Crew hero Christian Ramírez, formerly of LAFC, is on playoff run inspired by his baby

Kash Ramírez will remember nothing of his father’s first MLS Cup final Saturday. In fact, he’ll probably sleep through most of it since he’ll be just 12 days old and all.

But when he’s old enough to understand, his father will certainly tell him of the role he played in making that MLS Cup possible.

“Look at my hospital bracelet. That was a little good luck charm,” a beaming Christian Ramírez said after scoring extra-time game-winners in both the Eastern Conference semifinal and final, sending Columbus to the title game against reigning champion LAFC.

The plastic talisman on his left wrist is a memento of Kash’s birth on Nov. 27, in between the two playoff matches. And Ramírez is clearly hoping its magic hasn’t worn off.

“One more week,” he said. “No better game than MLS Cup for little Kash to come to his first game.”

The Crew's Christian Ramírez, FC Cincinnati's Ian Murphy and FC Cincinnati's Marco Angulo fight for the ball.

Columbus Crew forward Christian Ramírez (17), FC Cincinnati defender Ian Murphy (32) and FC Cincinnati midfielder Marco Angulo (8) fight for the ball during the second half of overtime of the MLS Eastern Conference final on Saturday in Cincinnati. The Crew won 3-2 in overtime.

(Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

Give the baby credit for excellent timing, if nothing else. He was supposed to arrive three days after the Eastern Conference semifinal, plenty of time for his dad to play in Orlando and return to Columbus for the birth. But for a while it looked as if the baby wouldn’t wait. His mother, Valerie Ramírez, began feeling contractions a week early and because this wasn’t her first rodeo — the Ramírezes have two daughters, Zara and Nova — she went straight to the hospital.

“We were in the hospital for about four to five hours and they sent us home. False alarm,” said Christian, who with his wife’s encouragement went to Florida for the conference semifinal.

Time was clearly short, however, so after coming off the bench in the 90th minute, Ramírez hurried things along by scoring the game-winning goal three minutes into extra time. A day later, the couple returned to the hospital, Ramírez said, “and the next day the little man was born.”

Columbus Crew forward Christian Ramírez celebrates after scoring a goal against Orlando City during overtime.

Columbus Crew forward Christian Ramírez celebrates after scoring a goal against Orlando City during overtime of a playoff match on Nov. 25.

(Kevin Kolczynski / Associated Press)

Four days after the birth, still wearing the hospital bracelet, Ramírez rode the bus with the team to Cincinnati for the conference final, during which he came off the bench in the 65th minute to again score the deciding goal in extra time, capping a comeback from a 2-0 halftime deficit.

Now Ramírez, who attended high school in Westminster and played college soccer at both Concordia University in Irvine and UC Santa Barbara, hopes to find one more trick up his sleeve in Saturday’s final against LAFC, a team he helped to playoff appearances in the franchise’s first two seasons.

“I’m thankful to be in the position I am now. To be able to play against one of my former teams will be obviously a cool experience, especially in an MLS Cup,” said Ramírez, who had six goals and two assists in 24 games with LAFC in 2018-19. “Being a kid born in Southern California, to be able to play with LAFC was awesome. I still keep in touch with plenty of people who still work for the club.”

A two-time NASL scoring champion with Minnesota United before he and the team joined MLS, Ramírez has had a peripatetic career since LAFC traded him to the Houston Dynamo for $250,000 in allocation money in the summer of 2019. He spent parts of three seasons in Texas and two more with Aberdeen in the Scottish Premiership where, after an impressive start, he fell out of favor when Barry Robson replaced Stephen Glass as manager. So Ramírez returned to the U.S., joining first-year coach Wilfried Nancy in Columbus on a two-year deal worth nearly $900,000.

“I knew my time would come. And when the Columbus Crew situation got presented, I was really on board with the project that Wilfried had going here,” he said. “I had other offers in MLS, but this one was the most appealing.”

Ramírez, 32, opened the season as a starter but has made 11 of his last 12 appearances off the bench, with Nancy settling on an attacking trio of Cucho Hernández, Alexandru Mațan and Diego Rossi, a former MLS scoring champion with LAFC who joined the Crew in August. Yet despite the limited playing time, Ramírez’s 10 goals, including two in the postseason, rank third on the team.

“The first meeting I had with my players, we were talking about the clarity of the roles,” Nancy said. “Maybe a few players are going to start in the beginning of the year and maybe at the end of the year will be coming off the bench. It was not easy to tell him. But I trust [him] and I know that [he’s] going to be able to help us at any moment, 95 minutes, five minutes.

“He told me that he is going to be ready and for me this is a clear example about how to put his ego on the side for the rest of the team.”

Ramírez hopes that production and unselfishness will lead to the one thing he’s never had as a professional: a permanent home. Because if he’s left a trail of goals behind him wherever he’s gone, he’s also left valuable real estate behind as well, abandoning a condo when he left Minnesota and houses in Houston and Los Angeles that he wound up renting to other MLS players. His father Juan, who gave up his soccer career in Colombia to come to the U.S., lives in another house Ramírez owns in Southern California.

“He’s my best friend,” Ramírez said of his father. “I just enjoy being on this journey with him because he sacrificed everything when he left Colombia to give us an opportunity at life in the United States. I’m always thankful for both of my parents for everything they’ve done to help me get to this point.”

Columbus Crew forward Christian Ramírez and Atlanta United defender Caleb Wiley both try to head the ball.

Columbus Crew forward Christian Ramírez (17) and Atlanta United defender Caleb Wiley (26) vie for the ball during a match on Nov. 7 in Atlanta.

(Mike Stewart / Associated Press)

But while Ramírez hopes his career ends in Columbus, he’s already planning for life beyond his playing days by studying for his coaching license.

“I hope that I can call Columbus home for the foreseeable future,” he said. “My wife is comfortable, my kids are enjoying their school. So it would be ideal if I could be in Columbus until I’m done playing.

“But in this profession, you always just take it one day at a time and I’m just living every moment and enjoying it.”

Maybe he should just leave that plastic bracelet on a little while longer.

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