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Christian Ramirez has ‘chills’ in first away game at Minnesota United

Christian Ramirez was eager to play against Minnesota United at Allianz Field on Saturday, but the Columbus Crew forward was surprised his substitution into the match came at halftime.

“I had a bit of chills coming on,” said Ramirez, who scored 74 goals for MNUFC from 2014-18. “The ovation. … A flashback to hearing my name being called and the crowd, hearing a familiar voice (public-address announcer Tony DeLorenzo) doing it. It was special.”

Ramirez nearly contributed to a goal in an opening sequences of the second half and had his one shot attempt blocked by Loons defender Micky Tapias in the 85th minute of a 1-1 draw.

Ramirez had not played in Minnesota since being traded to LAFC in summer of 2018. He had been looking forward to his return for years and gave prayer signs to the supporters in The Wonderwall after the tie.

“It was special,” Ramirez said. “I wanted to full go over there, but some of the logistics of it don’t let me. But hopefully I get to do that in the future. They know how special they are to me and how special to finally be able to come back was.”

Ramirez came back to Minnesota with his wife Valerie and two daughters, Zara and Nova.

“I’m thankful for this city and the opportunity not only Dr. Bill (McGuire) gave me, but Manny (Lagos) and Carl (Craig) and everybody that has been a part of it,” Ramirez said. “Just seeing everybody was really special.”

One Loons fan in particular reciprocated that thankfulness. She made a collage of the pictures she had taken with Ramirez during his time in Minnesota and wrote: “Ramirez: You are the reason I fell in love with soccer in 2015.”

Salute to Alonso

Recently retired midfielder Ozzie Alonso was honored by the Seattle Sounders on Saturday, and from afar, two of his former Minnesota United teammates remembered what Alonso meant to the Loons from 2019-21.

Alonso joined MNUFC off waivers in January 2019 and came in alongside center back Ike Opara, right back Romain Metanire and goalkeeper Vito Mannone.

“A transformation,” Michael Boxall said of a run of four straight appearances in MLS Cup Playoffs..

Boxall saw Alonso raise the level of play in games as well as during short-sided scrimmages or rondo passing drills. Alonso, a Cuban defector, demanded respect.

“If players were taking it too casually or being lazy with balls or not approaching it with the way he thought it should be approached, he may or may not have lashed out at someone,” Boxall said with a laugh. “For someone that has that high performance and winning (history), you are not going to accept mediocrity.”

Growing up in Federal Way, Wash., Hassani Dotson “idolized” Alonso as well as forward Fredy Montero. Watching games, Dotson’s father would tell him to watch how Alonso dictated the defensive midfield.

When Dotson was drafted by the Loons in 2019, the rookie got to observe the 10-year veteran Alonso up close and person on a daily basis.

“He would slow the tempo down when we needed it, especially that first year (2019) when we didn’t have as much possession,” Dotson said. “That type of behavior, to be calm when the team needs to settle down and then amp everyone up was the biggest difference I noticed. I tried to do similar things, but it didn’t have the same effect. I learned about presence.”

Update on absences

Winger Bongi Hlongwane (fitness) has been a full participate in training sessions early this week and might be in line for a season debut Saturday at Orlando City. “He’s doing well,” interim head coach Cameron Knowles said Tuesday.

The three other sidelined midfielders might remain out this weekend.

Emanuel Reynoso (knee) is a candidate to join full training sessions by the end of this week. Robin Lod (calf) and Franco Fragapane (calf) were rehabbing off to the side on Tuesday and are unlikely to play in Florida.

Briefly

MNUFC signed first-round draft pick Hugo Bacharach, 22, to one-year contract for 2024, with three club option years through 2027, the club said Tuesday. The Loons have worked out the amount of training compensation to Villarreal; Bacharach was an academy player with that Spanish club before attending college in the U.S. … Minnesota Aurora head coach Nicole Lukic will leave the amateur women’s soccer club at the end of March, the club said Wednesday. Lukic, who led Aurora to two undefeated regular seasons and playoff runs, has accepted a position with U.S. Soccer as director of talent identification for women’s youth national teams.

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