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On pace for another NASL Golden Boot, Christian Ramirez harbors USMNT dreams

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Before Minnesota United striker Christian Ramirez was scoring goals for fun and yearning for a chance to prove himself with the United States national team, he was an NCAA center mid ready to quit soccer altogether.

Ramirez, 25, is in the driver’s seat for his second NASL Golden Boot in three seasons, with 14 on the year and 46 since joining the club in 2014. Toss in 14 assists, what’s certain to be a third-straight NASL Best XI spot, and a 6-foot-2 frame, and you’ve got one hot commodity.

[ WATCH: Cahill steals win for Australia ]

But in 2010 he was a sophomore at UC Santa Barbara, struggling to find playing time on a loaded team with Luis Silva (Tigres UANL), Michael Boxall (New Zealand national team), and Danny Barrera (Sacramento Republic).

For a kid who had led the Olympic Development Program in scoring and snared the league’s national golden boot, it was heart-wrenching. He was ready to be done with the sport.

“I was on the verge of it,” Ramirez told ProSoccerTalk. “It was a tough time. I grew up and for everything I had worked so hard for — I had an ODP National Championship, an ODP Golden Boot, a Cal South player of the year — I got to college and I was the last one on the bench. I don’t know if it was the system, or the style of play, or maybe I just wasn’t on the coach’s map. I couldn’t find a place on the field.”

Fortunately, his PDL coaches thought the world of him, just in a different spot. The California native spent the summers after his freshman and sophomore years playing for Orange County Blue Star, and he enjoyed working with John Spencer and Michael Osguera.

[ MORE: Patience for Pulisic ]

So when he decided to leave UCSB, he found a home with Osguera in the NAIA. After a position change, the goals poured forth like water at Concordia University in Irvine, to the tune of 44 goals and 18 assists in two seasons.

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“He took me under his wing and promised me we’d find that love for the game that I had lost at Santa Barbara,” Ramirez said. “He moved me up front which I really didn’t agree with at the time, growing up and always playing center mid, but he thought I had a knack for the goal and I was always in good areas so he said let’s take away some of your defensive responsibilities and put guys around you that will run off of you and it worked. I had a blast my last two years of college.”

That happens when you adapt to a new position quickly with the skill set of a midfield maestro. Ramirez’s size makes him a handful for defenders, but his vision sets him apart. He says he’s “unorthodox but unselfish,” and loves to assist as much as score.

[ MORE: Yaya Toure to Major League Soccer?!? ]

“I’m not your typical striker,” he said. “I won’t beat anyone in a 40-yard dash. I won’t outjump anyone, but I like to think my soccer IQ is up there with the best. I like to be faster with my brain and my feet, to get in situations where the defense isn’t expecting me to pull the trigger.”

Ramirez began his professional journey with USL side Charlotte Eagles in 2013, scoring 8 goals as a rookie. He signed for United the next season, and tied a league record with 20 goals.

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The Loons haven’t missed the playoffs since he arrived, and are currently on pace to win a wild card spot for this season’s edition. This time, it’s behind manager Carl Craig, an unorthodox employee in his own right.

“He’s guided me in working on my weaknesses and developing my game,” Ramirez said. “At the end of the day he lets me play and lets me figure it out. He gives me the outline, and expects me to go out there and fill that outline out.”

Minnesota is headed for Major League Soccer next year, and Ramirez says the league might not be prepared for what’s coming its way with the Loons’ fan base.

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“It’s been amazing,” Ramirez says. “The Dark Clouds and True North Elite make, like they claim, a weird type of atmosphere. Much different than U.S. soccer is accustomed to. It’s exciting to see them grow each home game with new faces and new chants. It’ll be a new type of fan base for MLS when Minnesota makes the jump.”

Ramirez may or may not be a part of the move. He his contract does not feature an MLS guarantee, and he’s “basically free” after this season. The scorer likes it in Minnesota, but is open to anything that helps him reach his goals.

He’s scored against Sporting KC in the U.S. Open Cup, and has performed well at every level of competition. He’s watched as former teammate Miguel Ibarra went from the NASL to the USMNT and Club Leon, and knows people have noticed his high-volume production. Rumors from MLS destinations to Germany and Sweden have popped up over the past few years, and Jurgen Klinsmann has noticed the striker.

[ MORE: Rossi from Juve to Sporting KC? ]

So, yeah, Ramirez’s career goals are high.

“Someday hopefully I’ll be able to represent the USA, even just to see where I’m at in that category,” Ramirez said. “In regards to my future, I’m open to anything. I know a soccer’s a business, and I know how cutthroat it is so I’m open to going abroad, I’m open to staying in Minnesota or somewhere else in the States.”

Ramirez is not bothered by the uncertainty, given his past. To go from little used sophomore midfielder to in-demand NASL-topping striker makes a player anything but desperate.

“I’m excited to be in this position. If you would’ve told me six years ago I’d have leverage at the top of the goal scoring charts in the NASL, I would’ve thought you were crazy. I’m humbled to be in the position I’m in, and excited for the options I have moving forward.”

Watch Live: Liverpool v. West Ham

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Liverpool v West Ham takes center stage at Anfield on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Reds aim to reclaim their 22-point lead at the top of the Premier League table.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

Jurgen Klopp‘s side remain unbeaten this season and with five more wins needed to guarantee the Premier League title, the finishing line is in sight. They are aiming for an 18th consecutive Premier League win which would equal Man City’s record for the most victories on the trot in top-flight history.

As for David Moyes and the Hammers, they are scrapping for their lives at the other end of the table and their daunting run of fixtures makes them one of the favorites for relegation.

