A future in Major League Soccer might as well have been a pipe dream for Emmanuel Iwe several years ago. He was just another local athlete who'd bounced around from team to team following his graduation from St. Louis Park high school in 2019.

Iwe said he wasn't "some special case." Just a 22-year-old midfielder whose story was one of strife — with himself.

His ascendance, which culminated in the one-year MLS contract he signed with Minnesota United on Friday, was merely a matter of growing up. He realized that he didn't have to be so hard on himself at every turn.

On or off the field, what was meant for him would come.

"Progress isn't always linear," Iwe said. "Sometimes we'll have bad days. Sometimes we'll have bad stretches. But it's how you rebound. And I feel like that's the biggest thing, is taking those opportunities as they come. And I feel like I've done that well."

The rest is history, as he aims for more.

Iwe, who became the first Minnesota native to sign with MNUFC2 following an open tryout in January 2022, could have his newly minted contract extended as much as three times with club options in 2024, 2025 and 2026.

He is the first MNUFC2 player to sign a deal with Minnesota United, though he's already appeared in a number of Loons friendlies and league games, having signed several short-term agreements since March. In addition to brief stints with the first team, Iwe was an 11-game starter who scored four goals and logged nearly 800 minutes for MNUFC2 in the MLS NEXT Pro league in 2023.

"As I said to him yesterday, this is just the beginning now," coach Adrian Heath said. "He's got an opportunity, so we're pleased for him. But now he has to start really knuckling down and realizing this is his profession, and every day is important."

Iwe was born in Nigeria, grew up in St. Louis Park, and then played for Costa Rican first-division team Saprissa FC through the first months of 2020 before he was released amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

It wasn't until 2021, in his lone season at St. Cloud State, a Division II program, when he regained some semblance of normalcy. His 16 points, six goals and four assists for the Huskies earned him second-team all-conference honors — his last accolade ahead of a life-changing opportunity to join MNUFC2.

Across 16 appearances and 13 starts in 2022, Iwe tallied two goals and two assists before a season-ending ligament tear in his right foot last August.

He'd learned how to go with the flow on the field, thanks to more than a decade of free play with a nonprofit summer soccer program called Joy of the People. But what Iwe said was an eight-month recovery from mid-foot ligament reparative surgery proved to be a redirect unlike anything he'd encountered on the pitch.

In his toughest moments, the 5-9, 152-pounder referenced what his journeyman's path to MNUFC2 — and now Minnesota United — had taught him.

"It's been like that my whole life," Iwe said.

"It's up and down," he added, "and sometimes you need to hit the lows to get to the highs."