Miguel Ibarra never lost faith. The UC Irvine men’s soccer midfielder was faced with a problem earlier this month that could have left him discouraged and disheartened.
What happens when your dreams don’t come true? Ibarra took rejection in stride and hoped for a second chance.
Two weeks ago Ibarra left the sunny soccer fields in California for Kansas to attend the annual Major League Soccer SuperDraft.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen [in the draft],” Ibarra said.
The Big West Co-Offensive Player of the Year headed to the draft hoping to leave as an officially signed, professional soccer player.
“It was nerve-wracking, sitting there for two hours trying to wait to see if I would get called up,” he said. “Nobody knew.”
This year marked the first time that the draft consisted of just two rounds. The professional teams took the draft’s shortened nature into consideration and chose not to make their selections public before the draft.
Ibarra noted that the ambiguity of the supposed picks added to the level of intensity, but as a calm midfielder who thrives under pressure, Ibarra added, “I liked it.”
After two hours of listening intently to the nineteen teams make their two picks, the draft came to a close and the Irvine forward was left unemployed.
Kevin Esparsa, the assistant coach for Chivas USA, a professional team located in Los Angeles, approached the Big West Tournament MVP to express his certainty that this was not the end of the road for the midfielder.
There was still the opportunity to be signed in the Supplemental Draft.
“He told me, ‘Keep your head up, you’ve still got the Supplemental [Draft],” he said. “A lot of people met with me and told me the same thing. They all said, ‘Don’t worry.’ They assured me that I was going to get picked up.”
Despite finding himself at the edge of remaining undrafted, Ibarra kept looking forward in faith.
“I didn’t take [the results of the SuperDraft] bad at all,” he said. “I knew there was still the Supplemental left, and I hoped to [be drafted] then.”
The Supplemental draft was to take place Tuesday, Jan. 17 over a conference call with the 19 teams. An additional four rounds present an opportunity for clubs to finish filling holes in their rosters and a chance for another 76 players an opportunity to call Major League Soccer home.
Ibarra had faith that he would be one of the 76 to get to play his favorite game on the professional level.
Back in Irvine for the Supplemental Draft, Ibarra was in his apartment on Tuesday morning with his roommate watching the action live on the Internet. A few picks into the second round, Ibarra’s Internet froze right before a flood of “Congratulations!” messages filled the midfielder’s inbox.
“I was watching on the tracker (the live Internet version of the draft), but it froze so I found out [that I had been drafted] because everybody else told me,” he said. “Everybody started texting me.”
As the eighth pick in the second round, the Portland Timbers selected Ibarra.
Ibarra officially received his call from the MLS, and a short two hours later, Ibarra was on the phone with the Timbers’ head coach planning his departure for the following weekend. With the preseason opening in a few short weeks, Ibarra booked a flight to Oregon for Sunday, Jan 22, where he set out to train and attempt to earn a spot on the official Timbers’ roster.
Ibarra was not the only Anteater to be called up to the professional ranks on Tuesday. As the second pick in the third round, the Vancouver Whitecaps selected recently graduated Irvine goalkeeper, Andrew Fontein.
Fontein will also report to his respective training site with the opportunity to compete for a spot on the roster.
As a freshman at Irvine, Fontein quickly proved that he belonged between the posts by beating out three other goalkeepers to earn himself a spot in the starting lineup.
While two new ’Eaters prepare to represent UCI in the MLS, Ibarra finalized everything on campus and headed home to spend his last few days training and visiting his family.
Ibarra’s parents are excited and helped him add some warm clothes to his wardrobe before his departure, in preparation for the stormy Oregon forecasts.
Ibarra’s father told his son to, “Go out there, and do you.”
Ibarra will live in housing provided by the team for the next few weeks before a final evaluation and is looking forward to working hard.
“I’m just really excited to get out there already,” Ibarra said.
When asked what it feels like to take another step closer to his dream of playing in a professional stadium at the professional level, Ibarra responded, “It feels great. To me, it’s that all of the hard work finally paid off.”