is filled.

Verdict: Win

If you’re counting, that’s a win for everyone involved. That’s how trades get done. Here’s hoping there are a few more in the pipeline as preseason rolls on.

Series: 
Topics: 

Stay connected: Sign up for The Daily Kickoff, your daily dose of North American soccer news, analysis, and commentary direct to your inbox.