Miguel Ibarra didn’t see action in the U.S. national team’s 2-1 defeat of Germany on Wednesday. Picking up his cellphone in the locker room afterward, he learned of another big soccer development.
Only this time, he was the focus.
Ibarra, whose stellar play and accolades have made him the face of the Minnesota United FC franchise, learned that negotiations were underway by Club León, a top-tier team in Mexican professional league Liga MX, to buy out his United contract.
Ibarra’s transfer, announced in principle Thursday and valued at seven figures, became his latest high-profile move.
Last fall the blur of a midfielder earned North American Soccer League most valuable player honors and received the first of six call-ups to the U.S. national team. He became the first second-division player to make the jump in a decade.
Ibarra’s new destination is one of the premier soccer clubs in the Western Hemisphere. As part of the agreement, United FC and Club León will play a friendly match July 18 at the National Sports Center Stadium in Blaine. Ibarra will play one half for each team.
“I’m excited because I feel this is the next step I need to take,” said Ibarra, who must still pass a physical and agree to contract terms but expects to sign. “At the same time, it’s sad because I had a great four years at Minnesota.”
Ibarra, a 25-year-old California native, was under contract with Minnesota through the 2016 season. With United’s owners recently selected for a Major League Soccer expansion franchise, his jersey is the team’s top seller and the national team exposure drew national interest.
Transfers make the soccer world go around. A prominent developing player such as Ibarra can attract global interest and advance to a higher level of play while fetching his original club a big payday.
“No player is bigger than the club,” United FC president Nick Rogers said. “We started talking to Miguel about this two years ago. All professional athletes aspire to play at the highest level, but the deal had to make sense for our club. He trusted us and that trust has been rewarded.
“It’s the business we’re in,” Rogers said. “It’s not like we were scrambling to sell.”
With one NASL match left, Ibarra has career numbers of 16 goals and 11 assists in 93 appearances with Minnesota. He and the Loons conclude the spring season against Fort Lauderdale at 7 p.m. Saturday in Blaine.
“I want to leave here knowing I gave my all in my last league game with Minnesota,” said Ibarra, who returned from Europe on Thursday.
Rogers said Ibarra’s departure doesn’t alter “the expectation that we’re still competing for a championship.” The team, which entered last year’s playoffs as the league’s top seed, fell short in its bid for the spring season championship this year. The fall season begins next month.
As for the money United FC will receive from the transfer fee, Rogers said the team will “assess on-field needs” and “other things on the business side.”
Coach Manny Lagos maintained Minnesota “is not a selling team” and called the Ibarra transfer “a huge positive for the sporting side of the club.” The team expects to begin MLS play in 2017 or 2018 pending a stadium deal.
“In the short term we’re losing a great player, but this gives us an opportunity to get more players,” Lagos said. “I believe our fans know that these relationships we are creating on the global level will pay huge dividends in the future.”