ORLANDO – The long road to the MLS Cup begins with the smallest of steps, and for Minnesota United that meant something as simple as Saturday’s 1-0 victory over New England in the Orlando City Invitational.
That’s the third consecutive clean sheet in preseason play by a team that allowed a then-league record 70 goals in 2017 and 71 in 2018. The 71 was outdone by Orlando City’s 74.
When United unveiled new jerseys at the Mall of America last Sunday, veteran midfielder Miguel Ibarra dared mention not only reaching the playoffs this season but also advancing to the finals and raising the trophy come November with five new starters.
“I’m always a big dreamer,” he said after Saturday’s game at Orlando City Stadium. “I think we can do big things this year.”
Ibarra scored the game’s only goal in the 66th minute, and keepers Vito Mannone and Bobby Shuttleworth did the rest. Ibarra converted a long high ball from teammate Rasmus Schuller into a casual open-net goal after a misplay by Revolution goalkeeper Brad Knighton.
Knighton tried to play the incoming ball with his feet, but Ibarra on the run beat him to possession of it and eventually scored freely on an angled shot.
United made news by acquiring MLS veterans Ozzie Alonso and Ike Opara as well as Mannone, midfielder Jan Gregus and right back Romain Metanire from Europe. All five started for the first time together and played into Saturday’s second half.
It also welcomed back forwards Darwin Quintero, Romario Ibarra and Angelo Rodriguez for their first full seasons in Minnesota.
Lost in all of it might have been Miguel Ibarra, the Californian who scored seven goals in 33 games in his second season with United last year.
“He had a great season last season,” United coach Adrian Heath said. “I thought he was maybe one of our most consistent performers. I said to him I think he can get double figures in goals, and that’s what he has to do because his energy level is incredible. He can get into the box and make things happen.”
He did so with Saturday’s lone goal, which came after he was part of a four-way passing play started by Alonso from beyond midfield. It ended when Romario Ibarra — starting up front for injured Angelo Rodriguez — just missed converting Miguel’s crossing pass at the far post in the first half.
That chance gone, he didn’t miss the open net after Heath started substituting for his starters 62 minutes into the game.
“The goal tonight, that’s just his willingness to run because he knows he’s physically capable of getting back to his spot even if he doesn’t get that ball,” Heath said. “It was another good evening for him.”
It was for United, too, even if it’s only preseason.
“We were one of the worst teams as far as conceding goals the last two years,” Miguel Ibarra said. “This year is big for us to make sure we’re together and nothing goes through us. We’ve got three straight clean sheets now. That’s big for us.”
Big enough to dream big.
“I don’t mind lads dreaming big,” Heath said.
United announced it has signed draft picks Chase Gasper (15th overall in first round) and Hassani Dotson (second round) to contracts. Seventh overall pick and goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair previously was signed as a Generation Adidas player.