I had a hot take yesterday, and some people were decidedly unhappy about it:
Since you asked,— E Pluribus Loonum (@EPluribusLoonum) July 17, 2018
Just a hot take for ya, feel free to agree. https://t.co/LqSRv3KoS8
It was actually perfect timing for that question to appear in our mentions. I had began working on a column that discussed this very issue while marooned in the St. Louis airport and this gave me a way to funnel it down a little more. I’ll get to why Christian Ramirez is ranked bottom in a moment, but first I want to explain Ángelo Rodríguez being my first choice.
I trust Minnesota United’s scouts. I really do. Vadim Demidov was a miss, sure, but generally they’ve been pretty good at identifying talent. There are bigger issues about bringing in that talent, but that’s best left for another column.
That is a roundabout way of me saying that I think Rodriguez will a) be good, and b) be worthy of a designated player contract. He is an if—and a big one at that—but his scoring record in Colombia looks pretty good. He notched 28 goals in 64 appearances for Deportes Tolima, which is about as good as we can expect to be signing. As we’ll soon discuss, there is a lot more to playing forward than scoring goals, but that’s good enough for me to believe that Rodriguez is the real deal.
Ramirez—and Miguel Ibarra, Brent Kallman, and Ibson—get the benefit of the doubt from a lot of Loons fans. They played for MNUFC back in the NASL days, so this makes sense. They’re not bad players—Ibarra has been the best player on the pitch and Ibson has been good as well—but sometimes the concept of them is a little bigger than they actually are.
That’s not a bad thing. Every player who is liked by fans will stay in their grace a little longer. It is however, something to consider here.
Ramirez played well last year. He was the clear first choice and deserved that role. With Abu Danladi as his backup, and occasional fellow striker, forward looked to be a very strong position for MNUFC this year.
Then the great slump of 2018 started. Mason Toye hasn’t scored, Danladi hasn’t scored, and Ramirez has only four goals so far this season. Thus came the need for Rodriguez. But let’s discuss why Ramirez is the fourth best choice for Minnesota and not the second.
He’s the second best forward on the team, assuming that Rodriguez shakes out to be what he’s branded. But his style of play isn’t really what Minnesota’s system demands.
While Ramirez isn’t a target man like France/Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud, he is still taken out of some games if he doesn’t have a steady supply of passes from underneath. That kind of support hasn’t always been there for Minnesota, and it’s part of way Darwin Quintero has looked so good already in his time as a Loon. (I’m not saying Ramirez should be like Quintero, by the way, so bear with me)
Quintero has made goals for himself when he needs to. It doesn’t seem like Ramirez is doing that too often. Now, he is usually a good finisher, so when the ball comes to his feet he’s got a reasonable chance of scoring.
But this year, Ramirez has been asked to play differently. No longer just a finisher, he’s been passing slightly more—and more accurately—and shooting less. I feel that it’s reasonable to assume that, in a general sense, fewer shots mean fewer opportunities to score. With about three shots to every two games, Ramirez isn’t getting the chances he needs to put the ball in the back of the net.
Players like Josef Martinez, Bradley Wright-Phillips, and Gyasi Zardes are taking almost twice as many shots as Ramirez. It’s important to note than more shots does not necessarily translate to more goals—we’ve all seen the efforts best suited to kicking a field goal—but it does show which players have more of a license to attack, which is what Ramirez needs/deserves.
Now, are Abu Danladi and Mason Toye better forwards? No, but they fit the system better. Speed works into both of their games, Danladi’s especially. He can make things happen off the counter, which is, I would think, what Adrian Heath wants to see. Toye is young and inexperienced, but has showed flashes of creativity—including manners of getting sent off—and Heath has commented on his progress and how he deserves to be getting more minutes. Ranking him above Ramirez, I’ll admit, is probably a stretch. I’ll concede that one, though I do believe a healthy Danladi is a better option than Ramirez for this team.
If United were satisfied with the caliber of players at forward, they wouldn’t have moved for Rodriguez, and they certainly wouldn’t have made him a DP. The front office also chose to address striker over other positions of need, namely the no. 6 and defense.
Since the Loons have a talented striker who doesn’t quite fit the system in Christian Ramirez, they have a bit of a dilemma. First, how long does he get to snap out of his slump? The season is half-gone and time is running out. Second, is it worth entertaining offers for him? If United want to focus on speedy, counter-attacking players, Ramirez won’t be fitting back into the system anytime soon. But if they are willing to give Ramirez the system that he works best in, things could be a lot better.
In short, Ramirez is a very good forward, but he’s been forced to play differently this year than in years past. His style isn’t the best fit for the current system, which drops his stock and leaves the team with something of a dilemma at a previously strong position.
Enjoy the comments section, folks. Please be reasonable.