The Los Angeles FC striker is relishing his second national team call-up, telling Goal he is determined to show he belongs at the top level
Christian Ramirez has spent two seasons playing in Major League Soccer, and has scored 23 goals during that time. It is a track record that has helped him establish himself as a quality striker in MLS, and one that has now earned him his second U.S. national team call-up.
And yet, Ramirez doesn’t believe that track record has helped him shake off a label that doesn’t do him justice, but one he wears with pride.
Of all the players in the current USMNT camp, Ramirez is the only one who didn’t begin his career in an MLS, Mexican or European system. He took the unconventional route through the lower divisions of American soccer, where his reputation as a goal-scoring machine helped him climb the ladder and earn a place in MLS. Even now, as he competes in Gregg Berhalter’s first national team camp as head coach, Ramirez believes some still see him as a lower-division player, and that’s perfectly fine with him.
“I still use it as something that motivates me whenever I hear that,” Ramirez told Goal. “I even heard it now when I got called in. Can he do it at this level? It’s something that’s challenging and motivating, and is something that’s happened throughout my career. I’ve learned to use it in the right ways and I hope to show that on the day I hopefully get to put on these colors and continue to silence those people. It’s okay, because without them I wouldn’t have that motivation.”
Ramirez began his career in the American third division, with the Charlotte Eagles of what was known then as the USL Pro League. His goal production for the Eagles earned him a move to Minnesota United during the team’s final years in the NASL, the American second division at the time, and he earned Best XI honors in three straight seasons.
Ramirez was one of the few bright spots during Minnesota United’s inaugural season in MLS in 2017, scoring 14 goals and earning his first USMNT call-up in January of 2018, but that didn’t stop the Loons from deeming him expendable during the 2018 season. The club dealt Ramirez to Los Angeles FC, a move that he acknowledges as having worked out well for him, but one that still stung when it happened.
“Initially I was upset because my future wasn’t going to be in Minnesota anymore,” Ramirez said. “It was frustrating not knowing what else I could have done to continue to show I should be a big piece of the club going forward. I’ve never been one to hold any grudges; the fans will know that, for me, playing for Minnesota was something I really cherished. I wanted to be a part of building that and showing the United States how special the club was, but that’s part of the business.”
Ramirez admits that Minnesota United will always have a place in his heart after the six seasons he spent there, and he is looking forward to going back to Minnesota when LAFC plays the Loons in September.
“To be honest I was a little upset that the league is making me wait until September for that to happen,” Ramirez joked. “I’m excited to see that new stadium and see a bunch of old faces. It’s something that’s definitely circled on my calendar. I only keep those good memories of Minnesota in my mind. The people there, and the fans there really made me one of their own and they’ll be forever in my heart. That place is special.”
Ramirez scored just two goals with LAFC after arriving midway through the 2018 season, but his body of work still impressed Berhalter enough to call him up and – at the time the USMNT January squad was announced – point to the forward as an example of a player being given an opportunity because of how he can fit into the system of play he wants to implement with the national team.
“I’ve gotten comfortable each day understanding what exactly he meant by that,” Ramirez said. “I’ve really pushed myself to show him and the coaching staff that they are right, that I do fit that system they’re trying to play, and I can be a good piece going forward.”
Ramirez has plenty to prove for both club and country in 2019. He is one of several players looking to jump into a wide-open race at forward for the USMNT, and he will aim to establish himself in a stacked LAFC attack. He knows there are skeptics who still doubt his ability to keep producing at a high level, and he also knows there are players who are rooting for him to continue succeeding.
“It’s been fun to show people I can continue to score goals no matter the level, and be an inspiration to other guys that have reached out to me that are on the same route, that are trying to prove themselves,” he said. “That’s also been good to show that everybody has their own road to get to where they’re going.
“I’m really proud of how I’ve gotten here, and the route I’ve taken,” he added. “It’s a different route than most, but it goes to show everyone, including a young guy playing soccer in the USL, that anything’s possible. Just put your head down and work and the results can come your way. It’s awesome to see when guys are signing contracts in MLS from the USL and doing well because you see a little bit of yourself in them.”