Last season the Hammers did draw at home against Liverpool in the PL which was a key factor in the Reds not winning the title last time out but West Ham look extremely far from the team they were last season.

Liverpool v West Ham is first against 18th and all signs point to a big win for the home side as their unbeaten season continues with 25 victories from 26 games so far.

In team news Liverpool are without captain Jordan Henderson who has suffered a hamstring injury and will be out for the next three weeks.

Naby Keita comes in for Henderson in midfield as the rest of the Liverpool team is what you expect.

West Ham are without the injured Ryan Fredericks who suffered a shoulder injury in the 2-0 defeat at Man City on Wednesday.

Teenager Jeremy Ngakia comes in to replace Fredericks, while Felipe Anderson also comes into the lineup.

LINEUPS

 

Kids under 12 banned from heading in UK

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LONDON (AP) Children up to the age of 12 will be banned from heading a soccer ball in practice sessions in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland as authorities look to address the potential long-term impact on health of head injuries.

[ MORE: US Soccer bans heading ]

The governing bodies of the three regions announced the new heading guidelines on Monday, months after a Scottish study found former professional players there were less likely to die of common causes such as heart disease and cancer compared with the general population but more likely to die with dementia.

The guidelines say there will be a “graduated approach” to heading in practice for kids from 12-15, while the heading will be restricted to one practice session per week for kids 16 and 17.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

There will be no change in terms of heading in matches, taking into consideration the extremely limited number of headers which actually occur in youth matches.

The Scottish study did not state that heading a ball was the cause of the increased prevalence of neurodegenerative conditions among soccer players, but the decision to update the guidelines was taken to “mitigate against any potential risks”, the English Football Association said in a statement.

“This guidance is a responsible development to our grassroots coaching,” FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said, “without impacting the enjoyment that children of all ages take from playing the game.”

The associations said the guidance had been produced in parallel with the UEFA medical committee, which is seeking to produce Europe-wide guidance later this year.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Champions League score predictions: Round of 16

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The 2019-20 UEFA Champions League is finally back as the Round of 16 kicks off this week and two of the four Premier League clubs are in action.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Man City and Chelsea face Real Madrid and Bayern Munich respectively and both know they face tough tasks to advance to the Champions League quarterfinals as they do battle with two European heavyweights.

Glory in the Champions League is now the main focus for Pep Guardiola and Man City following their two-season European ban from UEFA which they are appealing. Frank Lampard‘s young Chelsea side host the Bundesliga leaders and hugely experienced Bayern, with the German giants the favorites to advance.

[ MORE: Which Premier League team(s) will reach last eight? ]

The Premier League sides are up against it but both teams are extremely capable of scoring goals for fun but it is at the other end of the pitch where they struggle as both Real Madrid and Bayern Munich will be hoping their star attackers shine on the big stage once again.

In the other two last 16 clashes this week Napoli host Barcelona as Lionel Messi warmed up very nicely with four goals against Eibar, while Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus head to Lyon for the first leg as the Italian giants are expected to advance with ease.

Both Messi and Ronaldo badly want another Champions League title to their name but Lyon and Napoli are more than capable of picking up big first leg wins at home.

Below we predict the scores for the UCL round of 16 games taking place over the next two days. Feel free to make your own predictions in the comments section below, too.


Tuesday
Napoli 1-1 Barcelona
Chelsea 1-2 Bayern Munich

Wednesday
Lyon 1-3 Juventus
Real Madrid 2-3 Man City

Details for Premier League Mornings Live Fan Fest in Philadelphia

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The NBC Sports and Premier League fan fest is heading to Philadelphia in April and here are all of the details you need to know.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Our crew will be broadcasting live for the latest Premier League Mornings Live fan fest on April 4-5, 2020 and the venue is Dilworth Park, located outside of Philadelphia’s City Hall in Center City.

This is the third and final fan fest of the 2019-20 season after October’s event in Austin, Texas, and December’s event in Miami Beach, Florida.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Over two days in Philly there will be nine Premier League games shown across five different windows, with Manchester City v. Liverpool on Sunday, April 5 at 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and Telemundo the main event.

As always, there will be lots going on as the Premier League Trophy will be present plus club mascots and special guests and you can join us for free.

All you have to do is sign up here.

The NBC Sports studio team of Rebecca Lowe, Robbie Earle, Kyle Martino and Robbie Mustoe are heading to the City of Brotherly Love and here are more details about what we have planned:

  • NBC Sports and the Premier League have also teamed up to bring the ePremier League USA Finals, a free-to-play esports tournament operated by Gfinity and FACEIT, to the Philadelphia Fan Fest. Registration for the tournament, which will see competitors battle it out online to reach the Philadelphia finals in April, begins today and can be accessed by clicking here. Online qualification matches on Xbox and PlayStation consoles begin March 4 and the finalists will be flown to Philadelphia for the ePremier League USA Finals at the Fan Fest on April 4-5.
  • The Premier League has an ongoing commitment to bringing unique experiences to its fans and working with NBC Sports on Premier League Mornings Live continues that direct outreach to passionate fans in different cities across the United States. Premier League Chief Executive, Richard Masters, said: “It seems only fitting that we round off our Premier League Mornings Live events for the 2019/20 season by bringing soccer fans together in the city famed for brotherly love, Philadelphia. The event at Dilworth Park will be another exciting chance for NBC Sports and us to bring Premier League action direct to supporters in the US and will be the first time at a Mornings Live Fan Festival where we have hosted an esports final. We hope that this and the other great free activities available to fans will encourage them to come down and get involved.”
  • Soccer fans from across the country can interact with the event by sharing their #MyPLMorning on social media, from wherever they are watching. Select viewer photos will be featured on air throughout the weekend.