Ike Opara helped turned Sporting Kansas City’s defense into one of the league’s best. (Photo courtesy of MLS)

NEW YORK – Sporting Kansas City’s Ike Opara Thursday was named the Major League Soccer defender of the year.

Opara, 28, enjoyed a breakout year, leading a KC defense that conceded a league-low 29 goals, the fewest allowed in a single MLS regular season since 2012.

Anchored by Opara’s stellar defensive play, SKC captured its fourth Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup title, tied for the most of any MLS team in the tournament’s history.

With Opara in the lineup, Sporting recorded a 12-6-12 record, giving up 23 goals in his 30 games played, an average of 0.77 goals allowed per match. In games without Opara in the lineup, SKC compiled a 0-3-1 record and conceded six goals in four matches (1.5 goals allowed a game). Sporting also recorded all 11 of its shutouts with Opara in the starting lineup, with its 29 goals allowed eight fewer than the next closest team.

After missing much of the past two-plus seasons due to injury, Opara registered career highs during the past season in games played (30), games started (30) and minutes played (2,700). He also equaled a career high with three goals in regular season play, tied for the second most scores among defenders in MLS this season.

SKC has reached the postseason in each of Opara’s five seasons with the club, finishing 2017 ranked fifth in the Western Conference with 49 points (12-9-13). The club posted a 10-1-6 home record, with its 24-game unbeaten mark at Children’s Mercy Park from June 2016 to September 2017 ranking as the third-longest home unbeaten streak in MLS history.

The U.S. Open Cup victory was Opara’s third major trophy with Sporting, winning the 2013 MLS Cup in his first season with SKC, followed by the 2015 U.S. Open Cup title. Opara started all five matches in U.S. Open Cup play this season, helping Sporting to post shutouts in the first three games. Tthe 6-2 defender scored two goals in the tournament.

Taken by San Jose with the No. 3 overall selection in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft, the Generation adidas signing was twice named Atlantic Coast Conference defensive player of the year while at Wake Forest University.

The award was voted on by MLS club technical staff, media and MLS players. Below is a breakdown of the voting results:

Defender of the Year Player Vote % Media Vote % Club Vote % Average %
Ike Opara (SKC) 31.42% 39.88% 14.29% 28.53%
Justin Morrow (TOR) 13.79% 15.77% 11.90% 13.82%
Kendall Waston (VAN) 10.73% 9.23% 15.48% 11.81%
Leandro González Pírez (ATL) 5.36% 10.71% 16.67% 10.91%
Matt Besler (SKC) 2.68% 7.44% 4.76% 4.96%
Joevin Jones (SEA) 2.68% 1.19% 9.52% 4.46%

MLS Defender of the Year Winners:
2017: Ike Opara – Sporting Kansas City
2016: Matt Hedges – FC Dallas
2015: Laurent Ciman – Montreal Impact
2014: Chad Marshall – Seattle Sounders FC
2013: Jose Goncalves – New England Revolution
2012: Matt Besler – Sporting Kansas City
2011: Omar Gonzalez – LA Galaxy
2010: Jamison Olave – Real Salt Lake
2009: Chad Marshall – Columbus Crew
2008: Chad Marshall – Columbus Crew
2007: Michael Parkhurst – New England Revolution
2006: Bobby Boswell – D.C. United
2005: Jimmy Conrad – Kansas City Wizards
2004: Robin Fraser – Columbus Crew
2003: Carlos Bocanegra – Chicago Fire
2002: Carlos Bocanegra – Chicago Fire
2001: Jeff Agoos – San Jose Earthquakes
2000: Peter Vermes – Kansas City Wizards
1999: Robin Fraser – Los Angeles Galaxy
1998: Lubos Kubik – Chicago Fire
1997: Eddie Pope – D.C. United
1996: John Doyle – San Jose Earthquakes