Rags to Riches for Razov
Only 74 seconds into the U.S. men's national team game against Trinidad and Tobago on June 20, Ante Razov, starting his second game in 2001, ran on to a 50-yard ball from Jeff Agoos and slammed home the first goal in a 2-0 victory.
After the goal, he leaped over the advertising boards, bowed towards the sea of cheering red, white and blue and kissed the U.S. soccer emblem on the front of his jersey, almost as if he was thanking the soccer gods for giving him another chance.
Right now, Razov is one of the most dangerous scoring threats on the U.S squad, but just four years ago, after getting little playing time, he was released by the Los Angeles Galaxy in his second season with the club.
"It was never explained to me what my situation was in L.A.," said Razov. "I didn't play the whole year the first year, then the playoffs come around, and I start every playoff game except one, and in the final, I came in the second half.
"It was quite odd to me the way things were going on. In the second year, I wasn't even being considered to play. So they released me."
For Ravoz - nicknamed "Te" by his teammates - the first couple of years in Major League Soccer were a strange transition. He went from being the BMOC at UCLA - where he was a four-year starter and All-American his junior year - to MLS where, essentially, he got paid to watch his team play. Not exactly what the he had intended to do.
After getting cut by the Galaxy in July of 1997, Razov focused his sights overseas.
"I tried out with some teams in Germany (Borussia Moenchengladbach and Eintracht Frankfurt) from July to November," said Razov. "It didn't work out and things didn't look good for me."
Here was a college All-American who had pilled up 40 goals and 29 assists (109 points) in four years at a major soccer power and he couldn't find playing time in the U.S or abroad. A goal-scorer, something every team needs, was available, but no one - not even the three-year-old MLS - was knocking on his door.
"I didn't know which way to turn," said Razov. "It was a frustrating time for me."
Then came Razov's chance. In 1998, Jorge Salcedo, one of his college teammates mentioned to Bob Bradley that Razov was looking to hook up with a team. Bradley, the head coach of the Chicago Fire, was down in Florida with the team for preseason and was in need of forwards. A short time later, Razov's phone rang.
Chicago was one of two expansion teams - Miami being the other - added to MLS in '98. The Fire was just getting their start in the league, while Razov was trying to re-start his career. The fit was as perfect as the glass slipper on Cinderella's foot and a fairytale season began.
The Fire ended up winning the MLS Championship, becoming one of the only teams in the history of sports to win a championship in their inaugural season. Almost as unexpected as the Fire winning the MLS Championship, they were led by Razov who had a team high 29 points with 10 goals and 9 assists.
For the next two years Razov proved he wasn't a one-year wonder, leading Chicago in scoring each year, with 14 and 18 goals, respectively.
"I knew it was in me," Razov said. "But it was just a matter of getting chance to show it."
During his time with the Fire, Razov emerged as a consistent choice for the U.S. national team. In 1999, and the beginning of 2000, he was called upon for six matches, but wasn't able to find the back of the net.
His scoring drought with the national team lead to some criticism. Two days before the national team played Ireland in the Nike U.S. Cup 2000, a short article in the Los Angeles Times titled, "Put Up or Shut Up", questioned his finishing skills.
Razov put up. Way up. In the match versus Ireland he notched his first goal for the national team in a 1-1 tie. But he didn't stop there.
In the next U.S. Cup game against Mexico, only five days later, he scored again in a 3-0 victory.
For the second time, Razov had proven his critics wrong. But just in case there were a few skeptics still out there, in the national team's next game, a World Cup qualifier against Guatemala, he scored once more. That gave him three goals in three games, one short of tying the U.S. record for most consecutive games scoring a goal (four by William Looby from 1954-55).
After the 2000 MLS season, Razov - born and raised in the U.S. - signed a contract with Racing de Ferrol in Spain's second division and reported to the team in December.
He got off to a scorching start with his new team, scoring five goals in six matches. In his Spanish debut on Dec. 20 he scored 18 minutes into the game and less than two months later he picked up a hat trick, notching three goals all in the second half.
"Ante has proven he can play at any level," said Zach Thorton, a former teammate in Chicago.
It has been a long trip for Razov. He went from being seldom used and then cut by the Galaxy to becoming one of the biggest stars on the national team.
His hard work has paid off and now he has a chance to reach one of his goals - playing in the World Cup.
"That's the pinnacle of your career, especially as a forward - score in the World Cup, play well, have your team win a game or two," Razov said. "That's the guy I want to be."
Now that sounds like fun.