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March Mania

When Ibarra gets on the scoresheet, Loons have won every game

Minnesota United midfielder Miguel Ibarra (10) celebrates his goal in the second half against Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday, May 5, at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Brad Rempel / USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES—Miguel Ibarra will be a hot commodity when Minnesota United plays expansion franchise LAFC on Wednesday night, May 9, at Banc of California Stadium. It will run parallel to the midfielder's ascendent play this season.

Ibarra has three game-winning assists and one game-deciding goal, coming in the 1-0 victory over Vancouver on Saturday, May 5. For perspective, the Loons are 4-5 this season.

Ibarra comes from Lancaster, Calif., which is 75 miles northeast of L.A., and the nearby Taft College program he played with for two seasons will be bringing its current team to watch a famous alum.

"I'm just really excited to play in front of them," Ibarra said. "I don't really get that opportunity much. ... That they will be there for me is big."

That's not all. Ibarra will have family and representatives from his subsequent school, University of California-Irvine, also in the stands, bringing the total of personal supporters to around 60.

When Ibarra scored on Saturday, his close friend and teammate Christian Ramirez said a camera should have been filming his reaction. As the play developed—Alexi Gomez left-footed cross, Ibarra's back-post run and Ibarra's follow-up after his initial attempt was denied—Ramirez was hitting the signage in a suite inside TCF Bank Stadium.

"It was good to see him get the confidence back since coming back with us," Ramirez said.

After a spell in Mexico's Liga MX, Ibarra was dissatisfied with his performance in 2017, with three goals and four assists in 29 games. With that in mind, he and Ramirez had an abbreviated vacation to start the offseason, less than one week, before they started training again in California.

Ramirez, of Garden Grove, Calif., about 35 miles south of L.A., would meet Ibarra for work with a trainer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, they would play pick-up games with Benny Feilhaber of LAFC and Sacha Klejstan of Orlando City.

"I saw a different side of him that I hadn't seen before," Ramirez said. "Every offseason, Miguel takes his time to recover his body. I know he wasn't happy with how he played last year. He took a lot of pride in the fact that he had to fix some things and get to work on it. Credit to him."[

When Kevin Molino was lost for the season, Ibarra moved from a winger spot to the central attacking midfielder role and propelled results. Now back on the outside with the addition of Darwin Quintero, Ibarra is still making his presence felt.

"I think I'm getting better every game," Ibarra said Saturday. "My confidence right now is up there. I know I didn't have a good year last year—it was on and off."

Ibarra, who was a member of the U.S. men's national team in 2015, said having his Taft community college brethren cheering him on Wednesday will be a reminder of where he came from. He also feels like he's going places.

"I'm really healthy, and I feel like I'm the best I've felt," Ibarra said. "I'm really excited to get going."