Miguel Ibarra made his first start for the U.S. Men's National Team in Sunday's friendly against Panama. Ibarra took an unusual road to his spot with the Stars and Stripes: he currently plays for Minnesota United FC, a second-division team out of the North American Soccer League.
This makes Ibarra the first non-MLS domestic league player to earn a national team call-up since Clyde Simms in 2005.
The Minnesota FC organization and fans are tracking Ibarra's progress using the hashtag #IbarraWatch. The 24-year-old midfielder was first called up by national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann for friendlies this past October and November. He made his debut against Honduras, entering as a late substitute.
But on Sunday, Ibarra earned his first start.
Ibarra's journey is unorthodox but encouraging for player development in the United States. Klinsmann has not only scouted American talent across the globe playing in the top European leagues, he's also called up college player Jordan Morris. Still, Morris has been on the radar, as he plans on signing with the Seattle Sounders once he leaves Stanford.
Somehow, Ibarra slipped through the cracks in both college and MLS. From Lancaster, Calif., Ibarra was passed over by Div. I teams coming out of high school. He ended up playing two years at a junior college before transferring to UC Irvine before his junior year.
Despite being named the Big West Division's Co-Offensive Player of the Year as a senior, Ibarra was not selected in the 2012 MLS Superdraft. He was eventually picked in the second round of the Supplemental Draft by the Portland Timbers but did not make the final roster.
Fact is @Migue10Ibarra became a USMNT player before @MLS gave him a chance. Let that sink in
— keith costigan (@KeithCostigan) October 15, 2014
But he got his chance in the NASL with Minnestoa FC. And he's been dominant: dominant enough to catch the attention of Klinsmann, dominant enough to earn a call-up, and dominant enough to earn a start. Ibarra is finally getting noticed.
Not familiar with Ibarra? Check out some 2014 Minnesota FC highlights below: