We like to proudly refer to the James A. Gilley Lancaster National Soccer Center as the finest fútbol facility west of Minnesota.
There’s someone who would know.
Miguel Ibarra is a native son of Lancaster who trains there every day with Minnesota United of Major League Soccer.
The National Sports Center in Blaine, Minnesota, covers 600 acres.
It includes 50 soccer fields, a soccer stadium that has been home to the United States Women’s National Team, as well as a hockey rink supported by the memorial foundation of America’s 1980 Miracle on Ice coach, the late Herb Brooks.
Ibarra makes a homecoming to Southern California this weekend when the Loons — that’s right, it’s a team from Minnesota, not California, known as the Loons — take on the L.A. Galaxy in Carson Sunday evening.
It’s another reminder that we have unfinished business with Ibarra, a graduate of Lancaster High School and the Lancaster Rattlers of the Developmental League.
During the 2018 World Cup cycle, Ibarra became the first Tier II player ever promoted to the U.S. Men’s National Team.
He was playing for Minnesota of the North American Soccer League when he got the call from America’s Coach, Jurgen Klinsmann.
Sean Franklin of Highland was the first American named to the USMNT, in the 2014 World Cup cycle.
They are among the most powerful indications of the dividends our 165 acres of fútbol heaven is paying as it approaches its 25th anniversary.
We also like to point to all our FIFA regulation fields at the National Soccer Center, since we have more than anyone west of Minnesota.
So why not celebrate that and our Valley Soccer trailblazers at the same time?
Let’s start naming our FIFA fields for our fútbol heroes.
The first three are no-brainers.
The first field should be named for Landon Donovan, the Godfather of AYSO, the greatest American homegrown player.
The next two should be named for Sean Franklin and Miguel Ibarra.
Think of the inspiration for our young boys and girls, playing on emerald pitches that became yellowbrick roads to the highest levels of the sport for two native Valley sons.
The momentum for MLS is unmistakable.
Ibarra and his Minnesota teammates will move into a beautiful new soccer stadium in St. Paul next month.
Sporting Kansas City welcomed to its ranks Gedion Zelalem, a veteran of six seasons with Arsenal in the English Premier League.
Other Americans who came this way over the pond include Keaton Parks, Kenny Saief with the expansion Cincinnati FC, and Joe Corona.
A total of 41 MLS players competed in the World Cup in Russia last summer.
One of them, Carlos Vela of LAFC, leads one of the most wildly entertaining squads in the sport.
We’re almost as proud of our Soccer Center as we are of our Soccer stars.
Let’s show them.