In his past three matches, Miguel Ibarra has scored a goal and made two assists.
But Minnesota United’s 2-0 victory against Sporting Kansas City on Sunday was just the second time all season the left winger made it whistle to whistle.
“Just finishing this game was big for me,” Ibarra said of his full 90 minutes, his first coming in a draw at the Colorado Rapids on March 18.
After playing sparingly the past two years at former team Club Leon in Mexico, the former North American Soccer League star was slow to come into his own this season in Major League Soccer. But since the second half of Minnesota United’s April 15 draw at the Houston Dynamo, the 27-year-old Ibarra has figured out his role within the team a bit more in each of the past three matches.
“Miggy now is starting to develop a little rhythm,” coach Adrian Heath said. “He’s getting a grasp of what we want from him. Before, he’s played a little bit of a different role than we’re asking of him.”
In previous seasons, Ibarra typically would stretch the field by keeping his position on the flank, using his speed to beat opponents. In his new role, Ibarra is more a part of the midfield and the effort to maintain possession there.
Ibarra came on for injured Rasmus Schuller late in the first half of that Houston match, having made only two starts and five appearances before that. As soon as he came in, Ibarra said, he made some runs and realized he could “play this role.”
In the next match in Colorado, he started and scored his first MLS goal in a 1-0 victory. He started the next two matches as well, assisting on both goals on Sunday for his first assists in the league. He made the MLS Team of the Week on Monday for his efforts.
Ibarra said he has spoken with Heath and the rest of the coaching staff about the way they want him to play. In a word, it’s “simple.”
“It’s just about getting that pocket, someone goes close, make sure I spin out, and that’s exactly what I did” in Sunday’s game, Ibarra said. “In the past, I was used to just staying out wide … going at people. Which, now it’s a whole different system. … It’s just about me finding those little holes now instead of staying out wide, make sure I come and look for the ball.
“It’s been working a lot. It was just a matter of time for me to learn how to play that style. And little by little, I’m getting back my form.”
United will need Ibarra’s performance to continue trending upward, especially with what Heath calls a “huge game” at 3 p.m. Saturday at Toronto FC, probably the most “in-form team in the league.”
The MLS Cup runners-up from last season lead the Eastern Conference and the league overall at 5-1-4. United is 3-5-2, one spot out of playoff contention in the West and solidly in the middle of the league pack.
Ibarra has “been better and better the last few weeks,” Heath said. “I expect a lot more from him. He’s got great energy levels. And now, he’s starting to make things happen [offensively].”
Ibarra’s best friend, forward Christian Ramirez, who scored off one of the winger’s assists Sunday, said Ibarra’s “burst” has been simmering under the surface for a long time.
“It’s just good to see him finding his legs,” Ramirez said.