Miguel Ibarra & Christian Ramiez

Miguel Ibarra and Christian Ramirez are announced as Minnesota United's newest MLS signings. Photo by Dan Mick

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Dynamic Duo Return to Minnesota United

by on 5 January 2017

GOLDEN VALLEY, MINN. – Minnesota United announced the return of two of their most popular players. Former roommates and once young upstarts, Christian Ramirez and Miguel Ibarra were reunited as the team announced their latest MLS signings.

At a press conference held at the team’s offices, Minnesota United paraded out both Ramirez and Ibarra, also known to fans as Superman and Batman, respectively – nicknames given to the two when they both still played for Minnesota in the NASL.

Ibarra originally came to Minnesota in 2012 after being chosen by the Portland Timbers in the SuperDraft and subsequently released. Then-Timbers assistant coach Amos Magee called up his friend Manny Lagos and told him to check out the former UC Irvine player. Though a bit erratic in his play early on, Ibarra became an instant crowd pleaser with his blazing speed and tireless engine.

During his time with the Loons, Ibarra was asked to play for the US Men’s national team, making him the first American lower division player called up  for US team duty since 2005. He earned his first cap against Honduras on October 14, 2014, and was called up a total of five times, making three appearances.

In June of 2015, Minnesota completed a record lower-division transfer deal, selling the midfielder to Club León for nearly a million dollars. Ibarra received some playing time early on, but club issues saw three coaches come and go for León, and Ibarra fell out of favor. He featured in only eight games for León, scoring once, and has not been called back into the USMNT since joining the Liga MX side.

The 25-year-old Ramirez joined United back on January 8, 2014, after playing for the Charlotte Eagles of the USL. When starting striker Pablo Campos tore both his ACL and MCL in a preseason friendly ahead of the 2014 NASL season, Ramirez jumped on the opportunity and has never looked back.

He won the 2014 NASL Golden Boot by an eight-goal margin and also put the NASL Young Player of the Year award in his trophy case. He won the Golden Boot again in 2016 and made the NASL Best XI in 2014, 2015, and 2016. During his tenure as US national team coach, Jurgen Klinsmann was said to be keeping an eye on the Santa Ana, Calif. native. In 90 appearances with the Loons in the NASL, Ramirez scored 51 goals.

The Deals

Ramirez had been in contract negotiations since mid-summer, which was at times very frustrating for him. “I’m glad this process is over and I’m excited to get back to work,” the forward admitted in today’s press conference. Ramirez said he was only 12 hours away from signing with a Liga MX team who he would not identify.

FiftyFive.One has learned that the Mexican team’s offer was well over $400,000 a year. “To even have offers from other teams down there and even offers from abroad were exciting,” said the United forward. “I always had a number in my head that if we got to I’d stay. Once we got there it was up to me to decide. My wife has a really good job here that she enjoys so I took that into account.”

It’s believed that Ramirez signed with the Loons for a $350,000 salary.

While Ramirez deal dragged out, Ibarra’s contract negotiations happened much quicker. However,  there were still snags along the way. “Miguel called me several times and says, ‘Hey, it’s happening.’ Then he called again and said, ‘Never mind, it’s not.’ I told him to stop calling me until I hear something official,” laughed Ramirez. “When it finally happened I told him I wouldn’t believe him until I picked him up at the airport.”

Ibarra comes back to Minnesota through an indirect route. United picked up goalkeeper Jeff Attinella in the MLS expansion draft and then traded him to the Portland Timbers. With that deal, the Loons acquired a second-round pick in the 2018 SuperDraft and the discovery rights to Ibarra. Sporting Director Manny Lagos said today that the deal to get Ibarra back from Leon was a “straight transfer”.

Moving to MLS

Ramirez seemed to be truly excited to be playing for coach Adrian Heath this coming year. Heath was a striker himself, winning two First Division titles in England with Everton.

“I think he knows the little things that can help,” explained Ramirez. “There’s only so much that someone can coach and teach, and he just gets the best out of you. He’s been through this transition before and that’s perhaps the biggest influence that he will have. You can go back to when Dom [Dwyer] dropped down to USL, and then he moved up to Sporting and his transition was smooth. The same was true with Cyle Larin. He knows something that works.”

Although Ibarra was frustrated with his Leon experience, he still believes his time there was well spent. “I learned a lot playing in Mexico’s Liga MX,” said the pacy midfielder, citing the league’s speed of play and the need to always know what to do with the ball. “Everyone is aggressive and physical. The national team was the same way. Adjusting to that helped the jump to Leon.” Ibarra said he played with teammates who he never dreamed he’d be playing with side-by-side, and they always encouraged him. “They used to tell me to always work hard and never let down.”

The move back to Minnesota and alongside his old roommate seemed to make Ibarra happy. “I think it’s the right move for me, it’s here my whole career started. I’m happy to be back home. It’s real — we’re back together and ready to get back to work, that’s all that matters.”

  • John Herman

    Superfriends!

    Nice to have a number for Ramirez’s salary, as well as hearing about interest from other clubs. I’m really curious to see how he measures up in MLS so it’s refreshing to have an idea of how the people who are paid to think about this rate him. Seems reasonable as far as I can tell, although it could be handy to see a list of MLS strikers with the salary and goal production of each.

    I’d also be curious to hear what we’re paying Ibarra. Either way, these guys are a big part of the club and its good vibes and I’m thrilled to have them locked in.

    • Kyle Eliason

      From a ruthlessly cold standpoint, $350,000 seems a little pricey for a forward with only NASL experience, but in the end I share your thoughts.

      I’m glad Ramirez has a chance to show what he can do in MLS, and I’m especially glad I’ll be able to watch him do it here in Minnesota.

      • John Herman

        I would guess that it partly explains why signing him took so long. Yeah he’s never played top flight soccer and so he should need to prove his value in the league before getting paid so much. But if he walks in and says a Mexican club will pay him $400,000, he can ask a lot more than MN would otherwise pay. And I certainly don’t blame him for doing so, or seriously considering leaving if United couldn’t offer something competitive.

        It is what it is. I would have loved to get him cheap, but I think he’s worth the risk given his importance to United and I think he’ll earn it.

  • MmattN

    pointless point: I really dig the cool threads our signings have been wearing. Either kudos to whoever with the Loons is doing it or our guys have some serious style… Really it’s a nice thing that I feel adds to the fact that these MLS signings are the real deal

    • Brian Quarstad

      Jeff Rueter and and I got to sit down with them both yesterday and do a one-on-one with the two. We were joking about Miguel’s bow-tie and they said they both went out and bought nice suites for the event because Venegas and Calvo set the standard last week when they showed up looking sharp. They didn’t want to be outdone. Interesting how some new blood in the team can bring new standards even off the field.

      • BJ

        It’s something I’ve seen Manny strive for in players, off field quality. Sometimes it didn’t work. But you see the idea in his signed players.

    • TeresaFC

      I agree. It’s another layer of the players stepping up their games. That off-the-pitch level of professionalism makes a difference in attitudes – I think both theirs and ours as fans and observers – and the mental game is so important.

  • Kevin Hill

    Any idea as to Ibarra’s contract $ or how many years for both? Also $350k is a big contract… do you think that signals they may be looking to move Ebobisse?

    • Brian Quarstad

      We don’t know ‘yet’ about Miguel’s contracts worth. As to Ebobisse, as we have pointed out here at 55.1 numerous times, he trained with MN United last summer and Heath watched him play this winter. Both players and coaches were raving about him and as a 19 year old immediately fit into the team and was turning players and scoring. In my opinion just can’t see them letting a talent like that go as a new team trying to build for the future.