Opara Embraces Rookie Role
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As if Ike Opara's expectations weren't high enough, the rookie upped the ante after Saturday night's game-winning header in the 82nd minute against Chicago.
Opara's goal gave the Quakes their first road victory against the Fire since 1999 and helped erase any lingering disappointment from San Jose's 3-0 season-opening loss to Real Salt Lake. Fittingly, Earthquakes faithful turned out en masse on message boards, Facebook and Twitter campaigning for Opara's heroics with the previously-presidential slogan, "I Like Ike."
"It's definitely a goal I'm going to cherish for a good time," Opara said following the match. "Bobby (Convey) whipped in a good ball and I lost my man back stick and all I had to do was finish it."
Opara was openly critical of his performance against Real Salt Lake on March 27 and he will tell you that there are still many lessons to be learned before mastering MLS competition. However, for an Earthquakes backline that started two rookies for the first time since 1999 on Saturday, holding a playoff-caliber team like Chicago to one goal on the road while taking three points shouldn't be over-analyzed: It was a quality outing.
Coaches and teammates have taken a liking to the soft-spoken 21-year-old. Despite being perhaps the most highly touted rookie in franchise history, Opara has no qualms carrying bags after practice and laughs off mid-interview pranks.
"I don't try to think about (the expectations) too much," Opara said. "You can't dwell on things like that or your performances can start to sway and one bad performance can lead to another and another. I just try to go out there and get better every day whether that's in practice or in a game."
Modesty aside, anytime a player draws praise like, "…best defender taken in the SuperDraft since Chad Marshall," from prognosticators, they're bound to draw attention. For his part, Opara has been game to the challenge.
The former Wake Forest All-American has plenty of desirable qualities - he's rangy, covering ground with long, loping strides. He has the explosiveness of an NBA Slam Dunk champion, skying over strikers to head away crosses and he's deceivingly strong, hidden on his lanky six-foot-three frame.
Real Salt Lake, Round II
Opara gave himself a barely-passing grade following a 3-0 season-opening loss to Real Salt Lake. On Wednesday, Opara has a chance at redemption when the Quakes host Real Salt Lake in U.S. Open Cup play (BUY TICKETS).
In the team's first meeting, San Jose struggled to hold possession against a talented Real midfield while Javier Morales tallied twice. The Quakes backline is anxious for a second shot at corralling the defending MLS Cup Champions.