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Razov is enjoying himself, scoring goals and looking to World Cup.

By Neil Buethe
us-soccer.com

(Saturday, June 30, 2001) -- It wasnít always so much fun.

Only 74 seconds into the United States menís June 20 game against Trinidad & Tobago, striker Ante Razov, starting his second game of 2001, ran on to a 50-yard ball from Jeff Agoos and slammed home the first goal of the 2-0 victory.

After the goal, he leaped over the advertising boards, bowed toward 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 Major League Soccerís Los Angeles Galaxy in his second season with the club.

"It was never explained to me what my situation was in L.A.," Razov said. "I didnít 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 wasnít even being considered to play. So they released me."

For Razov -- nicknamed "Te" by his teammates -- the first couple of years in MLS were a strange transition. He went from being the "Big Man on Campus" 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," Razov said. "It didnít work out and things didnít 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 couldnít 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 didnít know which way to turn," Razov said. "It was a frustrating time for me."

Then came Razovís 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 the MLS preseason and was in need of forwards. A short time later, Razovís phone rang.

Chicago was one of two expansion teams -- Miami being the other -- added to MLS in 1998. The Fire was just getting its start in the league, while Razov was trying to re-start his career. The fit was as perfect as the glass slipper on Cinderellaís foot and a fairy tale season began.

The Fire ended up winning the MLS championship, becoming one of the only teams in the history of American sports to win a championship in its inaugural season. Almost as unexpected as the Fire winning the MLS Cup was the team being led by Razov who had a team high 29 points on 10 goals and nine assists.

For the next two years Razov proved he wasnít a one-year wonder, leading Chicago in scoring 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 wasnít able to find the back of the net. His scoring drought with the national team lead to some criticism. Two days before the U.S. 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 national-team goal in a 1-1 tie. But he didnít stop there. In the next U.S. Cup game against Mexico, 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 Americansí next outing, 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 Spainís 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 December 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 goalkeeper 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 U.S. men. His hard work has paid off and now he has a chance to reach one of his goals -- playing in the World Cup.

Thatís 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. "Thatís the guy I want to be."

Now that sounds like fun.

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