BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Born into a Croatian family in southern California, Ante Razov knew from a very early age he was going to be a professional soccer player.
That his path in the game would lead him to become the Chicago Fire's all-time leading scorer with 76 goals in 156 games was a little less clear, but Razov’s induction into the club’s Ring of Fire last weekend came as a timely tribute to his efforts over seven years for the Men in Red.
The UCLA alum joined the Fire for their maiden season in MLS in 1998 from the LA Galaxy, and was instrumental in their MLS Cup and US Open Cup double that year, and subsequent Open Cup wins in 2000 and 2003, also contributing 44 assists. He formed a devastating partnership with Josh Wolff over the club’s first five years and went on to play for the USA 25 times, scoring six goals.
Razov’s No. 9 jersey was unveiled on the East Stand to rapturous applause from the Toyota Park faithful on Saturday, joining club legends Frank Klopas, Lubos Kubik, Peter Nowak and Peter Wilt. Fellow inductees Bob Bradley, Chris Armas and CJ Brown were unable to make it to Chicago for the ceremony.
Razov, now an assistant coach with Seattle Sounders FC, paid warm tribute to his fellow entrants and current Ring of Fire members in his acceptance speech, and called it “the greatest honor of my playing career” when he spoke to MLSsoccer.com before the Fire’s 3-1 victory over the New England Revolution. The following is a selection of highlights from that conversation.
You’re the sixth player to be inducted into the Ring of Fire, and the eighth overall. What does that mean to you?
Ante Razov: It’s a phenomenal honor, the greatest honor of my playing career to be associated with these people. They’re very good footballers but even better people, so that means a lot to me.
You’ve played with five MLS clubs, but is it safe to say that the Fire are closest to your heart?
AR: Absolutely. I kiss only one badge, the Fire badge, and so you can only have one home team really. And with the success that we had, it is undoubtedly the Fire.
You were always a player that brought excitement to the fans with your scoring prowess. Which player most excites you on the current Fire roster?
AR: I think they have a nice group of attacking strikers. I've known Mike Magee for a long time and I’d like to see him get back to his best. I think when Mike is at his best, he is one of the top players in the league.
What have you made of the Fire’s recent struggles and what can they do to get back to where you think they should be in MLS?
AR: It’s a difficult time for Chicago, but I see brighter days ahead. The supporters drive this club, they drove us when we were on the field and I believe that the day will come when Chicago is back competing for championships. I think MLS is a better league when Chicago is competing for championships.
How are things going for you as a coach with the Seattle Sounders?
AR: It’s a tremendous experience. We’ve had an up-and-down season for us, and tomorrow we have a massive game with LA (It ended in a 1-1 draw -Ed). We’re trying to put things together to make a really deep playoff run. We have the capability and the talent, for sure, and so I think we just need to get some consecutive games with certain guys on the field and I think we’ll be OK.
Beyond coaching, what else does the future hold for you?
AR: I want to be a manager at some point, and so this is my first year [as an assistant], having worked in the academy for three years. I’m really enjoying it, and I love the day-to-day on the field.
You’ve been around MLS for a long time now. Do you think the game has changed significantly from when you played?
AR: It’s always difficult to compare generations, I think the pace of the league has gotten better. With all the analytics and data, the modern game is changing. I think now with the attackers getting the benefit of the doubt, they don’t take as much of a beating as they did when we played, so the game is more open, and players are getting better. I still want the American player to be better because I don’t want us to become a league of foreigners, but we have had some fantastic foreign additions to this league.
Do you think the talent is there with the younger crop of players coming through the academies to compete with the foreign talent coming in?
AR: It certainly has to be that way. Who these guys will be we will see as it develops, but I think now with the academies we’re really pushing. Coaching must improve, first and foremost, from the academy standards and all the way up, and once that happens I think the future for American players is bright.