According to a report from ESPN’s Doug McIntyre, Minnesota United midfielder Miguel Ibarra will be called into the US men’s national team for mid-October friendlies against Ecuador and Honduras.
Ibarra, 24, would be the first player called up to the national team from the USA’s lower leagues since Clyde Simms, nearly ten years ago – and Simms was almost immediately snapped up by DC United, following his call-up by the national team, and would go on to play nine seasons in MLS.
The call-up, though as yet unofficial, would be a major step forward for Ibarra, who in his third professional season has come into his own as a player. After showing flashes of potential during 2012, Ibarra struggled mightily in the first half of 2013, before recovering in the second half to position himself for a breakout 2014. Paired with Christian Ramirez as the focal point of United’s attack, the duo has become the most dangerous combination in the league, combining for 24 goals – eight from Ibarra, impressive given that he scored just once in 2013.
It would also be a major feather in the cap for United, as a club, and for head coach Manny Lagos. It’s no secret that Minnesota wants to be competitive on the American soccer landscape as a whole, not just within NASL, and to develop a talent like Ibarra for the powerhouse USA national team would stand as an impressive achievement – potentially one that the club and the coach could point to when recruiting other players.
Ibarra has never made a secret that his desire is to play at the top level – in Major League Soccer or even in Europe. If he is called up to the national team, there’s no doubt that potential suitors will come sniffing around. That said, United has made it clear that any potential buyer will have to pay – something that represents somewhat of a change for the team. In early 2013, Minnesota allowed several players, Ibarra among them, to try out for various MLS teams. To a man, those players had disappointing seasons, especially early in 2013. By the beginning of this year, United made it clear that the practice of letting MLS teams “borrow” players was over; New York wanted to bring Ibarra in for a trial in the preseason, but desisted when told that Minnesota was looking for compensation.
It’s a desire that likely represents the best for both Ibarra and Minnesota. The team won’t let him go without a fight, but any MLS team that’s willing to pay the price is thus likely to give Ibarra a better chance, having already invested to bring him in. Though there are success stories, like Luke Mulholland this season at Real Salt Lake, the lower divisions are littered with players who have failed to make their MLS mark for one reason or another. Ibarra, though, is positioned to potentially beat the odds.
The potential callup could put a dent in Minnesota’s fall championship chase, though. Should Ibarra be part of the squad, it’s likely he would miss several United games. He’s unlikely to miss this Saturday’s game, at home against Atlanta – but Minnesota plays three league matches in eight days the following week, with the final one being an all-important home date with New York. From a United standpoint, there are probably better weeks for Ibarra to get the national-team call – not, of course, that anyone from the club is likely to mention anything but excitement.
While there’s no doubt Ibarra is excited for the potential chance, it also must be noted that he is fond of his Mexican heritage – to the point that he cheered for Mexico during a friendly between Mexico and the USA in early 2013, something that his teammates were not exactly thrilled about. “I told them if I had a choice I would play for either one,” he said, “so I went for Mexico, and it was 0-0, and the next day at practice they were just letting me have it.”
A callup for Ibarra would be the latest in a line of surprises from USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Earlier this month, Klinsmann called up Stanford University striker Jordan Morris for the team’s friendly in the Czech Republic, the first time in many years that a college player had made the squad. While Morris didn’t play in the game, it got plenty of Seattle Sounders fans excited, as Morris is a Seattle native and homegrown Sounders product.
Again, nothing is official, but the reports have people talking. And if the callup comes to fruition, it’ll be yet another milestone for Ibarra, for United, and for Minnesota soccer.