A lot goes down on the pitch in any given match — and it seems like week in and week out, Miguel Ibarra is the Minnesota United player most often involved in the match’s key plays. In 13 matches, the midfielder has 11 starts, two goals and three assists — solid numbers that get even better when you learn that all three of those assists and one of those goals have been match-winners.
But there’s more to Ibarra than the numbers. Even when he’s not contributing in a way that shows up in the boxscore, he’s putting in valuable work in the box, such as on midfielder Kevin Molino’s first goal of the season against San Jose Earthquakes.
Or consider forward Christian Ramirez’s goal against Seattle Sounders.
A timely move to step in and block off or slow up a defender without quite getting in his way doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, but secondary assists certainly do, as when Ibarra provided a key pass forward to midfielder Ethan Finlay in the buildup to midfielder Sam Nicholson’s (now with the Colorado Rapids) match winner against Chicago Fire.
“As [Miguel Ibarra]’s turned, I’m thinking, if he plays this decent, I’ve got to get on the back post,” said Nicholson. “Or at least in between the goal posts. Because I usually get shouted at for not doing that.”
Ibarra is also, naturally, capable of directly sending the ball in from the wing, as on his match-winning assist on midfielder Ibson’s cheeky goal against Houston Dynamo and midfielder Darwin Quintero’s if-at-first-you-don’t-succeed rebounded strike against Sporting Kansas City.
At 5-foot-6-inches, Ibarra is not an imposing physical presence. He’s not the fastest guy on the pitch, nor does he have the deft touch of a player like Ibson. Last season, he struggled with consistency after coming back from Mexico where he didn’t get the minutes he needed to stay match fit.
“Training and offseason training were really big for me,” said Ibarra. “I was making sure I was fit, making sure I was eating healthy and making sure my body was healthy. Those three combinations were really big for me this offseason. I think my confidence right now is really high. I think I am getting back to what I used to be before I left for Mexico. That confidence is really big for me.”
This season, he’s showing his ability to get into the right spots and do what needs to be done through a high work rate. The results speak for themselves, and so do all those moments in between that often go unnoticed.