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January 17, 2013 - Image 6

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The Michigan Daily, 2013-01-17

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6A - Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

A far way from Ghana, Opare waits on draft day

By ALEJANDRO ZUNIGA
Daily Sports Writer.
On a chilly November night
at the U-M Soccer Complex, the
Michigan men's soccer team
was locked in a scoreless draw in
its regular-season finale against
Michigan State.
The Wolverines' season had
previously included a thrilling
3-2 overtime victory over Ohio
State and a stunning upset of
Indiana, the eventual national
champioa. But sitting a game
below .500, Michigan needed a
win to put itself in position for
an NCAA Tournament berth.
With only 20 minutes remain-
ing, each passing second put the
Wolverines in peril of missing.
the Big Dance in consecutive
years for the, first time since
2006-07.
Then, the unlikeliest of
heroes rose up for Michigan. It
wasn't junior midfielder Fabio
Pereira, who led the team in
goals. It wasn't sophomore mid-
fielder Tyler Arnone, the first-
team All-Big Ten selection. It
wasn't even junior forward T.J.
Roehn, the Wolverines' most
prolific striker.
No, it was senior defender'
Kofi Opare - face mask and all -
leaping above a Spartan defend-
er to head home the go-ahead
goal. The Wolverines weathered
a Michigan State rally to win,
1-0, and the momentum helped
them reach the Big Ten cham-
pionship game and a second-
round appearance in the NCAA
Tournament.
Opare's game-winning strike
as a defender epitomizes the
long journey of his life. Born in
Ghana but raised in South Afri-
ca, Opare was as far from Amer-
ican collegiate soccer as anyone
on the planet.
He grew up playing cricket,
one of the rainbow nation's
most popular sports. But once
in school, Opare and his brother
joined their school's soccer team.
and both began following the
professional leagues. And when
his family.moved to the United
States to pursue job opportuni-
ties, Opare had no choice but
to focus on soccer because he
couldn't find many people who

FenAA MOLENR
Former Michigan defender Kofi Opare was born in Ghana, moved to South Africa and then the United States and is now expected to be drafted into the ML S.

played cricket.
When Opare first stepped on
campus as a student in 2009,'
former Michigan coach Steve
Burns knew he had landed one
of the best prospects of his
career.
"We had high expectations
for him," Burns said, reflect-
ing on his former player.."We
thought he was gonnabe a can't-
miss pro."
Perhaps, then, Opare fell
short of expectations. After
being named to the Big Ten All-
Freshman team and helping to
guide the Wolverines to a pro-
gram-best College Cup appear-
ance the following year, Opare
and Michigan struggled in 2011.
Last season,.a promising senior
year encountered a setback

when he suffered fr
citis and later broke
So that's why,
Opare found himse
clear, plastic mask.
the crucial goal
past the Spartan
goalkeeper.
He never
turned into the
star that Burns
anticipated, but
his talent didn't
go unnoticed.
In early
December,
the defender
was thrilled
to receive the invit
Major League Soci
in Florida.
He is one of just t

om appendi-
his nose.
on Nov. 3,
lf wearing a
as he headed

players to earn a spot in the try-
out.
Now, Opare is one step away
from making his dream a real-
ity. On Jan. 15, he returned from
the MLS

Player Com-
bine in Flor-
Opare is one ida where he
showcased
step away from his talent to
professional
making his coaches and
trainers.
dream a reality Thursday,
Opare might
be selected
in the MLS
tation to the SuperDraft. If he's not, he's
cer Combine anticipated to be picked up in
the supplemental draft on Jan.
hree Big Ten 22. Burns said he "expects"

Opare tobe drafted.
"I was excited to receive the
invite," Opare said. "Obviously,
I credit that to my teammates.
I'd also like to dedicate it to my
family, as well as my brother
who I grew up playing with."
And Burns, who texted his
former player to congratulate
him on the opportunity, expect-
ed that Opare would make a
good impression on the MLS
scouts.
"The thing that people really
get excited about is when they
first see Kofi, they see that he's a
really high-level athlete," Burns
said. "When you look at the role
of a center back, Kofi fits that
role very well."
Even as a freshman, Opare
committed himself to soc-

cer like a 'professional ath-
lete. Burns said that the young
defender treated his studies
and the people around him with
incredible poise and has "done a
really good job getting himself
ready for this moment."
In high school, Opare played
for both his school and a club,
team- the St. Catharine's Con-
cord Gunners - leading both to
championships.
His success prompted an
invitation to the U.S. under-20
squad. Opare is also a Canadi-
an citizen, which could appeal
to the three Canadian MLS
franchises. And after reaching
the NCAA Tournament twice,
Opare feels like he has accom-
plished everything he came to
do at Michigan.
"It's a great feeling because
you know all of those players
who played before you and what
they have contributed to the
program," he said. "I just want-
ed to contribute to that."
It's safe to say that Opare
has left quite a mark on the
soccer program. Despite last
year's injuries, Opare started 71
matches in his collegiate career
and ranks fifth in program his-
tory for minutes played (6,411).
He was a captain as a senior,
defensive MVP in 2011 and
played in more contests than.all
but 12 players in Michigan soc-
cer's 12-ye'ar history.
Despite all of the memories,
Opare remembers his most
cherished moments clearly. In
2010, the Wolverines compiled a
17-win season en route to a berth
in the national semifinal - two
firsts for the program. Opare's
only point of the year came on
an assist in the quarterfinal
match, a 3-2 overtime thriller
over No. 3 Maryland.
Two years later, his surprise
header against Michigan State
made for another unforgettable
experience.
But Opare's four years at
Michigan offered him more than
just an opportunity to prove his
worth as an athlete. The senior
found time to dedicate himself
to schoolwork and says he feels
"fortunate" to attend a well-
respected University.
He expects to graduate with
a degree in neuroscience, which
Opare said led to numerous busy
and stressful nights. But his
friends and academic advisors
helped him achieve his goals,
and he will now leave Michigan
with a variety of future oppor-
tunities.
And as Opare has excelled
on and off the field, his peers
continue to be impressed with
his friendly and respectful
demeanor. When asked about
his accomplishments, Opare
always credits his teammates
and coaches for their support.
But when the MLS invited
54 college seniors to compete
in Florida, they knew clearly
where Michigan's talent lay - in
a humble and unheralded center
back.
Opare's journey has spanned
large parts of the world, quietly
beginning in Ghana and South
Africa and recently featuring a
header that sent maize-clad fans *
wild. This week, he will learn
his future while watching the
draft online.
"Every kid, growing up and
playing soccer, you want to try

to push yourself to the highest
level of competition you can play
at," Opare said. "It's no different
with me."
Everyone has dreams. Opare
might just see his come true.
FOLLOW US ON
TWITTER!
(WE'RE NOT A FAKE
GIRLFRIEND, WE
PROMISE!)
@&THEBLOCKM

RELEASE DATE- Thursday, January 17, 2013
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DOWN
1 Some ark
contents
2 Depleted

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34 35
36 37 38
39 40
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46 47 48
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By Marti DuGuay-Carpenter 01/17/13
(c)2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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