The San Jose Earthquakes received some good news this week, as central defender Ike Opara was cleared to play by the medical staff following his recovery from a concussion. Sidelined for nearly a month as he patiently waited for his symptoms to subside, Opara returned to full training on Wednesday and looked forward to being available to contribute to the team.
"It’s a complicated situation," said Opara about the whole ordeal, "but I’m feeling infinitely better than when it initially happened."
Opara has made seven starts and fourteen overall appearances in league play this season for the Earthquakes. With fellow central defender Jason Hernandez suspended for the team’s next match against the Los Angeles Galaxy, Opara could be called upon to play this weekend. However, for a player that relies heavily on being dominant in the air for his success, he did caution that being cleared to play was only the first step to him being ready to take the field.
"Obviously, getting back confidence-wise is key," explained Opara, "and feeling I can go out there and do it. Now I have to get fit."
The third year defender out of Wake Forest and first round draft selection of the Earthquakes, Opara has experienced a number of injuries in his time with the team. He suffered season ending foot injuries in both of his first two seasons in San Jose, and finally appeared to have returned to full health this summer. The concussion injury represented uncharted territory for the 23-year old, but he has never given up on his recovery efforts.
"It’s a tough one to call," described Opara on the concussion. "It affects people differently. It’s tough to diagnose at times and to figure out when you’re feeling better and when you are not."
Simple activities like reading and watching television become unbearable for many concussion sufferers, but the urge to keep playing a sport that is their livelihood prompts many to eschew proper recovery techniques. "Getting your bell rung" is no longer part of the game for professional athletes, and medical personnel are much more aware of how to diagnose and treat concussion symptoms.
"It’s crazy how it’s evolved over time," assessed Opara. "It was usual for people to have headaches and they’d go out there and play the next day not really knowing what it is. Now, with the studies and research done, it is more safe to err on the side of caution."
One precaution that Opara has taken during his path back from his concussion is to wear a protective headpiece. Think for example of Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech in the EPL or Calen Carr in MLS player as players wearing the padded helmet following concussion problems. Opara recognizes the utility of the gear, especially as he has worked himself through the phalanx of on-field tests that progressively determine his state of recovery, but is not sure he is going to continue the helmeted look for much longer.
"I have to feel comfortable with it," acknowledged Opara, "but I’ll use it for maybe another few days or a week. I’d like to lose it and not have it be a permanent thing; it gets hot under there."
Whether he plays with a padded cap or not, the Earthquakes are happy to welcome Opara back into the fold.