Minnesota United's 2019 season ended at Allianz Field, the night of hosting their first-ever Audi MLS Cup Playoffs match. A tremendous campaign, which saw the club reach the US Open Cup final as well as achieve easily their highest regular-season finish, came to a disappointing end against the LA Galaxy.
It was especially sad for Miguel Ibarra, a hero from the club's NASL days and mainstay through their first three MLS seasons. Calling him a fan favorite wouldn't quite capture the mutual affection between supporters and player, but both knew that day would be his last walking across Allianz Field as a member of the Loons.
Ibarra was an unused substitute against the Galaxy, a fate all too familiar over the second half of 2019. He hadn't appeared in any of Minnesota's final eight regular-season matches, either.
“At the beginning, yeah, I was hurt," Ibarra told MLSsoccer.com last week.
Ibarra made 84 MLS appearances for the Loons and another 90 for the club in NASL. Minnesota declined his contract option at the end of the season.
“I was there for six years, just knowing I wasn’t going to go back, it felt bad," Ibarra said. "The doors were kept open. They told me if I wanted to go back, they’d be more likely to negotiate something for me to go back. But it was time for a new scenario. That’s home for me. I’ll always have the door open over there.”
Under the uncertainty of CBA negotiations, Ibarra opted to wait to choose his next club until late in the offseason when he signed with the Seattle Sounders, the same day they played their first competitive match of the season in the Concacaf Champions League.
“I had a couple options, but when I hear Seattle, I think championships," Ibarra said. "They’ve been winning a lot, they always make the playoffs. When I knew they were interested, I made it a goal to come here.
“I could have gone to China, but I decided not to go there," he added. "Mexico was an option, but I wanted to stay in MLS and try a different team here.”
Ibarra started Seattle's first two MLS games before the league suspended play due to the COVID-19 pandemic, making an impression despite minimal formal preseason training. He regularly found himself in advantageous positions, but failed to find the back of the net with numerous chances, earning some friendly banter from his teammates.
“That debut was good, but I should have scored four goals," Ibarra said. "I couldn’t freaking score, the ball just didn’t want to go my way. But we won, that’s the most important thing. The next game, I scored but VAR called it back. Everybody was giving me s**t, they were telling me I should be the league’s leading goal scorer with five goals.”
The reigning MLS champions were among the favorites for trophy contention this year, but that pursuit has been put on pause due to the league's suspension. Ibarra, like so many others, is looking forward to getting back at it.
“if we get the season going, there’s going to be great things," Ibarra said.