For Miguel Ibarra, a few heart-to-heart talks with his team while cruising around Lake Minnetonka last Monday evening is what sparked his turnaround.
After sitting out five Minnesota United matches, Ibarra has started the past two comeback victories, including Saturday’s 4-1 result against FC Dallas, when the winger scored the go-ahead goal.
“Ever since all the chats that I had, I just am in a completely different place,” Ibarra said. “The players and [coach Adrian Heath], they know what I’m capable of, and they know my season has been up and down. And they just wanted to know if I’m with the team or not. I said, ‘I’m 100 percent with the team.’ ”
That vibe has been a bit contagious throughout the roster, especially on the attacking side. Against Dallas, Ibarra, forwards Christian Ramirez and Abu Danladi and winger Ethan Finlay all scored while Ramirez and midfielder Kevin Molino assisted. At Montreal, Molino, Ramirez and Danladi scored while Finlay and midfielder Ibson tallied assists.
Heath has stuck with his same lineup from those two matches and likely won’t make many changes for Saturday night’s road match against the Houston Dynamo (10-10-9).
“We’re starting to understand each other,” Ramirez said of the offensive production. “We were put together so quickly. It takes some time to build that chemistry on the field. You’re starting to see Miguel get his legs back. You’re starting to see Ethan show what’s gotten him to the [U.S.] national team. Ibson has been amazing. … And you’ve got Kevin, who picks his moments of brilliance or he can pick out a pass with the best of them. When you have those three key pieces going, it’s pretty hard to beat.”
The Loons (9-15-5) have even more depth beyond the starters. Danladi has scored both of his most recent goals off the bench as a second-half substitute. But the team hasn’t let increased competition for starting minutes ruin the camaraderie.
“You can just tell our attackers [are] just bonding together,” Ibarra said. “Even Sam Nicholson, I mean, he’s a great guy. He was starting before me. And we both talk, probably, like best friends. And now, I’m starting, and he’s just behind me 100 percent. He tells me to keep going. So, I mean, we’re just all together.”
Goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth said the team as a whole is a “great group of guys.”
“This year, the coaching staff has been tremendous for us. And when a lot of people were doubting us, they were in here working hard with us and telling us, ‘We believe in you. We have something here,’ ” Shuttleworth said. “That just bleeds through the team. That’s why I think it’s been so enjoyable. I think there’s a good core group of players here and good guys that want to come in and want to work hard and work hard for the manager and do well.”