Minnesota United striker Christian Ramirez wouldn’t let on if something was bothering him.
The Loons’ leading scorer with 14 goals from last year has only four scores to his name this season, and his club just signed a designated player in his position. But Ramirez’s reaction to a move that could stamp an expiration date on his starting career is “good.”
“Anything that helps us moving forward, winning at whatever cost,” Ramirez said. “Nothing that I can control. Just do what I can and see what happens.”
That’s exactly the attitude coach Adrian Heath wants to see from his striker, especially with Colombian center forward Angelo Rodriguez set to arrive with the team later this week or early next.
“It shouldn’t. It can’t affect anything, can it? He’s just got to get on and play his football,” Heath said. “He’s a pretty levelheaded kid. He comes in and gets on with his work.”
Ramirez, at 6-2, 187 pounds, is a little bigger than Rodriguez, at 5-11, 176 pounds. But Heath called Rodriguez a “throwback” center forward, someone who can maintain his position with his back to the goal. Ramirez, who is two years younger than 29-year-old Rodriguez, said he’s seen his game change with the addition of the Loons’ other designated player, playmaker Darwin Quintero, earlier this season.
“I’m working so hard defensively in certain aspects, so far back to give Darwin that freedom of his movement when he stays higher up the field,” Ramirez said. “It’s something that I haven’t done before, and once you get accustomed to it, it’s now finding my moments to get forward and get higher up the field where I’ve been effective my whole career. So just trying to pick and chose those moments. It’s a learning process when you’re dealing with someone as creative as Darwin. He tends to drift in certain areas. It’s made him successful throughout his career, and you can’t take that away from someone. So normally I have to give up something to strengthen the team, and that’s what I’ve done.”
Even with that change, Ramirez said he feels “close” to a scoring breakthrough, and “hopefully, the goals will come.” Since beginning his pro career in 2013 in the United Soccer League, Ramirez has never scored fewer than 12 goals in a season. This season, it took him six games to score, and he is on a four-game drought. Last season, he scored in the very first game of the season when he came on as a second-half substitute, and his longest drought was five games, of which he sat out four because of an injury.
At this point last year, Ramirez already had 10 goals. Part of the holdup in 2018 could have to do with injury. Ramirez endured an ankle injury in the opening game this year, but he doesn’t like to use it as an excuse. But he did say it still is sore after games and playing on turf, and he will deal with it in the offseason.
Heath said it’s been a bit “frustrating” that people outside the team assume Rodriguez’s arrival spells Ramirez’s demise because it’s still possible he plays a two-striker system with both of them. That’s not typically Heath’s preferred formation, but he has done it in the past and has shown more system flexibility in recent games.
Ramirez said he hasn’t studied Rodriguez’s game yet to see how the pair might fit together, as he prefers to do that on the practice field. But he’s not afraid to fight for his position either, something he said he’s overcome in the past against the likes of Pablo Campos and Rafael Burgos when he played with United in the North American Soccer League.
“Oh, it always is,” Ramirez said of other signings being motivation. “Nothing that I back away from.”