After his team suffered its first shutout loss this season, Minnesota United coach Manny Lagos called his leading scorer in for a talk.
Lagos told Christian Ramirez, a 23-year-old rookie in the North American Soccer League, “You’re going to have a great career, but you can’t wait for the game to come to you. You have to put your imprint on the game.”
The youngster listened well. Ramirez showcased his playmaking skills with an electrifying goal and assist as Minnesota regained first place with a 3-1 victory against Fort Lauderdale on Saturday.
Entering Saturday’s match, the teams were tied at the top of the NASL spring season standings with 12 points each. But the Strikers were in first place based on the first tiebreaker, goal differential.
The United (5-1-0) defense, relying on two backup players much of the game, limited the NASL’s highest scoring team (14 goals) to a lone tally.
The potent Strikers (4-2-0) gave up an 11th-minute penalty kick goal to Minnesota’s Simone Bracalello but tied the score 1-1 on Martin Nunez’s goal in the 50th minute.
Then Ramirez took over with plays to delight the announced crowd of 5,325 spectators at the National Sports Center in Blaine.
He drilled the ball into the upper corner of the Fort Lauderdale goal from 25 yards out. The goal, scored in the 58th minute, gave United a 2-1 lead and tied Ramirez with Nunez for the league lead.
“To score a goal like that — the stadium erupted, the guys erupted,” Lagos said. “It was such a bold move. It was like baseball where there are lulls, and you don’t expect anything to happen. So when it happens there’s an explosion of emotion.”
Ramirez said of his left-foot strike: “Anyone who knows me will tell you I only use my left foot to run on, so I can’t explain it. I surprised myself.”
He caught the Strikers defense flat-footed in the 58th minute, sending a touch pass off his heel to Miguel Ibarra. Fort Lauderdale vehemently protested that the play should have been ruled offside, but Ibarra’s goal held for a 3-1 United lead.
“It was gorgeous,” Lagos said. “Offside or not the play was great.”
A midair collision near the middle of the field in the first half left United defender Cristiano Dias dazed and bloodied the Strikers’ Marius Ebbers. Ebbers went off in the eighth minute. Dias lasted until the 30th minute.