Christian Ramirez entered 2017 with an unimpeachable record, but an uncertain future. The striker didn’t know if he’d spend his next season in Minnesota or Mexico, and wasn’t sure how his game would translate from American soccer’s lower levels to MLS or Liga MX.
His critics had questions, too. Plenty of people wondered if Ramirez, who played at a small NAIA college and split his first four pro seasons between USL and NASL, was the sort of player talented enough to do serious damage in the lower divisions, but not quite good enough to make an impact in the top flight.
Ten months later, and there are no longer many doubts about the 26-year-old forward.
Ramirez has perhaps been the brightest spot in Minnesota’s difficult expansion season. He’s scored 14 goals in 29 regular season appearances with the Loons, tied with Jozy Altidore and CJ Sapong for the most goals by an American in MLS. He’ll look to claim the lead for himself on Sunday, when Minnesota close their inaugural season in the league with a Decision Day presented by AT&T clash at San Jose (4 pm ET; MLS LIVE).
“Ever since I transferred from UC-Santa Barbara to a little NAIA school, I always knew the road here would be difficult,” Ramirez told MLSsoccer.com in a recent interview. “I’m just thankful to be able to have played in the league this year, to continue to make strives forward and continue to prove to myself and to others that I can score goals in MLS.”
It’s been a “rollercoaster” season for Ramirez, but he’s used to a bit of professional turmoil.
This time last year, he didn’t know if he’d make the jump with Minnesota to MLS. He won the NASL Golden Boot in 2014 and 2015 with the club, but hadn’t yet agreed to an MLS deal and had interest from Mexico. He said four Liga MX sides ended up offering him contracts, with two of those teams “very serious” about acquiring him.
The Southern California native came to the brink of joining one of them. He said he’d made up his mind while on his honeymoon to sign with one of the Mexican teams, but he gave Minnesota 12 hours to hit a salary number that he had in mind. He went to sleep not knowing if the Loons would come through. By the time he woke up, they’d hit his number. He signed on to stay in the Twin Cities soon after.
“I had a number in mind that I would stay for in Minnesota, just because I believe in this state and the project that ownership and the front office and coaching staff have,” he said. “I’ve grown so close to the city that I wanted to make sure I left a window open for it.
“Luckily [technical director] Manny [Lagos] and ownership worked it out and it worked out for both parties.”
Things were decidedly not working out for Minnesota at the beginning of the season. The Loons had well-documented struggles to start the campaign and Ramirez began the season as a substitute. He quickly worked his way into the lineup and Minnesota, after some midseason maneuvering, pulled things together in the second half.
Now, they’re both looking toward 2018. For Ramirez, the year could start with a call to the US national team’s annual January camp, which will likely feature a multitude of new faces following the USMNT’s failure to qualify for the World Cup. He’s never heard from US Soccer, however, and said he’s mostly focused on making sure Minnesota on their expansion season.
“It’s been a wild year to be a part of,” he said. “Every step, from those 6-1, 5-1 losses at the start, to the midseason trade that switches the whole feeling of the team around, to the summer window additions that continue to fit in, to me going down on an injury for six or seven weeks and seeing stuff from the outside looking in and battling my way back into the lineup, it’s all been crazy. You just can’t help but to be so thankful to be able to be a part of this journey so far, and I’m excited to see how it’s continuing to go upward.”