GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. – Minnesota United announced the signing of midfielder Miguel Ibarra and forward Christian Ramirez, stars in the club's pre-MLS era, on Thursday. Both players helped put the Loons on the map, winning many NASL accolades and in Ibarra's case, US national team selections. However, signing them was a move for the future, not an award for the past.
“This move is because these are two quality individuals and personalities in the community,” sporting director Manny Lagos told reporters. “They’re really darned good on the soccer field, and are still growing to become better players. This is about us bringing those guys back to make the team better and to grow in MLS.”
Ibarra joins the club after an 18-month stint with Liga MX’s Club Leon. The attacker saw three managers come and go during his time with the Mexican side, with playing time inconsistent as a result. In Minnesota, he had won the NASL’s Golden Ball in 2014 as the league’s best player.
In the NASL, Ibarra played as a roaming No. 10, able to use his space to stay versatile. With the USMNT and Leon, he featured as a winger on either side of the pitch. It remains to be heard where United head coach Adrian Heath will deploy him with Minnesota in MLS.
“I know Adrian is extremely excited,” according to Lagos. “He’s talked to Miguel quite a bit. He’s watched video of Miguel. He’s just really excited to have a player that has Miguel’s type of energy and effort and quality to add to the roster.”
Ramirez, meanwhile, has been the highest-scoring American striker in any level of pro competition over the past three years with 51 goals. With offers from Liga MX clubs as well as MLS sides, he’s had options, and this isn’t the first time that Heath has pursued him.
“We played Charlotte Eagles in the final when I was the coach of Orlando City [in the USL],” Heath said during a recent call that included MLSsoccer.com. “We tried to take Ramirez the year after. I’ve been aware of him since then. The one thing I do know about football is that goalscorers are goalscorers. We know he’s a goalscorer. I enjoy working with strikers, they’ve enjoyed working with me. I’m really looking forward to working with him.”
The two players were former roommates in the NASL days and are affectionately known as “Batman” (Ibarra) and “Superman” (Ramirez) by local fans. With a familiarity for each other and the faith of their coaches and staff, they’ll look to make some noise in MLS. As Lagos readily pointed out, it probably won’t be an easy transition.
“These guys had other options – there are a lot of other places they could go play. They believe in this club, this community, and the people here in Minnesota. I think that should make everybody feel pretty proud.
"At the same time, they know we have a lot of work to do. They have a big task now as well to grow and help this team get competitive.”