As one of MLS' two new expansion teams in 2017, Minnesota United feature plenty of players with something to prove. Two of them – likely to feature prominently this season – belong to Miguel Ibarra and Christian Ramirez, or "Batman" and "Superman" as they’re affectionately known to fans.
Friday’s season opener against the Portland Timbers reunited Ibarra and Ramirez in a competitive match for the first time since the spring of 2015. In the time between, Ibarra spent a year and a half with Liga MX’s Club Leon, where he struggled to find playing time under a series of managers. Meanwhile, Ramirez came runner-up for the NASL Golden Boot and then won it outright the next year.
Ramirez says the two haven’t missed a beat.
“It’s been fun,” he says, “we’ve picked up just like before he left.”
While Ibarra was in Mexico, Ramirez married his now-wife Valerie. Despite the big life changes for the two former roommates, Ramirez says the two are still close. “He lives in the same building. He still calls before he does anything.”
It is that bosom buddies' inseparability that was key to the duo’s partnership during their particularly prolific 2014 NASL season. That year Ramirez won the Golden Boot and missed out on winning the Golden Ball (league MVP) to Ibarra, who had also earned call-ups to the US national team.
Just a few months ago, their reunion in MLS looked unlikely, as Ramirez waited for a contract offer from Minnesota. He was mulling over a couple of Liga MX contracts and looked ready to pull the trigger when Minnesota United offered him a comparable deal. Given Ibarra's struggles in finding playing time in Mexico, Ramirez considered a move there could be similarly perilous, but in the end it was about feeling at home in Minnesota.
For Ibarra, too, the decision to come back to Minnesota was a no-brainer. He calls it “home,” the only other place he’s played professional soccer.
Reunited, the two are looking to help spread that chemistry to the other players who aren't yet fast friends. He says it’s already having an effect: “[Francisco] Calvo, [Johan] Venegas, and [Vadim] Demidov: we’re all getting closer and building understanding.”
“Coach [Adrian Heath] has been emphasizing that everyone needs to be bought in,” Ramirez says, “and you see it from the top down, everyone is bought in.”
The next chance for Superman and Batman to make an impact for Minnesota United comes Sunday in the club's home opener against fellow expansion side Atlanta United (5 pm ET, ESPN2).