CARSON, Calif. – Christian Ramirez got word when he was 14 that he was to be called into a US national team camp. It took a dozen years for that to happen, but now that it has, he wants to make sure it's no one-time thing.
The Minnesota United striker has taken a serpentine path to Major League Soccer and his first national team call-up, but the arduous toil to get to this point has armed him for the challenges he faces. He showed last season that his success in the USL and NASL could carry over into MLS, scoring 14 goals as the Loons slowly grew into a competitive side.
His reward: A trip home, to Southern California, for the national team's annual January camp.
“It's a huge honor,” Ramirez told MLSsoccer.com following Friday morning's training session at StubHub Center. “I know how much of a privilege it is to put this badge on and the responsibilities it carries. I'm excited, I'm humbled, and words couldn't describe the moment that I got that email.”
He was driving when it arrived, pulled over immediately and asked his mother, whom he was taking grocery shopping, to grab the wheel. When he told his mom what was up, she was ecstatic.
“It was nice to see my mom get emotional about that,” Ramirez said. “I just got the chills. I can't really describe [what I felt]. I didn't really believe it for the next couple of days. I read that email over and over.”
Now that he's here, he's looking to impress interim US coach Dave Sarachan and his staff with his work rate, his ability to finish, and his willingness to do whatever is needed to help the team. Generally, that's putting the ball into the net, and that's always come naturally, even before he was a forward.
“I grew up as a holding midfield, an attacking midfielder, and for whatever reason, I was always in front of goal,” Ramirez said. “I was a midfielder, a center back at UC Santa Barbara. I didn't play forward until the spring of my freshman year and then played center back my sophomore year.”
Unhappy in Goleta, Ramirez transferred to NAIA-affiliated Concordia University in Irvine, near his Garden Grove home. Coach Chris Gould and his staff put him up front, and the goals flowed. He netted 41 plus 18 assists in two seasons with the Eagles, then carried that form into the pros. He scored a dozen as a USL Pro rookie with the Charlotte Eagles, then moved to Minnesota United, where he scored 53 goals in three NASL seasons, winning two Golden Boots and making the Best XI each year.
There were questions on whether he could make the transition to MLS. He answered forcefully.
“I just kept my head down and believed in what I could do,” he said. “I knew the noise that was surrounding that, and I've got to tell you, scoring that first goal in Portland [in Minnesota United's MLS debut] really just lifted my shoulders off the ground, and I continued to just look forward. Just put my head down and worked. It goes a long way when the coach believes in you and the guys on the team believe in you.”
That's the approach Ramirez brings to the national team in what's certain to be a huge year. He hopes to help the Loons find success, will become a father in April – he and his wife, Valerie, are having a daughter – and now the US, too. He believes that he can offer something special to the Yanks, and that goes beyond goals.
“I look at guys like [Chris Wondolowski], Alan Gordon – guys who have always been a veteran presence in these camps – and take that role on,” he said. “Anything I can do to help going forward. ... I'm a team-first guy. Whatever they need from me, I'll be willing to do it.”
If some doubt his ability or resolve, that's OK. He's been proving the naysayers wrong for years.
“I never took no for an answer,” he said. “I believed in what I could do and the hard work that nobody sees. The countless hours, all the runs, all the finishing, everything. Believing in God and that someday I'll get an opportunity. ... I don't listen to the noise. I just put my head down and work and see the rewards at they come.
“All the work is starting to pay off, and I'll continue to work as hard as I've always worked and be hungrier than ever.”