Opiyo: The safe pair of hands from Thika

Mathare United custodian Levis Opiyo arranges his wall in a past training session at the Goan Institute grounds

Born in Thika’s Makongeni Estate in the outskirts of Nairobi, Levis Opiyo’s football journey is synonymous to that of many Kenyan custodians who spend the early stages of their careers as infield players before switching to goalkeeping.

A good passer and server of the ball, Opiyo began his career at Full Chester Academy in Makongeni at the tender age of 8 years as a winger for the Under 10 side. However his stay there was short-lived as he made a permanent switch to goalkeeping duties.

Inspired by his cousin Dickson Otieno, who was the first choice custodian for Full Chester senior team, as well as his local hero Washington who was turning out for second tier side Bidco United, Opiyo put in a lot of work in his new position and it was not long before he began attracting attention.

Thika United

Medisca, now Thika United, was his next stop and here he benefited from top class coaching from coach Ngige who doubled up as the team manager and the youth team head coach. His star began to shine when he was named in the team that represented Central Province in the 2006 and 2007 Kenya Primary Schools Sports Association (KPSSA) National Championships.

His exploits in both competitions earned him a scholarship at Kabuyefwe High School in 2008 and he was part of the team that dethroned bitter rivals St Anthony to qualify for the Kenya Secondary School Sports Association (KSSSA) National Championships the same year. Cautious not to stall his development, Opiyo ditched Kabuyefwe for Tetu High School the following year where he emerged the first choice custodian. Success followed him to Nyeri as he guided Tetu to the KSSSA Nationals for three consecutive years albeit without any notable achievement in the competition.

That notwithstanding, individually Opiyo stood out as a goalkeeper who was showing immense potential to be the future Harambee Stars number one. His maiden call up into the national team set up was by Stanley Okumbi, the Kenya Under 20 team head coach then, where he deputized Farouk Shikalo for a series of qualifying matches in 2011.

With his name now in the limelight, Thika United acted swiftly to tie down their academy graduate to a long term deal while he was still in Form 4. Upon completion of his ‘O’ levels, Opiyo had the opportunity to train full time with Thika United who had a good blend of youth and experience in between the sticks namely Kenyan international David Okello, Lucas Indeche and Joel Bataro.

It took him two years to learn from his seniors before making his debut on June 7 2014 against Nairobi City Stars where he was denied a clean sheet by Jimmy Bageya as both sides settled for a one all draw. He only had two appearances in that campaign with his second cameo coming in the 2-1 loss to Mathare United 0n 15 June 2014.

Stima move

The exit of Bataro and Indeche eased his route into the first team as he took a permanent place in goal ahead of Ugandan international Hamza Muwonge a year later. Having had a break-out season, Opiyo sought a new challenge that saw him join newly promoted Posta Rangers in January 2016. However the deal fell through midway through the first leg rendering him a free agent. In June, he signed for Western Stima where he played 13 league matches in the second leg in the process relegating regular goalkeeper Gabriel Andika to the bench.

First choice

Head coach Francis Kimanzi snapped him in January 2017 as part of concerted efforts to replace Robert Mboya and Opiyo has already shown glimpses of being the first choice keeper if his man of the match performance on Saturday 18 March against Nzoia United on his debut is anything to go by.