Los Angeles Football Club had a season full of standout performers. Carlos Vela was a Major League Soccer Most Valuable Player finalist and Best XI selection. Diego Rossi established himself as one of the top young players in the league. Adama Diomande burst onto the scene after joining the team midseason and became the team’s starting striker. The list goes on, with some players breaking into larger roles with their new team (like Latif Blessing or Lee Nguyen), or some getting their chance to shine and taking it by the horns (Tyler Miller, Mark-Anthony Kaye, even Eduard Atuesta).
That being said, it is worth pointing out, as we reflect on the amazing season that was for LAFC, some of the underrated members of the team. Aaron Kovar comes to mind, as does Jordan Harvey. Marco Ureña deserves a shout as well for his contributions outside of goal-scoring this season. But the man who takes the mantle of the most underrated player for LAFC this season might come as a bit of a surprise: Christian Ramirez.
Ramirez joined LAFC on August 6 from Minnesota United in a trade. With the Loons, he scored 14 goals in 2017, good for the most in the team. He played for Minnesota in their NASL days as well, bagging two NASL Golden Boot awards (2014 and 2016), with 20 and 18 goals, respectively. LAFC made waves when they traded for Ramirez, sending up to a $1,000,000 in allocation money for a proven MLS striker in his prime. He was also the face of Minnesota United and was making his way back to Southern California. Getting a hold of Ramirez, a steal no matter how you slice it, was the next step in Bob Bradley’s plan for the team.
But then, things got a bit weird. In his second match for the club, his first start, he bagged two goals against Real Salt Lake in a 2-0 win. He started two more games for LAFC, was subbed on four times, and was an unused sub five times. He also came on after halftime in the playoff loss to RSL, scoring a goal about eight minutes later. That was it for his LAFC season, chalking up to a total of eight games played with three starts. It remains one of the great questions of the homestretch of the season: if Ramirez was so important, and worth all that money, why was he not starting? Why did he not see playing time so often?
One can make the case that he starts at the No. 9 spot, which happens to be held down by Diomande. But Ramirez was brought to LA for a reason. That reason showed against Real Salt Lake, the only team he scored on with LAFC. He might not be the most polished player, but he can be considered one of the best in MLS at finding pockets of space and then using those to score. He is a true poacher, not really a creator, but he is really good at it.
Bob Bradley actually had some interesting comments after the loss to RSL in the playoffs when asked specifically about the decision to go with Ramirez when Dio came out of the game.
“When he does get his chances, he’s a really good finisher. His finish is fantastic. One of the things I’m on Christian for at times is that... he has a knack for moving in the box, but when the games get better and faster you can’t do it at one speed. You have to change your speeds. You gotta run at different angles.
“I said to him one day, ‘I’m still trying to figure out what kind of striker you are, right?’ If I think about Atlético Madrid, think about Falcao, Diego Costa, and (Juventus forward Mario) Mandzukic. Falcao, when it comes time to move, he doesn’t just float and hope it comes to him. He makes different moves, to go around, cuts back.
“We had a couple of balls that I think if Christian moves in a way, changes his gears, maybe he can get to. I said, ‘You’re not Diego Costa, he has a nasty side, but maybe at some point you can have a nasty side too.’ And Mandzukic just works his [butt] off for the team. If you can be a little more of all three of those guys, that’s the work.”
It’s interesting to hear that after Bradley says that Ramirez is good at finishing (which I think we all can agree is his defining trait as a striker), he starts talking about how Ramirez basically needs to improve his movement, and that he could have gotten to some balls if he had moved differently. Hindsight is 20/20, and Radamel Falcao is an admittedly high bar to set, but it sounds like Bradley still has some work for Ramirez to do in order to optimize his game. There are not many better to do that with than Bradley, so Ramirez is in good hands, but it is interesting to hear that Ramirez is more of a project than we may have thought, especially after the move management made to get him and the hype that came with him.
Ramirez came into the season with a team that did not have much in the way of expectations. He flew under the radar last season with the Loons, and the move for him made waves across MLS. But outside of a brace in his first start, and a goal in a playoff knockout loss, Ramirez flew under the radar for LAFC as well. This, coupled with the talent we know he has and the role he will likely play with the team moving forward (give him an offseason working with the team and Bradley in this system and look out), gives him the spot of most underrated player for LAFC.
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