Courtesy of Daniel Mick.

The Angle

Christian Ramirez’s Gold Cup Snub Makes No Sense

by on 6 June 2017

Minnesota United’s star striker, Christian Ramirez, has always been playing with a chip on his shoulder and it looks like that isn’t going to change. When Bruce Arena submitted his 40-man long list for the Gold Cup squad, he left off the top American goalscorer over the last three seasons.

At every stage of Ramirez’s career, he has faced doubts. His decision as a senior to move to Concordia University to live closer to his family hurt his professional prospects and he ended up with the Charlotte Eagles. There, he moved from unknown to scoring two goals in the 2013 USL final. His performances in Charlotte were enough to earn him a move to Minnesota as the backup to then face of the franchise,Pablo Campos.

Ignoring NASL talent has been common for MLS talent-scouts, Alex Schieferdecker writes.

In Minnesota, he exploded onto the NASL scene, winning the Golden Boot in his first season. He came second in the Golden Boot the next season and won it again in his third season in NASL. Since he came to Minnesota in 2014, no American has scored more goals than him. And yet…

For a variety of reasons, Ramirez continued to have his doubters. At first it was: was 2014 a fluke? Then it turned to lazy (and uninformed) assertions that the NASL was obviously a league far-inferior to MLS. While healthy skepticism toward a lower-league phenom is understandable, it often veered from skepticism to sheer ignorance.

His competition

None of this is to say that Ramirez necessarily deserves a call-up to the US Men’s National Team. Lots of strikers are playing on his level right now. Of the seven forwards named to the Gold Cup long list, three are proven and deserving: Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, and Jordan Morris.

However, when you are looking over the other four forwards, Ramirez’s snub is truly mystifying. Chris Wondolowski is a player unfairly maligned by some fans of the US Men’s National Team. That said, the San Jose poacher is 34 and his strike rate is diminishing with his age. The Gold Cup offers us a chance to look at players who may be outside the World Cup roster. Does Arena really need a closer look at a player who he knows so well?

We have only begun to see what Ramirez can do on a higher stage and it is unfortunate that we won’t yet be able to see him tested on the national level.

Juan Agudelo, while not the future American superstar he was hyped up to be in his youth, is a talented forward and having a good 2017. However, he has never scored double-digit goals in his career. In his four professional seasons, Ramirez has never failed to score in the double digits. Agudelo is young, though, and having a good season, so his addition to this squad makes sense.

Dom Dwyer is newly eligible to play for the US Men’s National Team and it had been long assumed that he would eventually get a look under Arena. Dwyer adds a level of physicality to the strike-force for the US team. Dwyer also has a pretty good and consistent goal-scoring rate over the last few seasons and so Arena wanting to take a look at him makes sense as well.

C.J. Sapong’s inclusion in the long list is something of a mystery. The Union striker is off to a very promising 2017, but is 28 and has never scored in the double digits in any of his previous six seasons. Sapong is certainly more of a physical forward than Ramirez, but does he really offer more than Dwyer in that role?

Ramirez is not in the top tier of American strikers such as Bobby Wood, Altidore, Dempsey, or Morris. However, it is quite clear that he deserves to be ranked among this second tier of talent and to be in the same discussion as Agudelo and Dwyer. He has Wondolowski’s eye for goal, but has softer feet and has added a level of hold-up play to his game recently.

Ramirez’s success in NASL continues to be discounted by observers, a reminder of an arrogant myopia that continues to infect MLS coaches.

Unlike these other players, Ramirez is also relatively untested on a higher level. We have seen what all of these other strikers can do in MLS and, in some cases, on the national team. We have only begun to see what Ramirez can do, though, and it is unfortunate that we won’t yet be able to see him tested on the national level.

That Ramirez should have to prove himself is understandable — a good run of form is not the only criterion for a national team call-up. But his success in NASL continues to be discounted by observers, a reminder of an arrogant myopia that continues to infect MLS coaches.

Silencing the doubters

Throughout his career so far, Ramirez had a couple of dry-patches in form, but continued to prove his skeptics wrong. He started celebrating goals with a hand twist next to his head, a signal, he says, that he can’t hear his doubters.

Now that Ramirez is in MLS, he is scoring goals and continuing to prove himself. If he took Minnesota’s penalty kicks, he would likely be even higher in the goal-scoring charts (Kevin Molino has taken three penalty kicks so far this season).

Ramirez’s uncommon path toward success also seems to be the reason for his exclusion. Arena’s roster, despite bringing in 40 players, takes minimal chances: Kenny Saief gets his first call, Tommy McNamara was finally called in, and perennially ignored Eric Lichaj returns to the fold. These few chances are balanced by some extremely safe choices such as Gyasi Zardes, who Arena knows well, but who also seems to have had his feet replaced with anvils in recent months.

Hopefully Ramirez’s snub will continue to drive him forward and he will continue to play with a substantially-sized chip on his shoulder. He may get an eventual call-up to the January “Camp Cupcake” US Men’s National Team camp, but in a World Cup year, he will be fighting against the extremely thin odds of going from outsider to World Cup roster.


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