Minnesota United announced today the club has signed new, multi-year contracts with defenders Ike Opara and Michael Boxall. The centerback duo propelled the club to one of the best defensive turnarounds in league history with 11 clean sheets and only 43 goals conceded, third-lowest in the Western Conference in 2019.
“We’re really excited to have re-signed both [Ike Opara and Michael Boxall]. They’ve been incredibly important to our success this year,” said MNUFC Sporting Director Manny Lagos. “Michael’s been with us for a couple years now and really has grown and evolved both as a person and as a player and has become a really big influence on the club in a lot of ways. With Ike being Defender of the Year and having him being committed for a couple more years is exciting. We’re excited to get some continuity in an area of the field that we’ve been trying to grow, evolve and get better at.”
Opara arrived to MNUFC via trade with Sporting Kansas City in one of the biggest trades in league history. The 2019 Defender of the Year played 31 games, across 2,656 minutes, for the Loons plus every U.S. Open Cup game, including the final against Atlanta. In 2019, Opara equaled a career-high three goals, including his first-ever brace on June 29 vs. FC Cincinnati.
Prior to becoming a Loon, the defender played six seasons in Kansas City. Opara started 100 games for SKC, logging 9,098 minutes, with five assists and 12 goals. During the 2017 season, Opara was named to MLS Best XI, and was awarded the 2017 Defender of the Year. He made 30 starts while anchoring a defense that conceded just 29 goals during the 2017 regular season, eight fewer than any other team. In 2018, he followed up with another successful campaign, making 31 starts, playing 2,773 minutes, contributing in 11 shutouts with three goals and two assists.
“We’re obviously delighted we managed to tie the pair of them down. Anybody who’s watched us on a regular basis will understand the commitment and the level of performance that Ike and [Boxall] have done,” said MNUFC Head Coach Adrian Heath. “Early on through the year, it became very clear that we wanted to move forward with these two guys. It’s an area of the field we feel we’re very blessed with really good players. It’s been a great year for [Ike and Michael], obviously culminating in Ike winning Defender of the Year but I think that easily could have been Boxy with the level of performance that he’s done. They’re both a manager’s dream, both come in everyday, do the work, great professionals on and off the field and great teammates. This is just reward for all the hard work they’ve put in over the last 12 months or 18 months for Boxy. Delighted they’re going to be around and really pleased they’re going to be here as teammates and pillars for what we’re trying to build for the future.”
Boxall is no stranger to MLS, after being selected first overall in the 2011 MLS Supplemental Draft by Vancouver Whitecaps FC ahead of its inaugural MLS season. He made 19 league appearances for the Whitecaps that year, starting 18, and helped the team to the Canadian Championship Final, where they fell 3-2 on aggregate to Toronto FC.
Internationally, Boxall has 32 appearances for the New Zealand national team since making his debut in 2011. He mainly featured in international friendlies to start, but has since become a mainstay in World Cup qualifying matches. He got his first international assist on October 11, 2016 against the United States, tying the match at 1-1 late in the second half. On March 24, 2018, Boxall captained his country for the first time in a 1-0 defeat to Canada.
With a strong defensive spine, Minnesota United finished a historic 2019 season fourth in the Western Conference with a club-record 53 points. The Loons made their first appearance in the Audi 2019 MLS Playoffs and reached the final of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Transaction: Minnesota United signs defenders Ike Opara and Michael Boxall to new contracts.
Date of birth: 02.21.1989
Weight: 180 lbs
Birthplace: Durham, North Carolina
Date of birth: 08.18.1988
Wight: 200 lbs
Birthplace: Auckland, New Zealand
Citizenship: New Zealand