Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
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In Miguel Ibarra's first season in Minnesota last year, it quickly became obvious that he more or less defied positional description. He started virtually every game on the right side of the midfield, but as each game progressed, he'd suddenly start turning up on the left side of the attack, or tucked in behind the forwards.
According to the 23-year-old, having no position is his best position.
"I've always played like free - so not really in a position, I'm just floating around," he says. "That's just the style of play that I play, and [head coach] Manny [Lagos] likes how I play when I do that."
It led to four goals for Ibarra in 2012, with plenty of chances created along the way - something slightly rare for a team that had trouble getting on the scoresheet. Now, with strikers Pablo Campos and Etienne Barbara entering the equation, Ibarra feels like things will be easier on him. He says, "It changes a lot, actually. Two big targets, two big forwards who score goals. I can run off them, and I don't have a lot of workload on myself."
With the options up front, it sounds like the team will be letting Ibarra assume his favored role - not right midfield, or central midfield, but something along the lines of "offensive creator." Says Ibarra, "This year they're giving me the role of being right behind the forwards. I can go either way, so I don’t really have to have a decision this time, so it's kind of working out. That formation is going to work out better this year."
He's plenty confident in how it's working so far, too. Speaking about the team's 1-0 win in Chicago, he says, "We played really well, one of our best games we played this preseason. We fought hard. They had chances and they didn't finish them, we had one and we finished it and we came out with the win. I think it's a good start right before our home opener."
Ibarra spent part of his off-season on trial with San Jose in Major League Soccer, and from the sounds of it, a move to the team was more or less scuttled by outside factors - rumored to include the screwy MLS system of "discovery claims," in which teams can place claims on unsigned players without anyone knowing about it. "[San Jose] wanted to sign me, but there were other little things that were stopping them from doing it," Ibarra says matter-of-factly. "I like it here in Minnesota. It's not disappointing. I just look at it as a chance to keep working harder and I'll eventually get there."
It's a good attitude to have, for a young player. Optimism may not be Ibarra's problem, either. When asked about his expectations for the season, he sets the bar as high as possible for United. "I think we can win both seasons," he says.
It's one of the few positions he's willing to take.
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