Ike Opara played a major part in Minnesota United clinching its first-ever playoff berth in 2019, adding an experienced figure to the Western Conference club’s backline.
The 30-year-old was named SBI MLS Defender of the Year after a stellar season in St. Paul with the Loons. Opara started 29 of his 30 appearances for Adrian Heath’s side in 2019, totaling over 2,500 minutes of game time. For the third-consecutive season, he scored three goals while also adding one assist.
His arrival in Minnesota not only gave the Loons an experienced defender, but helped them concede only 43 goals in 34 matches, good for top six in MLS. Opara recorded an 82% passing completion rate, made 155 clearances, and 56 interceptions, continuing to prove he can contribute when healthy.
Here is a rundown of the other candidates for the SBI MLS Defender of the Year Award, as chosen by SBI Editorial Staff:
2. Miles Robinson
Atlanta United allowed only 43 goals in league play this season and Miles Robinson was a huge reason for it. The 22-year-old jumped to 34 appearances in 2019 after only 10 in his rookie season with the club. Robinson’s stock not only grew in MLS, but also on the international stage as he earned his first cap with the U.S. Men’s National Team. If Atlanta United wants to repeat as league champs, a healthy Robinson will certainly boost their chances.
3. Maxime Chanot
After 43 appearances for NYCFC over his first three seasons, Luxembourg defender Maxime Chanot totaled 31 in 2019 helping NYCFC clinch the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The 29-year-old was a consistent performer for Domenec Torrent’s side, forming a nice partnership with Alexander Callens. NYCFC allowed the second-fewest goals in the East this season and fourth-fewest in the league, with Chanot playing a major part of that. His aggressive play should benefit NYCFC heading into the postseason.
4. Steve Birnbaum
D.C. United allowed the fewest goals in 2019 and veteran Steve Birnbaum is to thank for that. The 28-year-old appeared in all 34 league matches this regular season, helping the Black and Red clinch a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. Birnbaum also scored one goal, proving he can be a threat on the offensive end of the field.
5. Ryan Hollingshead
Left back Ryan Hollingshead appeared in every regular season game for FC Dallas this season, seeing his total jump from 18 to 34 in just one season. The veteran contributed six goals and two assists for Luchi Gonzalez’s side this season, while also helping them post the third-fewest goals conceded in the West. Hollingshead will also be in the discussion for league comeback player of the year after being a consistent performer for Dallas this season. His play rewarded them with a contract extension earlier this fall.