April 7, 2011 TFC--Ike Inching Closer To Stardom (from TorontoFC.ca)

Ike Inching Closer To Stardom
Asif Hossain
April 7, 2011

Toronto FC players and coaches traveled to California early Thursday morning for Saturday night’s clash against San Jose Earthquakes (GOL TV Canada, 10:30 p.m. ET).

The Santa Clara based Quakes have a near identical record to Toronto with four points from three matches – but holding a slightly better goal advantage in these early days of the 2011 Major League Soccer season.

In their previous outing San Jose conceded a pair to goal starved (and winless) Seattle Sounders FC in a 2-2 draw at home. This has caused an acute panic among the Quakes faithful and more than a few calls for Ike Opara to start at the back, breaking up the reliable central pairing of Brandon McDonald and Jason Hernandez.

Local MLS expert Chris Reiko agrees.

“San Jose prides itself on the defensive aspect of the game. Their formation is very strong,” said Reiko over the phone from the Bay Area. “But (near the) end of the Seattle game, Frank Yallop sent in Ike Opara.”

Yallop – San Jose’s head coach and a former Canadian international – substituted fullback Chris Leitch out in favour of Opara at the 70th minute. Four minutes into his introduction the former U.S. U20 defender nearly headed in the go-ahead goal.

Reiko believes Opara is “one of the most talented young defenders in the league” and that against Toronto, “Ike will likely start.”

Opara was selected third overall in the talent-rich 2010 MLS SuperDraft. Picked one place ahead of this can’t-miss defender was new Toronto midfielder Tony Tchani. Saturday could be a contest between the number two and three picks of the 2010 SuperDraft – a boon for those who value building a club through young, talented athletes.

Whether Opara starts against Toronto or not, his future seems bright in any case. At 22, he has the rare luxury of athletic gifts combined with a place on a strong squad. This will give him time to sharpen his technical skills in a position that’s demanding greater versatility as the North American game evolves.

Chris Reiko covers San Jose Earthquakes and MLS for English and Polish speaking audiences via print and radio. His English articles can be found on soccerchris.com – which is described as an ‘experimental test.’ Reiko covered 2010 MLS Cup Final from BMO Field in Toronto for multiple European sources.

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