Kofi Opare looks to learn in Los Angeles
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The MLS SuperDraft has taken Kofi Opare from the University of Michigan to the Los Angeles Galaxy.
But in reality, the 22-year-old defender made his way to training camp with the two-time defending MLS champions via Ghana, South Africa, New Jersey and Niagara Falls, Ont.
Still Opare knows his pro soccer journey has just begun.
"I'm going in with the mentality to work hard, to work as hard as I can," he said in an interview. "And just try to do the little things right, try and improve, try to learn from the older guys, the more experienced guys on how to be a good professional, how to carry myself both on and off the field.
"It's definitely exciting. I'm definitely looking forward to the next phase of my life."
The Galaxy open training Monday morning. They kick off the season March 3 against the visiting Chicago Fire at The Home Depot Center.
Should Opare stick in Los Angeles, he will be able to learn his craft from Omar Gonzalez, the 2011 MLS Defender of the Year.
"He's one of the best players in the country right now," Opare said of the six-foot-five American, who played just 14 games during the 2012 regular season because of a knee injury.
"He's very composed on the ball, he reads the game very well. And he's definitely a player I can look up to just for advice. And I know playing with him, or playing against him in practice, can definitely improve my game."
Born in Ghana to Ghanaian parents, Opare was one when the family left for South Africa to take advantage of job opportunities for his mother, who is a family physician (his father is a retired teacher). They spent 10 years there before heading to the U.S.
He was eight or nine — in South Africa — when he took up soccer with his brother.
Opare lived four years in New Jersey before the family settled in Niagara Falls, where he attended St. Paul Catholic High School.
He played for the St. Catharines Concord Gunners, winning the Ontario Cup in 2007-2008 and helped Ontario to a fourth-place finish at the Canadian club national championships in 2007.
The six-foot-two 190-pounder has U.S. citizenship and is a Canadian resident — his application for a passport is in the works.
He played for the U.S. under-20 team in 2009 but only in friendlies so has yet to pledge his international allegiance. He seems willing to listen to all offers.
"If I have ever any opportunity to play for the U.S. or Canada or Ghana, I'd be willing to play for them," said Opare, whose last visit to Ghana was three years ago. "I don't want to be, like, picky."
Opare went to the MLS Combine with the hope of being drafted. The Galaxy obliged, taking him in the second round (24th overall).
"A pure, physical centre back," said Galaxy coach Bruce Arena.
At Michigan, Opare was co-captain in 2012 and was a four-year starter. He ranks fifth in school history in minutes played (6,411), eighth in starts (71) and 13th in games played (76).
As a sophomore in 2010, Opare helped the Wolverines to the College Cup semifinals, where they lost to eventual champion Akron.
His senior year was more complicated. He broke his nose against Northeastern and had appendicitis a week later. Still he scored three goals in 17 games.
Opare is the seventh Michigan player to be taken in the MLS draft.
"This school has given me so much," said Opare, who played right back as a freshman. "I'm glad to represent them at the professional level."
A lifelong Newcastle United fan, he grew up a fan of England striker Alan Shearer — and his simple goal celebration of raising his right hand in the air.