Minnesota United veteran Miguel Ibarra’s move from a midfield spot on the right side to left back for Saturday’s 1-0 home victory over Columbus might have seemed new to teammates and team supporters alike.
It wasn’t to him.
He played there during parts of two seasons with Club Leon in Mexico’s Liga MX, a stop between two separate stays playing for MLS and NASL teams in Minnesota.
“I was actually familiar with it,” he said, “so it was nothing new to me.”
Ibarra played there Saturday to balance from the back a United attack that had grown reliant on fullback Romain Metanire’s runs down the right side in the season’s first 11 games. Chicago grew smart to it a week ago and overloaded that side in a successful attempt to negate Metanire’s threat during the Fire’s 2-0 victory.
“Obviously, if you look at the game last week, people aren’t silly,” United coach Adrian Heath said. “They’ll keep watching the game, and Romain is a problem for teams and I just felt that we needed the same thing on the left.”
Francisco Calvo provided a threat pushing forward from left back before he was suspended for a game and supplanted in the starting lineup for two games by defensive-minded Eric Miller. Calvo was traded to Chicago two weeks ago, eight days before his play and knowledge of the opposition helped shut out the Loons.
United allowed just one goal in those first three games with Miller as starting left back. But the Loons also scored just two in four games, concluding with the loss at Chicago in which they had nary a scoring chance.
“It gives us more of an option,” Ibarra said. “We can either go right or we can go to the left side. I knew they were going to try to expose me because they probably saw that I hadn’t played left back. But I knew deep inside that I could play that position, so I was ready for it.”
After Saturday’s victory, Heath praised the performances of his entire back line. He called Metanire’s play “incredible” and center backs Brent Kallman and Michael Boxall “outstanding.” Kallman’s diving header off Metanire’s curvaceous crossing pass redirected the ball to former Columbus star Ethan Finlay for the game’s only goal, in the 70th minute.
Ibarra marked young Crew winger Robinho in the first half and gifted scorer David Accam in the second half on a night when Columbus lost for the seventh time in its eight games.
“It definitely was a challenge for me, but I think I did well with it,” Ibarra said.
Heath thought so, too.
“Obviously, you worry defensively, but I thought he was terrific,” Heath said. “Really good, smart spots, didn’t get done in behind. So he did excellent.”
Ibarra played all 90 minutes Saturday but moved higher to a left midfield position when Miller subbed into the game for Kevin Molino in the 79th minute.
“It continues to show his versatility,” Finlay said. “Miguel is one of the more versatile guys on our team, and that’s a really, really great tool to have as we’re getting into this long stretch of the summer season. The left side comes in and gives us a totally different look on that side.”
Ibarra had three shots — second only to Darwin Quintero’s six — on a night when United outdid Columbus 19-4 on total shots and held an opponent without a shot on goal for its first time in MLS play.
Ibarra’s best scoring chance might have been a ball played by Angelo Rodriguez that Ibarra missed on a full run from 12 yards out in the game’s final minutes.
“He was great,” Boxall said, smiling. “I think he won’t be too happy because if he does such a great job at left back, he might find himself stuck there.”