While Miguel Ibarra’s sale to Club Leon was exciting for the player and lucrative for the team, it left United fans wondering who might provide offense in the second half of the team’s season. Ibarra had scored three goals in 10 games, and often served as the only dynamic part of Minnesota’s attack in the first half of the year. Without him, United looked a step slow, and distinctly out of sorts.
It took a few growing pains during a midseason slide, but the United offense appears to be clicking again. Minnesota scored four goals against Jacksonville, four against San Antonio last Saturday, then three more Friday against Jacksonville — an 11-goal outburst, the most the team has scored in a three-game stretch under Manny Lagos.
Three things appear to be driving United’s post-Ibarra resurgence. For one, winger Kalif Alhassan appears to finally be settling in. The 24-year-old, who spent the last four years with Portland in MLS, came with a reputation as an exciting but frustrating attacker — the type to beat four defenders, then sky a shot over the goal. Against San Antonio, Alhassan set up two goals and scored another, looking for all the world like he was ready to settle into Ibarra’s spot on the left wing.
Secondly, Ibson finally appears to be fully healthy, and ready to assume a playmaking role in the center of the midfield. Rewind the tape on any of Minnesota’s goals, and as likely as not you’ll find Ibson making the key pass – bypassing defenders and playing others into space. The Brazilian veteran has replaced Ibarra as the fulcrum around which the United attack moves, and his ability to unlock the defense might be the biggest key for Minnesota.
The third reason has been the player on the other end of those Ibson passes, who is often striker Christian Ramirez. After spending the majority of the spring season on the bench, Ramirez is back into the starting lineup — and has found his scoring touch, with four goals in the past three games.
Ramirez says it took much longer to build understanding with his new teammates than it did with Ibarra, but believes they’ve now dealt with that learning curve. “Once you get that familiarity with your teammates, things just fall into place, and I think that’s happened with Kalif and Ibson as of late,” he said. “We have that little understanding – of maybe a head nod or an eye movement, making that connection now.”
For the past year and a half, Ibarra served as the key to everything Minnesota did, and the chemistry he shared with Ramirez played a big role. At the moment, Ibson and Alhassan are making that connection with Ramirez — and chipping in with their own difference-making — even Ibarra-like — offensive performances.