Once his own “Batman” to Christian Ramirez’s “Superman,” Minnesota United midfielder Miguel Ibarra reunites with his former teammate and still fast friend Wednesday in Houston for the first time since the Loons traded Ramirez 13 months ago.
“I’ve spoken to him; we’re excited,” Ibarra said. “We thought we might not play each other this year. It’s going to be a good feeling.”
Each raised in Southern California, the two were teammates in United’s North American Soccer League (NASL) days, starting in 2014 when Ramirez moved up and signed with a second-division United for which Ibarra already had played two seasons.
Playing that first season together, Ramirez was the runaway winner of the league’s Golden Boot as its leading scorer. Ibarra won the Golden Ball as the NASL’s best player.
When some fans started calling the two players a “Dynamic Duo,” soccer blogger Bruce McGuire — a founding member of the Dark Clouds supporter group — took it one step further. He asked the question comic-book fans debated forever: Who’s greater, Superman or Batman?
On his blog and podcast, McGuire teamed the two as United’s own superheroes. It gained enough steam that when the team played a game at TCF Bank Stadium that season, the two players ran over to their supporters afterward and removed their jerseys to reveal T-shirts that designated Ramirez as Superman and Ibarra as Batman.
“I still have that shirt at home,” Ibarra said. “I’ll probably always keep that just because of the memory that we have from that day.”
Ibarra also kept a big Batman banner that fans signed before he left Minnesota to play nearly two seasons in Mexico for Club Leon. This season, a young fan gave him a small framed image of a city skyline with the skyward Bat signal shining above it.
“Superman and Batman, I thought it was fun and it was good for the fans and the kids,” Ibarra said.
The two reunited in 2017 when United and Ramirez moved to MLS and Ibarra returned after he had played eight games in Mexico. They played another season and a half together before United acquired scorer Angelo Rodriguez and traded Ramirez — then the highest-scoring player in club history and a fan favorite — to first-year LAFC for at least $800,000 in allocation money.
Ramirez scored six goals in 24 games for LAFC, which traded him to Houston last month for a less than a third of the allocation money it sent United.
“LAFC was a great landing spot for him,” United coach Adrian Heath said. “The amount of chances that team creates, I thought, would have been perfect for him. I’m a little bit surprised it worked out the way it did.”
Ramirez, who has scored once in his first four games with Houston, is “very, very good” at finishing within the 18-yard box, Heath said.
“Obviously, it will be added incentive for him; it always is when you play your old team,” Heath said. “We’re fully aware what he’s capable of.”
LAFC could have traded Ramirez to an Eastern Conference team that United already has played this season, or a Western team with which it had completed its season series. Houston played in Minnesota in May.
“At the time, we thought maybe we weren’t going to play against each other this year,” Ibarra said. “I’m happy we are.”
Ibarra isn’t the only United player who calls Ramirez a friend.
“We all know Christian pretty well,” Loons veteran defender Michael Boxall said. “I’m pretty sure he’ll have a point to prove against us.”
Wednesday’s game for United is much more about its playoff implications than any reunion. The Loons’ Brent Kallman, another former teammate of Ramirez, might have both in mind if he faces a friend with whom he still plays video games with remotely.
“If I’m in the game, no way can I let this guy score,” Kallman said. “I wouldn’t be able to play Fortnite with him without thinking about it. It would drive me nuts, so there’s a little bit extra there.
“I’ve trained with him so long, I know what he likes to do and how he plays. If he plays me, he’ll have an edge as well because he knows what I like to do. I think it makes for a more interesting game.”