Going into the season, many (including me) wondered if Christian Ramirez could keep up the goal scoring pace that saw him nab two NASL Golden Boots in three seasons.
Thirteen games in he’s proven he’s a capable striker at the MLS level. The next step for the highest goal scoring American striker is, presumably, the USMNT. But with the roster for the upcoming pair of World Cup Qualifiers released this last weekend Ramirez’s name was nowhere to be found.
Four games (out of ten) into the final round of qualifying for the World Cup, the U.S. is in fourth place and is set to face the top and bottom of the group (v. Trinidad and Tobago 6/8, and at Mexico 6/11). It really isn’t all that surprising that Bruce Arena would call up a group of attackers who have played on the international stage before with a trip to Mexico on hand.
The US’s history of going into Mexico and getting a result isn’t that good. They’ve only pulled out one win and two draws in 26 attempts. With that history and the need to get points out of every remaining match in the hex it does make sense why Arena went with a veteran group up front.
Looking ahead at the US’s schedule there is opportunity in the Gold Cup for Ramirez to get his shot. Mexico will most likely be sending a B squad to the tournament, due to their participation in the FIFA Confederations cup that ends five days prior to the start of the Gold Cup.
With the Gold Cup on the horizon just how close is Ramirez to getting a call up to the USMNT? Well if you were to read any number of articles over the past couple months you’ll know he’s considered, by many, into the next three group. The national team coming from the MLS doesn’t hurt either as he know the competition and the players in it. If Ramirez can keep on his goal scoring pace and keep up the good form there’s a chance he could see himself in the Gold Cup squad.
Look a month ahead. Hypothetically, Ramirez has bagged a couple more goals, still sitting second or third in the MLS in the Golden Boot race. Bruce Arena decides it’s time to give the 26-year-old a shot at the USMNT for the Gold Cup in July. The tournament starts on July 7 and ends on July 26. If all things go right for the US, they’ll be playing in the final in San Francisco on the 26th. The MLS is one of those leagues that decides it still wants to play through what are generally International Breaks. So what would United’s attack look like without Superman for a month that sees United visited by Colombus, Houston, NYRB, and D.C. United?
Well, he wouldn’t be alone in missing from the lineup, as attacking midfielder Johan Venegas and defender Francisco Calvo will presumably be away with the Costa Rican National Team. One guy who won’t be missing is Kevin Molino, who’s Trinidad & Tobago squad did not qualify for the tournament this time around.
Head coach Adrian Heath has generally stuck to a 4-2-3-1 formation that has seen Ramirez up top and a mixture of Miguel Ibarra, Abu Danladi, and Molino in the level behind Ramirez. With Danladi injured and Molino out this last weekend we saw Ish Jome and Johan Venegas slip into the starting lineup, Venegas made the pass that led to the Ramirez game winning goal.
With Ramirez gone Danladi could slip up top to the position he played in college leaving space out on the wing for either Jome to move into. Recent reports have also linked the club with the signing of Sam Nicholson, a Scottish winger who played in Scotland’s top division the past couple years.
Danladi is a different type of striker than Ramirez in that he uses his speed and agility to create space for him to get on goal where Ramirez uses his size and frame to muscle his way onto the ball for a shot. Another option up top is Bashkim Kadrii who started several games early on in the season but failed to impress eventually leading Ibarra to take over.
There’s alway the option that United go out and buy another striker. It’s an unlikely option considering they have one of the most in form strikers in the league so there’s no way to promise playing time beyond the Gold Cup. Also, if the Nicholson signing does happen the Loons would be out of international player slots. Meaning, they’d have to either sign an American striker or trade/sell a current player holding an international player slot to clear space. Trading with another MLS squad is also another explorable route but the Loons are short on depth the way it is so this too is an unlikely option.