By FRANCO PANIZO
BOSTON – Miguel Ibarra was in disbelief.
It was about a week ago that his cell phone rang. Someone purporting to be Jurgen Klinsmann was on the other line informing Ibarra that he had been called up to the U.S. Men’s National Team. Surely, it was a prank.
As things turned out, it wasn’t. Klinsmann was indeed calling Ibarra to inform the Minnesota United winger that he had been selected for the national team’s upcoming camp. It was a message that was hard to believe, but one that eventually sunk in.
Ibarra arrived at his first international camp earlier this week as the first player from the U.S. second division to receive a call-up since Clyde Simms earned one back in 2005. The 24-year-old winger felt the difference in atmosphere almost immediately, and also did not have to wait very long to notice the speed and quality at which things are done on the field.
“It’s intense,” said the soft-spoken and shy Ibarra. “Everybody’s working hard and everybody comes out to practice and it’s like if they’re playing a game or playing 100 percent, 110 miles per hour. The pace is really fast.”
It has been noticeable during the U.S.’s training sessions early this week that Ibarra is adjusting to the speed of the game at the international level. That should not come as much of a surprise given that he is still just a three-year pro with no previous exposure to national team system, but even while acclimating he still has managed to show some glimpses of the player that has been one of top performers in NASL.
He even scored a splendid goal in a 9-v-9 game on Wednesday afternoon that turned some heads.
“You can see a player that has some quality,” said midfielder Alejandro Bedoya before Wednesday’s training session. “I didn’t know too much about him before, to be honest, but from what I hear, he’s been performing really well in that league and even though I don’t know so much about it, it speaks volumes about Jurgen trying to find young talent and giving players a chance and an opportunity to prove themselves and show themselves.”
Practicing with the U.S. squad at the start of a new World Cup cycle was not something Ibarra ever really imagined for himself. Instead, he was just concentrating on helping Minnesota try and win NASL’s Soccer Bowl.
The speedy, 5-foot-7 winger is doing his best to make sure United accomplishes that. He has led the club to spring season title and has them on the cusp of clinching the fall’s regular season championship, scoring eight goals and assisting on five others over the course of the two 2014 campaigns.
“I was just focused on (the) season and trying to win our league, of course,” said Ibarra, who has been accompanied to the U.S. camp by a couple of Minnesota United employees who are documenting this rare call-up. “Our team’s been playing well, we’ve been playing well, and it was just great to get called up.”
While getting his first call-up is special, the fact that this week will end with Landon Donovan’s final U.S. appearance is not lost on Ibarra. Being a native of Lancaster, California, Ibarra is quite familiar with the LA Galaxy and finds it a privilege to be part of the momentous occasion that will be Donovan’s international farewell against Ecuador on Friday night.
“He was one of the main guys for Galaxy for a long time, so I did watch him play,” said Ibarra. “I never thought I’d be here in his last game, so it’s going to be an honor just being there.”
Ibarra is not a sure bet to play on Saturday at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut. Even if he doesn’t, Ibarra has enjoyed this first week with the U.S., one that took him by surprise but that he is fully enjoying.
“It’s been amazing. It’s a great experience,” said Ibarra. “I’m getting to know the whole team, the whole staff. It’s amazing just being here.”
Think Ibarra makes the 18, or maybe even sees the field? Glad to see a player from a lower-tier league get a shot with the national team? Think any other NASL players deserve a look?
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