In the hours before the U.S. national team took the field in Denmark on Wednesday, Miguel Ibarra took a few minutes to himself and turned his focus back toward Minnesota.
Ibarra heard all about the plans in Minneapolis before he traveled to Europe. He knew his friends and his supporters planned to gather as MLS finally welcomed Minnesota United into the fold as an expansion team.
International obligations meant Ibarra spent that particular day — perhaps the capstone in a long and winding road for a club on the brink of extinction not too long ago — in Århus instead of Minneapolis.
His absence is a testament to the achievements of his club over the past few years and his own personal growth since turning professional in 2011. There are other demands on his time now, but the 25-year-old midfielder still carved out enough time to sit in front of his computer and watch everything unfold from 4,000 miles away.
“I knew it was coming, but I followed it on YouTube,” Ibarra said after training with the U.S. national team on Saturday. “I watched it all. It was just amazing to see all of the fans there, getting introduced to MLS. You could tell it was exciting. I wasn’t there, but just watching it the hotel was amazing as well.”
It is easy to understand why Ibarra felt compelled to watch even with the mystery gone long ago. He is the center figure in the team, a player molded and nurtured to place him in a position to win NASL MVP honors and his first U.S. national team cap last year.
Ibarra’s growth coincides with emergence of the club itself. Ownership changed hands from the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minn. to NASL itself before Dr. Bill McGuire eventually purchased the team in November 2012. The team rebranded the following year and watched Ibarra mature into a NASL Best XI player. The continued growth during 2014 led Minnesota United to the cusp of MLS and propelled Ibarra into the national team picture.
All of those strides carried Minnesota United and Ibarra to points they could not imagine just three short years ago. Ibarra is a regular member of the U.S. national team pool. Minnesota United is headed for MLS by 2018.
“It was just amazing hearing that news,” Ibarra said. “I know the club has come a long way. We started off as the Minnesota Stars. We didn’t have an owner. Then we had an owner. And now we’re going into a big league, MLS. It’s just exciting: exciting for the fans, exciting for the organization, which has been working hard. I can’t wait to get started.”
Ibarra remains an integral part of the plans for United going forward. He committed his future to the club when he extended his contract last April and warded off MLS interest in the process. NASL Golden Boot winner Christian Ramirez followed suit last month as United moved quickly to protect the core of a team gearing up to defend its NASL title in short order.
United continues to build on two tracks. There is a firm focus on continuing the success in the present, but there is also a desire to put the pieces in place over the next few years to transition to MLS as well.
It is a challenge Ibarra embraces. He is currently trying to establish himself in the national team pool and state his case for a call-up to the squad for the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July, but he will return to Minnesota to fulfill his United ambitions soon. And he cannot wait to continue to venture forward on both fronts as the next few years unfold.
“It’s going to be amazing,” Ibarra said. “It’s my fourth year there now. I was there since the club was suffering. And now just knowing it’s big and that I’m a part of it, it’s just an amazing feeling. The fans support it. I love the fans there. We’re looking forward to getting started with MLS.”