Forward Damani Ralph transfers to Russian club FC Rubin Kazan
CHICAGO - The Chicago Fire today announced that forward Damani Ralph has signed a contract with Russian Premier Liga side FC Rubin Kazan that will result in Ralph's immediate departure from the MLS side. To compensate for the loss of Ralph, the 2004 Fire/Budweiser Scoring Champion and 2003 Gatorade MLS Rookie of the Year, the Fire will receive a major player allocation from MLS. Ralph had agreed to a multi-year deal with the Fire last April. Per MLS policy, terms of the transfer deal were not made available.
"First, this is a great situation for Damani financially," said Fire President/GM Peter Wilt. "This move will enable him to take care of himself and his family in Jamaica for life. Damani has been a great asset to the team and organization. In only two years, he created some of the most exciting goals in Fire history. He has also been a wonderful representative of the Fire and a loyal part of the organization off the field. I will miss him professionally and personally.
"For the Fire, it is the fourth time in two years we are losing one of our top players to European clubs," continued Wilt. "It makes things challenging, but we will receive a major allocation to replace Damani. [Head Coach] Dave [Sarachan] and I have been working the phones and looking at tapes and we are confident that we will be able to find another top forward for the Fire some time this season. This will also create an opportunity in the short term for Nate Jaqua and our newly drafted forwards to step up and prove themselves. Transfers of talented players are a part of soccer globally. We are playing in a world market and these moves the last two years are a credit to the organization's ability to develop top players. We will use Damani's transfer as an opportunity to improve the Fire and compete for championships again this year."
The 24-year-old Ralph created cause for many revisions in both the Fire and MLS record books during his two-year stay in Chicago. The 18th overall pick in the 2003 MLS SuperDraft out of the University of Connecticut quickly made a name for himself by breaking the League's rookie scoring record in 2003, when he recorded 11 goals to go along with six assists, all of which contributed to him being the runaway choice for that season's Rookie of the Year honor. Those marks also gave the budding Jamaican international the fifth-highest single-season point total in Fire history, while his breakthrough performance helped the "Men in Red" to their first Eastern Conference Championship and MLS Supporters Shield and a third appearance in MLS Cup.
"My time here in Chicago was great. I came as kind of a secret and got a few opportunities as a rookie and made some things happen and ended up having an unbelievable season, and while last season things weren't as good for the team, I tried hard and did well," said Ralph. "It has just been a wonderful experience. There are a lot of good players in this league, and the ones I played besides, like Chris Armas, Ante Razov, DaMarcus Beasley, Carlos Bocanegra and Andy Williams - those guys were just wonderful guys to be around. It's kind of tough saying goodbye to everybody, but it was good while it lasted. Hopefully one day I'll be able to get back here.
"[Rubin Kazan] played in the Champions League two years ago, and that's the biggest tournament in the world. It is a huge opportunity to have the chance to play in a tournament like that, and it provides me with a different experience right now. I thought this would be a good chance for me to move on and see what might be in store for me out there and see if it might open some other doors. I'd like to thank MLS, my coaches and the Fire staff, especially Peter Wilt, for everything they did for me during my time in Chicago."
In addition to his impressive individual performances during 2003, which included the Pepsi MLS Goal of the Year, Ralph would team up with former Fire strike partner Ante Razov to set the League record for the most consecutive games in which a pair of teammates both scored (4) and tie the MLS mark for the most games in a season in which teammates both scored (7). Ralph would also play the hero in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, as he would tally the lone goal in a 1-0 defeat of the MetroStars on Oct. 15, 2003 in the tournament Final that allowed the Fire to lift the Dewar Trophy as champions for the third time in six years.
"Damani made a tremendous impact on the Fire in his two years with us," said Fire Head Coach Dave Sarachan. "As difficult and sad as it is as a team and an organization, I am happy for him on a personal and professional level that he is able to move to a place where he feels he will be able to advance his career. I wish him only the best in his new venture."
Ralph's stellar play would continue in 2004, when the dangerous striker became just the third different player in team history to capture the Fire/Budweiser Scoring crown - alongside five-time champ Razov and Hall of Fame member Eric Wynalda - after notching a team-high 11 goals and three assists. Those marks put Ralph in the League's top 10 in scoring, with the 25 points good for eighth place on the Budweiser Scoring Chart, in addition to another spot in the Fire's single-season scoring list, tying him for eighth place alongside former Fire heroes Eric Wynalda, Hristo Stoitchkov and Dema Kovalenko. With injuries and call-ups putting the Fire's offensive burden on his feet last season, Ralph would end the 2004 MLS campaign as the League leader in with 89 shots, 14 more than the next closest player, while his 11 goals placed him in a four-way tie for the third most in MLS.
During the 2004 campaign, Ralph would equal feats that were accomplished before for the Fire only by Razov, the club's all-time leading scorer, when he reached the 50-point plateau in his 45th League match against the L.A. Galaxy on Aug. 21 and registered the third hat trick in team history with his stunning performance against D.C. United in a 3-0 victory on June 5 at Soldier Field. Ralph's play in 2004 deservedly earned him a starting nod for the Eastern Conference in last July's MLS-All Star game at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., during which he tallied an assist on game MVP Amado Guevara's 20th minute goal that opened the scoring in the East's 3-2 win.
Ralph finishes his career in Chicago having made 51 appearances, with 47 of those coming as a member of the starting eleven. He ends his tenure in the Windy City near the top in several of the club's career statistical categories with 53 points (6th), 22 goals (T-4th), seven game-winning goals (4th), 180 shots (2nd) and 72 shots on goal (5th). While his career in Chicago comes to an end, Ralph's tenure with the Jamaican National Team appears to be only beginning. Ralph has scored one goal in 12 appearances with the "Reggae Boyz" and was a regular member of the squad's line-up during the semifinal round of CONCACAF Qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
TRANSACTION: FORWARD DAMANI RALPH LEAVES ON TRANSFER TO FC RUBIN KAZAN OF RUSSIAN PREMIER LIGA