On Wednesday, I interviewed Chivas USA forward Ante Razov after the team’s morning scrimmage with D.C. United here at the Texas Pro Soccer Fest.
Razov is one of four players still active in MLS that were part of the league’s first season, and with the exception of a short stint in Spain, he’s spent the last decade being one of the top forwards in the league, currently standing second all-time in league goals with 109, behind Jaime Moreno’s 112, and 25 of those goals in his two seasons with Chivas USA.
It’s been quite a resurgence for the 34-year old Southern California native, who’s back where it all started for him. Razov was born in Whittier, played at UCLA from 1992-95, and started his career with the L.A. Galaxy.
Last season, Chivas USA won the Western Conference regular-season crown in only their third year in existence, with Razov forming an excellent partnership with Maykel Galindo. But, the year ended on a bad note, as Razov hurt his knee in the last month of the regular season, and had to watch as his team fell in the first round of the playoffs. Now he’s healthy again, and ready to pursue MLS glory again.
We talked about redemption, inspiration, and more. Much thanks to Ante for the interview, and happy belated birthday (March 2).
EG: Given the success that the team had last season, how does it affect your preparations and expectations for this season?
AR: Well, it was a good season, but it ended on a sour note. We wanted more. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, so we’re going to be hungry for sure, a little bit upset, and the expectations are pretty high again.”
EG: On a personal level, what are your expectations?
AR: I’m expecting to come back, you know, the season ended in a bad way for me. I hurt my knee a month before the playoffs and couldn’t help the team, so it was very hard to watch the team go down when I felt like I could have helped. So I’m very motivated this year, and looking to do whatever I can to help the team go further.”
EG: When you were growing up, what inspired you to work towards where you are now?
AR: It was just always inside of me. I always loved soccer, I loved playing, everyday I had a ball in my hand.”
“Back then, there wasn’t so much soccer on TV, but whenever it was on, a lot of the Spanish channels would carry it, and I would watch it all the time. I was just fascinated by the whole thing, and luckily the MLS came along right about the right time for me.”
EG: What players did you admire, or model your game after?
AR: Well, I always tried to watch the attacking players, guys like Davor Sukor, Raul, Marco Van Basten.” (he said a lot more here, but thanks to a monster gust of wind, the rest of his answer wasn’t picked up so well by my recorder)
What inspires you to keep going after playing so long?
AR: I still like the competition, I like to feed the fire. I think all players who play a long time, eventually the body breaks down, or you just mentally get worn out. Hopefully my body can hold up, but the fire still burns inside.”
EG: What advice would you give to young players who want to get the point that you have?
AR: Practice a lot. You’ve got to love the game, you’ve got to want it. Have fun with it, enjoy it, and certainly, you’ve got to have a competitive edge everyday.”
EG: Who was the toughest defender you’ve ever faced?
AR: Eddie Pope. He played tough, and physically, he was hard to deal with. He was very long, lengthy, strong, fast. He was also a very smart defender.”
EG: How do you feel about being one of the originals still playing in the league, and how far the league has come in that time?
AR: (laughs) I wish I wasn’t! But I think the league has come a long way. It’s made great strides, and it’s given us a platform to come on the world stage and compete, so I think there’s nothing but good things in the future to look forward to.”
Chivas USA start their season March 30 with an away match against FC Dallas, and have their home opener against Real Salt Lake on April 5.