CARSON, Calif. — Romario Ibarra's first Major League Soccer goal stood huge for Minnesota United FC, giving the Loons a rare away point as they began a gruesome five-game road stretch with an unexpected result.
Minnesota twice rallied from deficits, first through Michael Boxall's header -- also his first MLS goal -- in the 64th minute and then on Ibarra's blast into the top of the net in the 84th. They ended an eight-game road losing streak that stretched across nearly five months with Saturday's 2-2 draw against the LA Galaxy.
It was just Ibarra's third appearance, all off the bench, since the Loons used Targeted Allocation Money last month to bring in the 23-year-old Ecuadorian attacker from Universidad Catolica, and his presence -- along with new striker Angelo Rodriguez, the club's second Designated Player -- has bolstered Minnesota United's confidence.
“We had a chat before the game, and we realized with our home record (8-4-1), if we can pick up some [road] wins, we give ourselves an opportunity to make it to the playoffs,” said head coach Adrian Heath. “Our away form has not been good enough, but tonight, I thought we showed glimpses of [what we can do].
“Angelo is now getting fitter, Romario come on and got the ball -- he's getting fitter. Abu [Danladi] is looking sharp. Darwin [Quintero] was terrific again in the first half. Our attacking pieces are starting to look good.”
SUPER ROMARIOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO pic.twitter.com/nAzyjrDX61— Minnesota United FC (@MNUFC) August 12, 2018
Ibarra finished from Danladi's ball from the right flank across the box. There was some controversy -- Danladi, also a second-half substitute, flirted with offside positioning -- but not for the Loons.
“It was huge for [Romario],” Heath said. “He came in and wasn't quite as fit as he would have liked [when he joined the team], and because he's such an explosive player, we've had to pick a time in building his fitness up. He'll be really pleased with his confidence.”
Ibarra, of course, was pleased.
“It's very nice to have scored my first goal here in MLS,” Ibarra said in Spanish. “I'm very happy about that, and even more so for helping the team to earn a draw against a very important rival. Now we have to keep working, trying to do things well and scoring more goals.”
Things aren't going to get easier. Minnesota United play next weekend at FC Dallas, the following weekend at Sporting Kansas City, then face mid-September games at D.C. United and Real Salt Lake. The Loons return home September 22 against Portland.
“It's absolutely no secret we've struggled on the road,” said Boxall. “To kind of stop the rot and show the character to come back from behind twice, I think it's a platform to build off and a starting point heading into the next four toad games. ... I think this point could be a big point at the end of the season.”
“I stand here with a lot more confidence going on the road with the attacking pieces we've got,” he said. “Because if we don't concede, we always look like we're going to score on the road.”