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D.C. United season review: Kofi Opare

United's first center back off the bench might not have such a solid hold on that spot

At the end of the 2015 season, Kofi Opare was in prime position to assume a higher role within D.C. United’s central defense next to Steve Birnbaum. Whispers in the organization in the days leading up to the 2016 MLS SuperDraft were that the Black-and-Red were strongly considering drafting a center back to back up an anticipated Birnbapare pairing, with Bobby Boswell serving a Pai Mei-type off the bench as an option/teacher for three center backs, the oldest of whom is Opare, who turned 26 in October. Who could blame them? Opare started half of D.C.’s games in 2015, even scoring a goal, knocking on the door for more regular minutes.

However, Opare’s underperformance in 2016 may have been the most startling on the team. He went from 18 appearances in 2015 to 10 (all starts) in 2016, partly due to a concussion, but his form was also notable for the wrong reasons. He doubled his yellow card total (2 to 2015’s 1) and earning the first two red cards of his MLS career, in quick succession over the course of 3 starts in May/June/July.

Statistically his form was even more disappointing; his pass completion percentage of 77%, while nothing to sneeze at for DCU center backs, was a dip from a career where he completed 81-85%, and his 2 aerial duels won per game was almost half that for a player who regularly won 3-3.5 per game. Along with those regressions, you can add tackles per game (.9, from 1.5-2 per in prior seasons) and fouls per game (1.7, up from 1 per) and a drop in interceptions. Since signing a contract extension in September 2015, Opare has appeared in 13 games. Of those, 5 have been losses where the team has given up 3 or more goals. Given that the team has given up 3 or more 7 times total over that same span, Opare’s presence in back may be a cause of concern.

There’s no reason to wash one’s hands of Opare yet; at $90,000 base/$105,000 guaranteed compensation, combined with his age and athleticism (and most of his 2015 campaign), there has to be some expectation that Opare will progress to a mean and be a more reliable option in defense. But still, this is why we have goats and foxes: