What was a foregone conclusion around San Jose became a reality yesterday with confirmation that San Jose Earthquakes defender Ike Opara was called in to the U.S. Men’s National Team U-23s ahead of the upcoming CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament. Following two straight appearances as team captain for the U-23s, head coach Caleb Porter was convinced that Opara had returned to the form he displayed throughout a successful stint with the national team in 2009 as a member of the U-20s and in glimpses over the past two seasons as a member of the Earthquakes.
"They’d called a few times, and I was just rehabbing and it wasn’t the smart time to go," said Opara last week following an Earthquakes training session. "It was finally good to get in there. It was nice because the comfort level was already there, just because of growing up with those guys, and meeting coach Porter in the past. So it wasn’t too foreign. I felt at home, for the most part so it was good."
Opara looked steady in the center of defense for the U-23s in a dos-a-cero victory over their Mexican counterparts to close out the team’s February training camp. Being named captain of that match was also a memorable experience for the 23-year old Earthquakes defender, as he recognized it marked his return to prominence with the national team.
"Coach Porter had a process of going with a new captain in each game, and I had the honor twice," shared Opara. "It was definitely special and a long time since I’d been the captain — the last few times in college and a couple times with the U-20s. It was definitely a nice time and an honor."
Finally over the injuries that have plagued the start of his MLS career, the athletically talented Opara now has his sites set on securing a place for the U.S. in the upcoming 2012 London Olympics. However, to get there the team will need to navigate through the qualifying tournament and finish in the top two. For Opara, the task at hand is clear and the reward if successful is desired.
"I think it’s self-explanatory," said Opara on having the chance to represent his country in the Olympics. "It’d be a big honor."
Of the current San Jose Earthquakes, only Ramiro Corrales has had that experience — he appeared in two matches for Team USA during the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. If the U-23s can get it done against their CONCACAF foes over the next few weeks, Opara has a strong chance to join Captain Corrales in that exclusive group.Highlights from the U-23s 2-0 victory over the Mexican U-23s on February 29, 2012: