A little healthy competition can be a good thing. Together, Adama Diomande and Christian Ramirez have been growing into their roles this year.
Last year, when Marco Ureña’s focus shifted to his World Cup duty, Diomande, who joined LAFC in May, took on the role with swiftness, making his impact immediately, starting in 14 of 18 MLS regular season games, scoring 12 goals with five assists. Nine of those came early – in his first seven matches. But he came under scrutiny for not pairing well with Carlos Vela in later games when Vela returned from the World Cup.
On a converging path, Ramirez, a striker in his prime and poster child for two of Minnesota United’s NASL years, returned to his Southern California roots, signing with LAFC in early August 2018. Last year, Ramirez started three matches, was a sub in four games and was a goal-scoring substitute in the second half of LAFC’s knockout round playoff match. This season, Ramirez has been the chosen starter, with Diomande recovering from an offseason hernia operation. Dio’s first start came while Ramirez was on duty with the USMNT last weekend for the first of March’s friendlies. It was natural for Ramirez and Dio to be depicted as being pitted against each other but the competition for a role as striker, has actually been helping both develop into better players.
“It’s been a good thing for the team to have both their forwards score. I know he [Adama Diomande] has had some knocks. It’s good for the club. We both know that it’s not either of us doing anything bad. We’re just pushing each other. Me and [Adama] Diomande have a great relationship… I was the first one up celebrating his goal last week. Same today, when he came on and scored, I was celebrating his goal. When his time comes to start, I’ll be the same person, continue to push, and wait for my moment. I’m just going on for the ride.” – Christian Ramirez, commenting on the success of Diomande after their match at home against Portland on March 10, 2019.
Diomande, accustomed to scoring on the field, has been eager to continue his scoring streak from last year, but he’s had to take some time getting there. Normal recovery times for hernial operations are 6+ weeks. Ramirez, two years his junior, who scored his 3 goals last year all against Real Salt Lake, missed his chance to get another in last weekend, but netted his first goal of the season against Portland* in his second start this year. *both he and Adama scored in that match.
“I knew I was not going to start the game for three weeks now,” Diomande deadpanned after scoring the game winner against Sporting Kansas City on March 4. “I knew that and I’m a professional guy. It’s good for competition. I don’t want to be the lone striker on the team. I’m happy to have a competition with Christian [Ramirez] and of course we have other strikers too that can play the same position.”
If nothing else, their joint venture is helping Diomande evolve into a team player with the type of chemistry with Vela that he lacked last year. In early March, for LAFC’s opener, Diomande only completed 5 passes after being subbed on in the 59th minute, but took the winning goal. A week later, Ramirez, completed a key pass to Vela for a failed goal attempt, but then Dio comes on as a sub in the 63rd minute, scores on a Vela assist in the 65th and assists Vela for another goal five minutes later. In NYC on March 17th, Ramirez again shows promise with a key connection to Vela early on. Though it didn’t lead to a goal, Diomande, as the sub, failed to connect with him at all. Last Saturday’s match was a chance for Dio to grasp full control of the spot but though he fell slightly short of producing results – out of three goal efforts on his part, two were assists from Vela – it showed a great deal of promise for his future as taking back his spot in the starting lineup.
Chances are Diomande is going to hold onto this role as starter tightly but the best part of getting injured and needing to slow down may truly be having a chance to go back and finesse his own style. And, as everyone can see, Ramirez, true to his humble role as backup when it comes to LAFC’s striker, may have found his calling with the national team. Could it be a win-win?
featured image: courtesy LAFC.com