CARSON, Calif. – For years, Ramón Ramírez was an unquestionable first-choice player for the Mexican national team. A veteran of the 1994 and 1998 World Cups, Ramirez brought intensity and passion, along with a deft left foot, to the table.
Now, the veteran midfielder looks to bring some of the same skills and qualities that made him a legend in Mexico to the United States. Ramírez is the first captain of Club Deportivo Chivas USA and will be looked at not only for his on-the-field attributes but for his presence off the field as well.
"He embodies what Mexican football and what Chivas football is all about," CD Chivas USA head coach Thomas Rongen said. "We expect him to be our leader and our captain."
"My intention is to come guide the youngsters and guide this club and help it gain an identity here in the United States," Ramirez said. "In my case, it's not about looking at a return to Mexico."
At 35, Ramirez is the club's elder statesman. Over the past several seasons, his playing time with Guadalajara had been limited; though he made regular appearances, he wasn't playing a full 90 minutes on a regular basis.
But that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"I think that is one of the great plusses there, that he saved his body," Rongen said. "He's a very young 35-year-old. He looks at this opportunity to be able to now contribute as a player day in and day out on the pitch. He's working very hard to get himself to a good playing level. I expect Ramon to have a very good season for us."
For the expansion MLS side, Ramírez said it will take a lot of effort both from those wearing the uniforms on the field to those clad in red-and-white stripes in the stands.
"We're going to need a lot of support. It's not going to be easy," Ramirez said. "From the first game, we're going to be a rival that everyone will want to beat because others will look at our games as a chance to beat a Mexican team."
Ramírez is the fourth MLS player to have been a key member of the Mexican national team. Ramírez played with former Los Angeles Galaxy and Chicago Fire goalkeeper Jorge Campos in both the 1994 and 1998 World Cups; he set up former Galaxy player Luis Hernandez's game-winning goal against South Korea in France in 1998; and he played with Carlos Hermosillo, another ex-Galaxy player, in the United States in 1994.
As a left-sided midfielder, Ramírez was an integral part of El Tricolor in the mid-to-late 1990s. He started the first three matches in France '98 but was sent off late in Mexico's group-round finale, a 2-2 draw against the Netherlands. His absence in Mexico's 2-1 second-round loss to Germany was noticeable.
Ramirez, who last played for El Tri in 2000, said CD Chivas USA will generate both passion and hatred everywhere.
"I'm sure that wherever we go there will be a good amount of Mexicans supporting us, but other teams will want to beat us simply because we represent Guadalajara the same way it happens back in Mexico," Ramírez said.
Young CD Chivas USA players will need to look no further than Ramírez to see what makes a good professional, Rongen said.
"We expect him on and off the field to lead our younger players and set a good example which I know he will," he said. "He's a consummate professional."
Luis Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its club.