With the U23 men’s national team camp dwindling toward its final days in Frisco, Texas, Ike Opara and the rest of the squad look forward to Wednesday’s friendly against Mexico at FC Dallas Stadium.
“We are antsy for that game,” Opara told TopDrawerSoccer.com over the phone on Monday. “Hopefully, we come out prepared and ready to work.”
This is Opara’s first camp with the U23s. After dealing with a rash of injuries in his first two professional seasons, Opara sounds relieved to be back in the fold in the national team program.
“Obviously with my injury issue over the last year and a half, it is getting the rhythm back,” said Opara. “I came into preseason with San Jose reasonably fit and now I am feeling good.”
He was also a commanding force in college where he collected the ACC Defender of the Year honors in 2008 and 2009 with Wake Forest. With that impressive resume, San Jose Earthquakes selected him with the third overall pick in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft.
But after two seasons in MLS, the defender has only made 19 appearances due to a broken foot in his rookie season.
Opara said he physically feels great now and is pleased to be in consideration for a spot on the Olympic Qualifying team.
“It was a breath of fresh air [to get called into this camp],” said Opara, who had been in preseason camp with San Jose prior to the call-up. “For me, the camp has gone well and I am pleased with my performance.”
This has also been the first opportunity for Opara to fit in with head coach Caleb Porter’s 4-3-3 system and possession-heavy style of play.
“It is a very, very good system to play in,” said Opara. “For a new guy like myself, it has been easy to jump in thanks to the coaches and the guys continuity.”
This is the third camp for this age group since Porter took charge of the team in late 2011. The coach continues to whittle down the roster to 20 players before qualifying starts on March 22.
“Each day in practice, he comes up with another suggestion about what he wants to see differently,” said Opara about the instructions from Porter. “At the same time though, we do a good job as a team in defending, and that helps the back line along with everybody on the field.”
So far, Opara has started both games from this camp at center back alongside Zarek Valentin. The two have combined to hold San Antonio Scorpions, an NASL team, and FC Dallas to one goal in a pair of victories.
“We have gotten good results so far and hopefully that will continue versus Mexico,” said Opara about the two scrimmages against professional teams.
The former Demon Deacon star was also positive about how the defense has played in those games.
“We have gelled well in camp,” said Opara. “Most of all, we are very good at communicating. If we aren’t on the same page, we work to figure it out.”
Opara is hoping all the hard work in practice will come to fruition in the final game from this camp.
“Hopefully, it pays off come Wednesday,” he added.
The U23s play the Mexico U23 national team on Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. (CT) at FC Dallas Park. The game will be broadcast live on TeleFutura.