Minnesota United FC kicked off their summer window Monday by announcing the signing of Romario Ibarra. Per a team release, Ibarra was signed using Targeted Allocation Money, and will occupy an international slot upon receipt of his work visa and International Transfer Certificate. The move follows reports of the transfer progress from June 21 by The Athletic’s Jeff Rueter and Kristian Dyer.
The 23 year old winger joins from Ecuadorian Serie A side Universidad Catolica, having tallied 16 goals and 13 assists in 137 games over the last four-and-a-half seasons of first team play. A recent addition to the Ecuador National Team pool, Ibarra scored in each of his first two caps in 2017 in World Cup Qualifiers against Chile and Argentina. Those performances led him to be linked to Brazilian side Sao Paulo during last winter’s transfer window, as well as reported interest from Liga MX clubs Leon and Cruz Azul.
In the release, head coach Adrian Heath praised the winger’s gamebreaking speed, saying, “We have been looking for some change-of-game pace for the team and that’s one of the best things Romario does: He changes games with his pace and he challenges defenders[...] I know how difficult these types of players are for us to cope with. It will make a change now that we have one of these players on our roster that we feel, with his skill and pace on the counterattack, can be a difference maker.”
Playing predominantly on the left wing, that pace has been on display for Universidad Catolica, where he forged a partnership with the league’s top scorer, striker Jhon Cifuente. It also appeared in his goal against Argentina, scoring on a quick break 38 seconds into the game.
Romario Ibarra joins a group of six players whose primary position is on the wing, but has been decimated by injuries to Kevin Molino and Ethan Finlay. Miguel Ibarra has been deployed across the attacking midfield this season as a result, while recent signings Alexi Gomez and Frantz Pangop have so far failed to make positive impressions as forwards. That lack of effective depth wide played into the decision to operate with Miguel Ibarra and a rotating group of defenders as wing backs over the last three games.
The signing of Romario, by all accounts, was in the works in advance of Adrian Heath’s shift to a 3-5-2 formation. It’s highly possible that with the younger Ibarra, Minnesota will either shift back to its base 4-2-3-1 formation or play with a back three and more offensively-minded wing play.
That said, it could be some time until Romario sees the field. Transfermarkt.com notes that Ibarra missed time near the end of the recent Serie A stage with complications from a metatarsal fracture suffered last winter; as a result, he hasn’t seen game time since May 31, and has only played a full 90 minutes four times since last October. Visa and ITC clearance has also delayed players from joining Minnesota United in the past, so it might take some time for the new signing to fully get up to speed. There’s also the issue of formally clearing a senior roster spot; while Alexi Gomez’s rumored move to Flamengo hasn’t seen any updates lately, it’s more likely that space could be made by formally waiving Johan Venegas, whose loan to Costa Rican side (and Wednesday’s opponents) Deportivo Saprissa runs to the end of his MLS contract.
The move appears to be the first of many as Minnesota United look to bolster the squad in the summer window. Reports from Colombia last night suggested that Deportes Tolima striker Angelo Rodriguez would be joining his compatriot Darwin Quintero up front for the Loons, while sporting director Manny Lagos was quoted by MLSSoccer.com’s Sam Stejskal as, “certainly looking forward to trying to see if we can address that mechanism [the transfer window] in terms of building the roster and getting more competitive.”