For the second consecutive year, Sporting Kansas City center back Ike Opara's MLS season will likely end in March after an ankle injury. The club announced on Monday that Opara suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in the team's 0-0 draw against Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
The club gave no timetable for Opara's return, but the team need only look elsewhere along the backline for indication that his 2015 season is almost certainly over. Defender Chance Myers suffered the same injury in May of 2014, and has only recently returned to training with the team.
The injury comes as especially tough news to Opara and Sporting Kansas City considering how well Opara was playing in his return from another serious ankle injury that occurred at a near-identical time last season. In that case, Opara was found to have a chondral defect in his right ankle, the opposite of the one he injured against Salt Lake.
That injury kept him out for the remainder of the 2014 season, but he had been taking 2015 by storm since his return. Through six games, Opara led his team with two goals while also excelling as Matt Besler's partner in central defense. Through the first six weeks of the season, Opara earned Team Of The Week three times from the league. Al around, not an easy player to replace.
Sporting KC has multiple options to take Opara's place on the backline, but each present with notable drawbacks. Kansas City native Kevin Ellis has played there in the past and came on in place of Opara after the injury, but he doesn't pose the same kind of threat from set pieces. Jalil Anibaba could also slot in to that spot but the former Seattle Sounders defender has established himself at right back to start the season (though the eventual return of Myers, who normally starts at right back for KC, could alter that calculus). Lastly, there's Homegrown Player Erik Palmer-Brown, the 17-year-old Juventus target. Palmer-Brown played in three matches last season for Sporting, but may not be ready for consistent first-team minutes at such a young age.
Whatever the solution, Sporting will need to figure it out quickly. The team travels to Los Angeles to take on the defending MLS Cup champion Galaxy on Saturday.