Marc Ybarra isn’t the type to get noticed.
And that’s just how the freshman midfielder likes it.
Ybarra grew up in Ann Arbor, and played his prep soccer with Ann Arbor Skyline. His brother, Matt, played soccer at Detroit Mercy. Michigan is all he has ever known.
He came into training an unusual candidate for playing time. Ybarra will never be the fastest or strongest player on the team. He’s a local kid on a team chalk-full of foreign-born players and out-of-state stars, and he was a two-star recruit coming into the program.
Unlike most players, though, he lets the game come to him. He’s measured in his positioning, calm with the ball at his feet and always practical in embracing his role.
For others, though, his role might be difficult to embrace.
Ybarra plays a position of grit and hustle, not of flare and bravado. It’s a position that hardly garners plaudits, but demands consistency. He often needs to be physical to stymie an attack on one side, and push up the field so he find an attacking chance of his own on the other; a “glue guy” in every sense of the word.
The position is often referred to as holding midfielder. In Michigan’s formation, Ybarra is the last player back who can help in front of the backline. And if he’s doing it best, a holding midfielder might — perhaps should — go unnoticed.
But with the ball at his feet in the box in the Wolverines’ Big Ten opener against Wisconsin, in front of the largest crowd to watch a Michigan soccer game since 2012 — which included family and friends — Ybarra knew this was his moment.
“Just walking up to the ball I got pretty excited,” Ybarra said. “I just had to stay calm and when I looked at the corner I could see it was open.”
And when his shot found the upper right corner of the net, Ybarra knew exactly where he was going.
He turned and darted for the rambunctious stands that were brimming with students. This has always been his community. And in the biggest moment of his young career thus far, Ybarra lept in the air and embraced his peers.
He called it “a dream come true” to score the eventual decisive goal in the Wolverines’ 2-1 win Friday in front of the Ann Arbor faithful.
This was his moment to garner the attention that he so rarely covets. The moment he earned through hundreds of physical challenges and clearances, through connecting passes and headers, through strategic positioning and calculated movement.
“Every single day in training, you know what you’re gonna get,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “He’s very intelligent and he’s excellent on the ball. What more can I ask for? He’s a competitor, as you could see tonight.”
With 30 minutes remaining and Michigan in control of the game, a Wisconsin attacker broke through with an eye toward the goal. Ybarra, one of the last potential players to keep him from the net, slid in. He did so without malicious intent, but with a clear intention to slow down the attack one way or another. He picked up a foul — careful not to let it escalate into a card — and allowed his defense to set before the free kick.
It was simply a smart foul, the type of play that will inevitably be lost in the memories of fans and won’t show up in a box score, but also the type of play that needs to be made to secure a lead.
He doesn’t need the highlight reels or praise — though he garnered both Friday. Marc Ybarra is already living his dream.