August 07, 2018 10:05 PM
In five years with Minnesota United, Christian Ramirez grew from battling for playing time on a minor league club to a respected goal-scorer on a Major League Soccer franchise who was beloved by the team's rapidly growing fanbase.
Monday night, Minnesota United sent Ramirez to LAFC for Allocation Money that could end up valued at $1-million.
Click the video box on this page to watch KSTP Sports' one-on-one interview with Christian Ramirez as he set off from Minnesota United's training complex for the final time, including highlights and Ramirez' accounts of his most memorable moments playing for the Loons
Ramirez got the news in a phone call while he and several teammates were gathered at a player's apartment.
"I was around some of my teammates so - I didn't know what to say at the time," Ramirez told KSTP Sports in an exclusive interview.
Heading to Souther California, where Ramirez grew up, makes the move slightly easier to handle.
"My family is really excited," he said. "It's wild how it ended up working out I get to go back home. I could have been any other place. But, I'm tankful for the club to help me get back home. It paid off being so loyal and so nice - I got something in return, so it's awesome."
"It's been unforgettable," Ramirez said. "It's been so humbling to have been so welcomed here once I first got here. No one thought we'd be at this point. It's a bit of mixed emotions, but hopefully I left a lasting image and a lot of smiles and touched the younger generation. That's something I value so much. Every game, after each game seeing kids and signing autographs and taking pictures to make sure I touched them and felt reachable to them. Hopefully I did that."
Woodbury-native Brent Kallman, who has played alongside Ramirez for years in United's transition from the NASL to MLS, was there when the call came in Monday night.
"There were rumors it was going to happen so it wasn't a total shock. But I was with him when he got the call, and it was interesting seeing his reaction it. I think he was a little stunned at first, but as he processes it, he'll see this as a really good opportunity going forward."
It's never easy for a team to move a fan favorite, but with a lineup made crowded by recent acquisitions of international players Darwin Quintero and Angelo Rodriguez, United's leadership felt a move would benefit the club in the long run.
"You don't do it lightly," Loons manager Adrian Heath said. "I'm a fan of football and football teams myself. You have your favorites. You have the guy you go and watch and you have an affinity with. We didn't take this decision lightly, but we try to do the decisions that are right for the club. Sometimes they're not popular, but you feel as though the money was right for us this time."
The potential windfall from moving Ramirez gives United much-needed room to maneuver in considering future transactions.
"It's essentially a sale. We're getting resources in allocation money - that's money that helps you manage cap space," United's Sporting Director Manny Lagos said. "You can use it to buy international spots. It allows us some massive roster development not only now but into 2019 as well in terms of how we want to add players and address positions of need"
"It's never easy making moves with any player on the club," Lagos continued. "Oobviously in this situation where he's been such a special part of the entire ride in our growth in NASL frankly and the transition to MLS - these first couple special years - no doubt, it's tough. But at the same time it's a pretty cool scenario where you have a young man who came here and plied his trade to become a great professional soccer player and we also got to grow and become the kind of club we are now."
Tuesday morning, Ramirez checked out of United's Blaine headquarters. After the team's morning scrimmage, he was outside the team's practice field saying goodbye to his former teammates. Best friend Miguel Ibarra, along with Quintero, Rodriguez, Kallman and team captain Fransciso Calvo were among those who stopped to chat with Ramirez before he packed up and drove off.
"It's a business, especially dealing with a sport where you have a salary cap. That's the way it goes," Kallman admitted. "I respect the guy so much. He did a lot here. He accomplished so much. I saw him grind from when he first came in and we're not making much and the dream is to make it as a pro and make all this money, and this guy is doing it. he did it the hard way and deserves everythign he got. But, yeah, at the end of the day it's a business. I hope he benefits from it. We got quite a but for him I hope we can put to good use."
Ramirez scored 72 goals in his five seasons with the Loons, split between three seasons in the minor league NASL and the last two in Major League Soccer.
Asked which moments Ramirez will hold closest to his heart as he looks back on his time with Minnesota, he named his first goal in the NASL days against San Antonio, his late-season goal against the New York Cosmos that gave United a major boost in the NASL playoff race, and his two goals against Salt Lake that helped United earn their first-ever win in Major League Soccer.
Ramirez departs with fond memories of his time in Minnesota and excitement about future return trips.
"I wish I could have been at Allianz (Stadium, United's future home stadium), but I can't wait to come back and witness that," Ramirez said. "That'll be a real emotional day for myself and my family. I'm sure my family will want to come up for that game. But, I'm excited - looking forward to seeing Minnesota a lot. I'm staying in the Western Conference, so it'll be nice."
Asked if he wanted to express a parting message for his fans, Ramirez said, "Just thank you for everything, the good and the bad. Thank you for welcoming me and keeping me safe here. It's become home and they're the reason it became home - so welcoming, the people of Minnesota, they welcomed me with open arms from day one. I'm so thankful for that."
Updated: August 07, 2018 10:05 PM
Created: August 07, 2018 03:23 PM
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