Minnesota United forward Christian Ramirez is tied for the NASL goal-scoring lead, with four in six games. He’s also set up two goals through some nifty passing and has otherwise filled the hole left by the injury to Pablo Campos, Minnesota’s leading scorer from last season.
United coach Manny Lagos was hoping to get a look at Ramirez last year but lost out to a team in another minor league.
“We were trying to get Christian to try out for us at the beginning of last year,” Lagos said, “but then Charlotte [in third-division USL PRO] offered him a contract.”
Only three years ago, though, it looked like no one would be competing for Ramirez’s signature. The Garden Grove, Calif., native started his college career at UC-Santa Barbara but made only two starts and scored one goal in two seasons with the Gauchos.
“It was a real confusion for me as to what I was doing wrong,” Ramirez said. “I was getting moved all over the field to different positions.”
Mike Oseguera, one of Ramirez’s club soccer coaches, is now an assistant coach at NAIA school Concordia Irvine. It was Oseguera who saw Ramirez’s struggles and encouraged him to make the move from UCSB to lower-level CUI.
The move jump-started Ramirez’s career. “I can’t thank that program enough,” he said. He scored 41 goals in two seasons at CUI. In 2012 he was chosen the conference player of the year and an NAIA All-America.
The striker also has only positive things to say about his time in Charlotte. Ramirez credits veteran Eagles midfielder Jorge Herrera with teaching him the pro game.
“I think I had a four- or five-game drought, without scoring, and he just kept pushing me — and it showed,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez scored 12 goals in 2013, including four in three playoff games, and the Eagles placed second in USL PRO.
Ramirez’s tendency to credit others, as he does with Oseguera and Herrera, for helping him along the way would be no surprise to Lagos. Asked to name the forward’s best qualities, Lagos mentioned several on-field strengths but always ended up talking about his spirit and willingness to learn.
“He’s such a great kid and a great teammate. His attitude and approach to the game is outstanding,’’ Lagos said. “There’s a joy to him.”
The end of his year in Charlotte was the beginning of a hot streak that shows no signs of abating. He scored United’s first goal in the season’s first game, a 2-0 victory at San Antonio. A week later he scored the game-winner on a header in the final minute of stoppage time at Ottawa, giving United a 2-1 victory.
Counting his last four games in Charlotte and his first six in Minnesota, Ramirez has scored 10 goals in 10 games, including a 22-yard blast last week against Fort Lauderdale that was in the running for the league’s play of the week.
His scoring binge has helped United to a 5-1 start and filled the scoring void left by Campos, a former league MVP who suffered a knee injury in March and could miss the rest of the season.
His confidence buoyed, Ramirez at the moment feels like he can score from anywhere on the field. “I tried one from around midfield, right after I scored last game,” he said, laughing.
For United, the only disappointing thing about that confidence is that the team had to wait a year to see it.