Christian Ramirez did a lot of reading throughout a disappointing spring season.
Twitter users and fan blogs did not hold back as the Minnesota United forward’s production slowed to a trickle and his minutes shrank. They branded Ramirez, who led the North American Soccer League with 20 goals as a rookie last season, a fluke.
Ramirez absorbed every word. But scoring one goal and coming off the bench in six of the 10 spring season matches gave him little to offer in the way of a retort.
“The most frustrating part was we weren’t getting the results and that I couldn’t impact the game,” Ramirez said. “But my mind-set was that I was still the best forward in the league.”
Nine goals in 15 fall season matches — including a surge of seven consecutive matches with a goal — returned Ramirez to his desired perch.
The Loons followed suit. Playoff aspirations look bright with the team in second place in both the fall and combined standings. Minnesota plays host to Tampa Bay at 7 p.m. Saturday at the National Sports Center Stadium in Blaine.
“I can’t tell you how good it feels,” Ramirez said. “I’m really seeing the results of my hard work in the offseason.”
Wasting little time shaking off a frustrating spring, Ramirez scored in the second match of the fall season. Then the third. And fourth. Not long after, Ramirez began reading reviews of a different tone.
When Ramirez ran his streak to six matches on Aug. 8, U.S. National Hall of Fame inductee and television analyst Alan Willey tweeted, “You heard it here first he will win the Golden Boot again this season.”
Ramirez, tied for second in the NASL with 10 goals, also takes pride in his playmaking skills. His six assists rank seventh in the league.
“Christian has a unique personality where he gets excited about goals and assists,” United coach Manny Lagos said.
Even plays that don’t result in personal statistical gain excite Ramirez. Though his goal-scoring streak ended Aug. 22 at Tampa Bay, Ramirez made a run to distract the defense and create room for Ibson to score. Later in the game, Ramirez made a subtle touch at midfield, helping get the ball ahead for a streaking Justin Davis to bury.
“I know I’m not always going to get looks but I try to create for open teammates,” Ramirez said. “Then when I’m able to get open they reward me.”
Since coming off the bench in the fall season opener, Ramirez has started every match. He spent much of the spring season substituting in for veteran forward Pablo Campos, but those roles reversed in the fall season.
“I want to for sure start games and score goals — to be important,” said Campos, a former Golden Boot winner himself with 21 goals for San Antonio in 2012. “But if it’s not going to be that for the time being, I still have to do my best and wait for my opportunity.”
Lagos lauded both players as “great pros, guys who understand those scenarios. Particularly for forward, there can be streaks when you get hot.”
Ramirez, on such a streak this fall, said fulfilling Willey’s prediction would be extra satisfying.
“I stuck with it and tried not to change who I am,” Ramirez said. “Whether I was in the starting 11 or not, I got extra reps in at practice. I tried to always maintain a smile.
“As a team we’ve seen some ups and downs, but we’re getting better right now and that’s important for the stretch run.”