MINNEAPOLIS – As Minnesota United FC built their inaugural MLS roster this winter, there was a notable contingent of players who made the jump up from the NASL squad.
On the backline, center back Brent Kallman and left back Justin Davis have combined for nine starts. Ibson has seen significant time in the midfield, rotating with a crowded group of central players. Up top, Christian Ramirez has five goals in the first eight games, the most of any American in MLS.
Winger Miguel Ibarra, who won the NASL Golden Ball with Minnesota in 2014 and received a couple of US national team call-ups while with the Loons before moving to Mexico’s Club Leon in 2015, has played inconsistently since returning to the Twin Cities in January, splitting time out wide with Bashkim Kadrii. He made the most of his return to the starting lineup on Sunday, with his 72nd minute goal giving the expansion club their second MLS win and marking his first goal or assist in MLS.
“I’m getting used to MLS, to playing again,” Ibarra told media on Sunday. “Getting the goal is going to help my confidence moving forward. These couple last practices have been comfortable, so I’ve got to show it on the field now and keep going.”
Ibarra’s goal came off of a diving header, a rarity for the 5-foot-7 attacker, who admitted that “it was a surprise for me to be in the box.” While it wasn’t a trademark Ibarra goal, it did cap a shift full of hustle and grit from the 27-year-old.
“I know Miggy’s a crowd favorite around here,” head coach Adrian Heath said after the match. “Believe me, nothing would bring me greater pleasure than that he plays so well that we have to start him every week. It’s been 18 months since he’s played regular football. Today will go a long way for him, his confidence will go up.”
Just in case the goal wasn’t a big enough boost, Ibarra’s teammates gave him plenty of love after the game. In the postgame locker room, there were chirps of “Migué” from all of his Loons teammates. Fellow attacker Johan Venegas even crashed the media swarm around Ibarra, asking him where his Batman suit was.
Some extra creativity and spark from Ibarra would further add to a solid Loons attack that has 13 goals through their first eight games. It’ll take some consistency on his part, but as long as Ibarra continues his strong play, he’ll have a chance at starting time.
“I think I showed it today and last game,” Ibarra said. “It feels good just to get out there and play.”