Sporting Kansas City defender Ike Opara thought an ankle injury that cost him the past week of practice was finally showing improvement — enough that he hoped to rejoin the club over the next few days. As a precaution before he returned to the field, though, the training staff suggested he undergo a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
The news wasn’t good.
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Opara will miss the remainder of the season with a chondral defect in his right ankle, an injury that will require surgery next week.
“It for sure caught me off guard,” Opara said. “It’s unfortunate, but there’s not much I can do about it other than move forward and stay positive.”
Opara suffered the injury on March 29 during the club’s 3-2 victory in Colorado, when his leg collided with Rapids defender Jared Watts. Opara was actually whistled for a handball on the play, leading to a Rapids penalty kick.
Opara was carried off the field and subsequently missed Saturday’s match against Real Salt Lake, but he expected the injury to sideline him no longer than a month. Instead, the MRI showed damage to the cartilage in his right ankle joint.
His surgery is scheduled for Wednesday.
“It’s a very serious injury in our sport,” SKC coach Peter Vermes said. “... It’s in a place where it’s going to take him awhile to come back, and it’s a situation where he could have some lasting issues over the years. I just hope that it gets done right, and he comes back from his recovery well. It’s not going to be an easy injury to come back from.”
It makes for particularly poor timing for the club, as well.
Opara, 25, is the top backup option for central defenders Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin. He has made 30 appearances across all competitions for Sporting KC since the team acquired him prior to last season.
More opportunities were coming.
If Besler is called up to the United States men’s national team for this summer’s FIFA World Cup — as it’s expected he will be — he could miss up to six weeks of MLS action.
“Ike’s an important guy for us,” Besler said. “He’s been the guy, for the last year or two, (where his job) has been to fill in. He’s done an unbelievable job at that. Every time he’s been called on, he’s stepped in and performed extremely well. He was starting to make a name for himself and make a mark. It’s really disappointing for him, but the rest of the guys are just as disappointed.”
The absence leaves Lawrence Olum and 16-year-old Erik Palmer-Brown as the top backups at central defender. Palmer-Brown, who attends O’Hara High School, has never seen MLS action.
“Erik’s going to have to be a part of it,” Vermes said. “He’s going to have to step up a little quicker.”
Sapong on the mend
Sporting KC forward C.J. Sapong remains absent from training as he works his way back from a lingering neck and back injury.
“He’s definitely getting better, but he’s not ready to enter training or anything like that,” Vermes said.
Vermes said Sapong is likely dealing with the carryover of an injury he suffered late last season.