Throughout much of his D.C. United career, which began in 2014, Kofi Opare has been primarily viewed as a backup by Head Coach Ben Olsen. Even in 2017, when Opare played in a career high 26 MLS games, his inclusion only came after the experiment of Sean Franklin as a center back did not work out well. So even after Opare was named United’s Defensive MVP in a disappointing 2017, United went out in the offseason, and brought in Frederic Brillant to compete for a center back spot.
Brillant won the battle between the veteran MLS center backs, lining up alongside Steven Birnbaum as the Black-and-Red began life in 2018 on the road. Opare’s only appearance early in the season came on April 14th, when a ten-man United was holding on to a 1-0 lead against the Columbus Crew in Annapolis.
Injuries then robbed Opare even of his spot on the bench, as a ankle and knee injury forced the Ghanaian-born defender to miss games in June and July. However, once he got back to full fitness, Olsen gambled on inserting Opare into the lineup on July 28th, when the Black-and-Red beat a physical Colorado Rapids side 2-1 at Audi Field. Olsen initially said that Opare was in the lineup for that game for his ability to defend set pieces, given the Rapids height in several positions, but the former LA Galaxy defender would keep his spot for the next nine games as well.
The pairing of Opare and Birnbaum, along with the return of Bill Hamid, seemed to turn around United’s fortunes defensively. They had not been great at keeping the ball out of their goal in the first half of the season, but seemed to be better with Opare in the lineup, at home. United only kept one shutout in his 10 starts, the 2-0 decision against New England Revolution. But gone were the glaring mistakes that cost United game after game.
Opare was removed after 58 minutes against Minnesota United, a game in which the Black-and-Red scored twice after Opare’s removal for a come from behind win. Removed due to an injury concern, Opare would never see the field again in 2018. He made the bench once more, against FC Dallas on October 13th. But after that, the team decided that Opare needed surgery to repair a tendon in his foot. Olsen said that the timetable for a return would be 4 to 5 months, a lengthy spell on the sideline for a player who seemed to be excelling as a starter.
United decided not to pick up Opare’s option for the 2019 season, after he had a base salary of nearly $120,000 in 2018. With Birnbaum, Brillant, and Jalen Robinson the only center back options on the team currently, United will have to bring in another center back. Whether or not that is Opare remains to be seen. There hasn’t been much talk of whether United will re-sign him, or look elsewhere to find someone to push Brillant for a starting spot.
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