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.
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”.
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.”