Nabi Kibunguchy is developing right before Minnesota United’s eyes
Kibunguchy has played nine games for MNUFC2, the upstart team in the MLS NEXT Pro league this season
Nabi Kibunguchy continues to be an intriguing prospect for Minnesota United, and with the advent of the Loons’ developmental second team this season, the club’s leadership has gotten a closer look at what the 2021 draft pick might be able to provide in MLS play.
After MNUFC picked the University of California, Davis defender with the 18th overall pick two years ago, the 6-foot-3 Californian didn’t play at all for the Loons in 2021. He was loaned out to his hometown Sacramento Republic of the USL Championship, where he played more than 1,100 minutes in 16 games.
“I was so blessed to play there,” Kibunguchy said last week of his stint with Republic. “Not many people can say they played for their hometown team, especially your first year as a pro. … A great opportunity for me to play in front of friends and family last year and just be in an environment that I’m used to.”
Kibunguchy, however, wants to challenge for a spot in MLS. He has played nine games for MNUFC2, the upstart team in the MLS NEXT Pro league this season, and played in all three of the Loons’ games in the U.S. Open Cup. He played the full 90 minutes in cup games against Forward Madison and Union Omaha.
Kibunguchy will be a candidate to play for the Loons in an international friendly against SC Paderborn 07 at 7 p.m. Saturday at Allianz Field. One factor if Kibunguchy does not play against Paderborn is he started and finished MNUFC2’s 2-1 loss at San Jose on Wednesday.
The National Sports Center in Blaine is home to both MNUFC and MNUFC2, so Kibunguchy and others on the fringes of the MLS roster can practice with the first team and play games with the reserve side. When Kibunguchy plays home games for MNUFC2, the coaching staff of the MLS side are often watching in the stadium.
The level of play in the USL Championship is higher than MLS NEXT Pro, but Kibunguchy is able to expand his experience in training with the Loons’ trifecta of experienced center backs in Michael Boxall, Bakaye Dibassy and Brent Kallman.
“I asked them about the position in general, what they see in the game,” Kibunguchy said. “Just ask them the little things of what I could do better sort of thing, and they gave me great feedback in terms of communication and just setting the line.”
Loons manager Adrian Heath has been intrigued by what Kibunguchy might be able to provide at right fullback, making a lofty comparison to Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who most recently has played at Manchester United.
For MNUFC2, Kibunguchy has played right back, center back and central midfield, and has scored two goals. But center back, a spot he has played his whole life, is his preferred spot.
“I’m more comfortable there,” he said. “I can see the whole game. … I know when to go, when to step and just communicate the line.”
If Kibunguchy, 24, is able to progress to the MLS level, he would be an in-house replacement for Boxall, Dibassy and Kallman. Those three mainstays are each north of 30 years old.
Two other Loons draft picks have been playing for MNUFC2:
Justin McMaster, who was taken 17th in 2021, is recovering from a shoulder injury. Before the setback in early May, the 22-year-old attacker had a then-team-high four goals in six games.
Tani Oluwaseyi, who was picked 17th in 2022, has played in four games. The 22-year-old attacker was working his way back from a kneecap injury sustained last season at St. John’s and has been absent for an undisclosed reason in recent games.
Heath said the Paderborn friendly is a good opportunity for players such as Luis Amarilla and Adrien Hunou to break out of dry spells in front of goal.
“Can they start getting some confidence back in themselves and in their own game?” Heath asked in a team-conducted interview Tuesday. “For a lot of different reasons, and for a lot of different players, I think this week is important.”
Since mid-March, Amarilla has not scored in 435 MLS minutes and 111 minutes in two U.S. Open Cup matches. Hunou hasn’t scored in all 118 MLS minutes played this season, but he has two goals in 241 minutes across three cup games.
MNUFC2 (5-3-3) had its eight-game unbeaten streak end Wednesday. Earthquakes II scored on a penalty kick in the 40th minute and Minnesota’s Jason Ramos was sent off with a red card in the 69th, but the Loons’ Diogo Pacheco scored the equalizer in the first minute of stoppage time. San Jose scored a minute later for the win. …SC Paderborn finished seventh in 2. Bundisliga, German’s second division, last season. … MLS said Wednesday local indie rocker Miloe will open for Khalid at the All-Star Concert at The Commons in Minneapolis on Aug. 8; this is part of the build up to the MLS All-Star Game in St. Paul on Aug. 10. Miloe is from the Democratic Republic of Congo and graduated from Edison High School in northeast Minneapolis.
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