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LAFC 2019 Player Postmortem: Christian Ramirez

The forward pitched in but it was a bittersweet ending.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

2019 was supposed to be the year Christian Ramirez got more run for Los Angeles Football Club, and he did...but it ended abruptly.

The striker, traded to LAFC from Minnesota United in the summer of 2018, was brought along slowly in his first months at the club, a known pattern by head coach Bob Bradley. The ESPN+ documentary “We Are LAFC” features a couple scenes where the coaching staff have to figure out who to play at striker (one player in the 4-3-3 Bradley uses) and Ramirez seemed to be an odd man out, with promises he’d get more time in the future.

He definitely got more playing time for the black-and-gold in 2019, with an offseason surgery hobbling Ramirez’s main competition for central striker in Adama Diomande. In the 23 regular-regular games Ramirez was with LAFC this year, he played 17 of those and started 13, so he got his chances.

Like most strikers, Ramirez is a confidence player, and despite posting four goals and two assists, he’ll likely be remembered for the goal he didn’t score.

The sport can be cruel, and even though Ramirez fought his way onto the U.S. Men’s National Team early in the year and has consistently been one of the best American forwards in MLS, perpetually underrated, there was the nagging perception Ramirez wasn’t quite meshing with his teammates. Everyone was working, but it was hard work.

Here are Ramirez’s statistics with LAFC in 2019:

Christian Ramirez 2019 LAFC statistics

2019 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2019 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
MLS Regular Season 17 13 956 4 2 27 13 0 0
U.S. Open Cup 3 2 170 0 0 3 2 0 0
MLS Playoffs 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 20 15 1,126 4 2 30 15 0 0

And even though Ramirez seemed to be going through a slump in the summer, on a team that was on course to tie the all-time goals mark in a season in MLS, it was still a shock to see him traded away to the Houston Dynamo in August, a year after he arrived.

The trade haul wasn’t substantial: $100,000 in 2019 General Allocation Money, $75,000 in 2020 General Allocation Money, $75,000 in 2020 Targeted Allocation Money, along with additional future performance-based considerations. Above all, it seemed like either a salary dump or LAFC trying to do right by Ramirez by sending him to a team where he’d be a more central figure, or maybe a little bit of both.

Compounding the shock of the trade was that weeks later, Diomande took a leave of absence from the team to deal with personal issues. Suddenly, LAFC went from having two starting-caliber central strikers to having none. The series of events was almost certainly unforeseen, and LAFC weathered it fairly well all things considered, but it feels quite likely Ramirez would not have been traded had LAFC known Dio would have to take some time away.

But that’s not how it unfolded. Ramirez was seemingly bought as competition for and an insurance policy if Mauro Manotas, Houston’s fantastic striker, got transferred abroad. Also, Houston seem more likely to play in a two-striker formation, although under new head coach Tab Ramos that may not be the case. Time will tell on that front.

With Houston, Ramirez played regularly, scoring five goals in 10 appearances, the best scoring rate of his MLS career to date although it’s a very small sample size. He does seem to fit there, although again, we’ll see how it goes with a new coach in charge.

But there was the bittersweet game near the end of the season, when Ramirez’s Dynamo came to The Banc to take on LAFC. LAFC won 3-1 on the night, but they also won the Supporters’ Shield, right in front of Ramirez, in his hometown, after he was sent to play for the other team.

This photo is one of the most heartbreaking I’ve ever seen, although Ramirez changed out of his kit and did quietly celebrate with his former teammates after the pictures were taken and the party wound down.

I think it can be easy to treat pro athletes as robots, expecting them to push their bodies to absolute extremes, all the time to perform for us, not have to worry about any aspects of life, but the truth is they are just like us. Do you show up to work and crush it every day? Probably not, although just like sports if you dog it enough you’ll probably lose your job.

It may sound very trite but I think you can look at Ramirez’s second partial-season with LAFC in two ways. In the “athletes as robots” sense, he probably should have scored more often, although then again, he was part of the joint-highest scoring attack in league history. But the colossal miss in Seattle and a couple more misses showed he had a scoring slump in the middle of the season.

The other way you can look at Ramirez is in the “he’s a human” way, in which he did seem to slump and then got shipped out and sent to a struggling team, while the team he left, his hometown team, posted the best regular season ever in MLS and won a trophy in front of his very eyes. Yes, it’s a business but Ramirez’s journey shows that the business can be brutal sometimes.

Still, he should still be recognized for his contributions to the Supporters’ Shield campaign and for working his socks off every chance he got. Don’t be shocked to see Christian Ramirez bang in a few goals against his old team in the future, either. He tends to get up for the big games and he’ll certainly circle his matchups against the black-and-gold from now on.

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