Minnesota United spent big to land Ike Opara from Sporting Kansas City, acquiring the veteran center back Monday night in a deal that could be up to $1 million in Targeted Allocation Money.
The initial outlay for the 29-year-old defender is $900,000, and, according to ESPNFC, an additional $100,000 will go Minnesota's way if it makes the playoffs–which is the whole point of the trade. Opara joins Seattle Sounders great Osvaldo Alonso and new Designated Player Jan Gregus as part of Minnesota's roster renovation, with the two MLS stalwarts and Slovakian international strengthening the spine of a team that conceded 71 goals last season. That number would have been enough to set a new league record–breaking Minnesota's inaugural season mark of 70–if not for Orlando City leaking 74 goals of their own.
Simply put, in its third year in the league, Minnesota is looking to finally make its competitive mark. It loosened the pursestrings last season to acquire Darwin Quintero as the club's first DP, and in Alonso and Opara it has acquired two players who, on their day, are among the best at what they do in MLS. The problem is that both will be in their 30s by the time the season begins, and both have an extensive history with injuries. Minnesota, which is opening its new Allianz Field this season and wants to do so with a successful club, is banking on both being fit and in form. If that's the case, and with an extra playoff berth up for grabs in each conference due to the league's new format, there's no reason Minnesota can't challenge for the spot that will cost the club that extra $100,000.
“Going into this offseason we had targeted positions we felt were important to our success moving forward and this is another huge step to us achieving our goals,” Minnesota coach Adrian Heath said in a statement. “We’ve just added a player who has challenged for U.S. Open Cup, Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup virtually every year, he won’t accept anything other than winning. When you added him to the likes of Ozzie Alonso, Jan Gregus, Romain Metanire, and the core group of players returning this year, we’ve set ourselves up to be successful going in to Allianz Field.”
As for Sporting Kansas City, it played its cards smartly, as is to be expected for a Peter Vermes-run club. Opara wanted a raise he simply wasn't going to get in Kansas City, and the club bided its time for the center back market to be set. It was thrown into a bit of disarray–in SKC's favor–when FC Cincinnati paid $300,000 in allocation money and the top spot in the league's allocation order for Nick Hagglund. FCC has been panned for overspending for the Cincinnati native, but that only reset the market for a player like Opara, who won MLS's Defender of the Year award in 2017.
Sporting KC still has Matt Besler patrolling the back line, and it has last summer's signing, Andreu Fontas, on the books for nearly $1 million per year in salary, according to the most recent figures released by the MLS Players Association. Following the signing last month of Hungarian defender Botond Barath, there was a logjam in defense that was't going to result in Opara getting paid what he felt he deserved.
So Vermes and SKC cashed in and now has the funds to strengthen elsewhere, while Minnesota has used its considerable funds on aging players who will add clout to the club's win-now mentality.