Grandiose visions crossed prolific goal-scorer Christian Ramirez's mind, among them the notion of being Minnesota United's ceremonial first player signed for the club's inaugural Major League Soccer season in 2017.
Perhaps more fitting, however, was Ramirez joining his dear friend Miguel Ibarra, a player who helped his ascent, for a joint signing announcement Thursday at the club's Golden Valley office. The duo, whose goal-scoring, awards and personalities made them fan favorites when they played together in 2014-15, were reunited as Loons once more.
"I'm excited," said Ramirez, 25, who led United in scoring the past three seasons. "I know it's going to be a huge transition and there will be an adjustment period but, luckily, I'll have this guy on my right to help me through that."
Ibarra, 26, made his professional debut with United in 2012 before earning opportunities with the U.S. national team and transferring to Liga MX in Mexico. Of his return, he joked, "This is my home and I'm just happy to be back in the cold."
Talk in jest about reuniting the former roommates turned serious Dec. 20, when Minnesota acquired Portland's MLS rights to Ibarra through a trade. The Loons sent one of their expansion draft picks — goalkeeper Jeff Attinella — to Portland in exchange for the Timbers' second-round pick in the 2018 SuperDraft and the ability to pursue Ibarra.
About that time, lengthy negotiations with Ramirez ended when he interrupted his honeymoon to sign a deal, which was not announced publicly.
Then Ramirez and Ibarra waited, and speculated.
"Miguel called me several times and was like, 'Hey, it's happening. Then he'd call and say, 'Never mind, it's not,' " Ramirez said. "I just told him to stop calling me until I heard something else official. Once it finally happened, I didn't believe it until I told him I needed to pick him up at the airport."
Negotiations with Club Leon, which paid about a $1 million transfer fee for Ibarra in 2015, were done in time for him to sign Wednesday.
Adding the duo bumped the United roster to 11 on its way to a full 28-player squad. Training camp begins Jan. 23.
Known as Batman (Ibarra) and Superman (Ramirez), they elevate United's franchise. They helped the Loons to a victory or draw in 31 of 37 North American Soccer League games during their tenure as teammates in 2014 and the spring season in 2015.
They face challenges as they try to recapture their magic with an MLS expansion franchise in Minnesota. Ibarra was the NASL most valuable player in 2014 before he was called up to the national team. But playing time in Mexico's top league was sparse. He spoke Thursday of being motivated.
"This was the right move to make to get back to where I was at," Ibarra said, later adding, "I think I'm still the same player."
A fast and fluid midfielder, Ibarra accepted a new role at left back while playing in Mexico.
"All the coaches that I had really liked how I played that position," he said. "So I think I defend a little bit more now."
Ramirez twice led the NASL in scoring and tallied 51 goals in three seasons. He became the face of the franchise after Ibarra's departure. He earned Best XI honors three times and joins 2016 teammates Justin Davis and Kevin Venegas in re-signing with the team for MLS play.
Ramirez has not competed in any level higher that the second tier of U.S. soccer. But with Ibarra's pedigree and Ramirez receiving free agent interest from clubs in Mexico and Germany as well as those in MLS, they are more than just token local signings.
"This is an exciting and special story," United Sporting Director Manny Lagos said. "But this move is because these are two quality individuals, personalities that have been in the community and are really darn good on the soccer field — and are still growing to become better soccer players"