Ibarra’s absence from the MLS Superdraft needs Evaluation

Jan. 12 turned out to be more anticlimactic than UC Irvine soccer fans had hoped. While goalkeeper Andrew Fontein was considered a long shot from getting picked in the Major League Soccer Superdraft, midfielder Miguel Ibarra turned out to be a surprising omission.

Before the draft, Ibarra was considered mlssoccer.com’s top-25 prospects and experts figured that he would be picked late in the first round or early in the second round.

As a junior, Ibarra provided 10 assists and made one goal, but in the following season, “Miguelito” broke out with nine goals and eight assists. He was clutch, and the Big West Finals MVP often created UCI’s offensive opportunities during the Anteaters’ Big West Championship run. Despite his accomplishments, no team was willing to take him in the Superdraft.

Should teams have taken him? Could he succeed in the MLS? Why did Ibarra get passed over?

Should’ve: Ibarra proved to be trustworthy in big games, having scored the game-winning goal against UC Santa Barbara; he also  knocked in the game-tying goal against St. Mary’s in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament. Ibarra thrived in big games and often carried the team’s offensive load.

Ibarra’s performance on the field has drawn comparisons to FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi from UCI head coach George Kuntz.

“The guy creates and scores goals. What I like about his play is how Messi dribbles inside and slips the forward in — Miguel does that both from the right and the left side, or he can take guys down the line,” Kuntz told ESPN. “He’s got extraordinary speed. His cardio … there are very few guys who can run at the level of speed with and without the ball that he has over a long period of time.”

Another asset in Ibarra’s game is his defense. His marking abilities have been underrated by many scouts, but any UCI loyalist knows that Ibarra has been dangerous in one-on-ones. He has often managed to win the ball away from opposing wingers and midfielders with his quick reflexes.

Ibarra is skilled. There are very few players in the collegiate scene that can dribble and find space to attack on the offensive end like he can. He protects the ball well and shows enough explosiveness to give opposing defenders problems. His creativity is entertaining.. Although he did not score as much as Big West counterpart Luis Silva (10 goals) of UC Santa Barbara, Ibarra was one of the main reasons why UCI scored 45 goals this season.

Could’ve: Miguel Ibarra could be a great fit for MLS teams in need of a creative winger or an attacking midfielder. Ibarra would have been a great fit for Sporting Kansas City due to their lack of depth at the winger position.

Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes loves to play up-tempo and implements lively midfielders. Although Ibarra could start his MLS career playing off the bench, he could eventually become that final puzzle piece in Kansas City’s attack after a season or two. Kansas City is known to play aggressively on the attack, but they fail to maintain fluidity at times, due to tactical failures that slow the rhythm of the attack. Ibarra could fill Kansas City’s voids with a few years of development.

Why not? The ideal situation in Kansas City could have happened if it weren’t for several factors, for starters — his size. Ibarra is 5 feet 7 inches, but he weighs a mere 135 pounds.

The MLS is a physical league and Ibarra lacked physical strength in college. Whenever UCI came up against larger and more physical teams, Ibarra often found himself attacking solely from the wings and hardly cutting through defenders in the middle of the field. His skills were the very reason why he was able to grind out good passes and score goals against those teams like Cal Poly and St. Mary’s, but even polished skills have their limits.

In the MLS, Ibarra will come across larger, quicker and more skilled defenders than the Big West has to offer. If Ibarra wants to establish himself in the MLS, he needs to develop muscle mass without sacrificing speed and explosiveness.

Ibarra cannot thrive in a majority of MLS offenses. If a team had drafted him, they would have to surround their offense around him. “Miguelito” thrives on freedom. He needs space, he needs control; he needs to be allowed to do what he wants on the field. Although his skill set is promising, having to invest in him is a risk for any MLS franchise, considering his lack of size.

So what now? Thankfully the MLS is holding its supplemental draft on Thursday, Jan. 19. Ibarra will likely be selected, but he needs to play for a team that is the right fit in order to thrive in the MLS. Will he be the next Brad Evans? Maybe, but until he bulks up, it’s a long shot.