U.S. Soccer is celebrating its Centennial year in 2013 and throughout the year ussoccer.com will provide historical content to commemorate 100 Years of the Federation. “Where are They Now” looks back at the career of former National Team Players and catches up with them after their playing days have concluded.
Ante Razov prowls the practice fields of The Home Depot Center, still wearing cleats and training gear, but also sporting a clipboard and whistle. Instead of being barked at by coaches, he’s doing the barking – at the LA Galaxy’s under-14 academy team.
“We train four times a week, which is a lot for a 14-year-old,” Razov said. “We give them something, insights on a daily basis. It’s not very glamorous. But we put those carrots in front of them.”
It’s an advantage Razov and his fellow generation of players - who started their careers when Major League Soccer was launched - never had. Yet somehow they persevered to become the circuit’s early heroes.
“We did not have it as good as they have it now,” Razov said. “We did some good things, but I really didn’t start playing first-team pro games until I was 24. Now, they’re 17, 18, and they’re knocking on the door.”
The 38-year-old native Californian made his biggest mark with the Chicago Fire and Chivas USA in a 15-year career, in which he finished as the all-time scoring leader for both teams, made two All-Star Game appearances, was selected to the MLS Best XI in 2003, won the 1998 MLS Cup, three U.S. Open Cup titles and led his teams in scoring six times.
His career also included time in Spain before he retired officially after the 2010 season and finished as the fourth-highest career-scoring leader in MLS.
“After three operations, I was probing different ways to do things,” he said. “I got my insurance license. I quickly learned to check that off the list, that was something I didn’t want to do.”
Now he’s trying to impart lessons learned late and hard to another generation that can now start thinking of pro careers in their early teens.
“You have to have a desire and passion,” Razov said. “There will be times when you’ll sit nights alone, away from home, and in many ways suffer. The guys in 1994 suffered a lot, and now you’re seeing the payoff.”
Razov’s transition from player to coach is heartwarming to former coach and mentor Bob Bradley, who besides leading the U.S. Men’s National Team between 2007 and 2011, managed Razov while in charge of the Fire, the New York-New Jersey MetroStars and Chivas USA.
“To this day, one of the things I appreciate, whenever we have chance to catch up, is it is a really good soccer conversation,” Bradley said. “We talk about teams and how they play. Ante has the ability to take his experiences and use them in ways to help younger players become better.
“I’m really pleased to see him involved. When players finish their career, to see them back in the game is important.”
Razov’s professional playing career started slowly. After a college run at UCLA, where he led the Bruins twice in scoring, he was chosen by the Galaxy in the third round of the inaugural draft in 1996.
But he played only six games for Los Angeles in two years, spending most of his time with the third-division Sacramento Scorpions.
When the Fire entered MLS in 1998, Bradley remembered Razov from their shared time with the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team, and brought him in, beginning a partnership that would be highly productive for both.
“Really from the time he got into the group, you could tell it was a good fit,” Bradley said. “As a young striker, he had certain starting points that were different. He had the ability to shoot with the left foot, which was very, very good.
“Anybody involved in the team in Chicago saw we had a tremendous mix: talented experienced players, from Lubos Kubik and Roman Kosecki, good leaders, with a really good group of younger, eager, committed players like (Chris) Armas, (Jesse) Marsch, (Diego) Gutierrez, C.J. (Brown) and Ante. It was a great fit from the start.”
Finally getting his first regular assignment, Razov played 30 games and led the Fire in scoring with 10 goals in 1998 and was the team’s top scorer for five of six years.
The only season he didn’t lead the team in scoring was 2001, when he played with Racing Ferrol in the Spanish second division, scoring six goals in 19 games.
He made 25 appearances for the USA between 1995 and 2007, scoring six goals including two key strikes to help the United States qualify for the 2002 FIFA World Cup. He was a member of the U.S. team that won 2002 CONCACAF Gold Cup, but he would miss out on Japan and South Korea later that year, crowded out of a team that also included Brian McBride, Landon Donovan, Clint Mathis, Joe-Max Moore, Earnie Stewart and Josh Wolff.
After Bradley was lured away from Chicago to his home state of New Jersey to coach the MetroStars in 2003, Razov followed two seasons later after a seven-game stint in Columbus.
When Bradley left for Chivas USA in 2006, Razov again went too, scoring 25 goals over the next two seasons as the pair helped lift the moribund Los Angeles side from the worst team in MLS in 2005 to the playoffs a year later.
“He was a very smooth, fluent striker, not a swashbuckling guy who’d crash the box,” former U.S. MNT goalkeeper Tony Meola said. “He was another good striker we had. If you had to coach young kids, he’s one of the guys you’d try to teach them to emulate.”
“Anybody who played with or against Ante recognized the talent,” Bradley said. “And the goalscoring records speak for themselves.”
Having scouted for the United States at the U-15 and U-18 levels, Razov is honing his coaching and administration skills. He completed the U.S. Soccer Federation’s pro or “A” licensing course for former players in December at The Home Depot Center in Los Angeles with an eventual ambition.
“The ultimate goal is to get back into the first team,” Razov said. “That’s where much of the expertise lies.
“But I’m cutting my teeth, doing the basics. And I thoroughly enjoy it,” Razov explained, realizing that the early teens is where players start seriously thinking for the first time about a future in soccer. “I have a much bigger effect than with the 18s. At 18, they’re where they are going to be. This is where I can get my ideas across and the way the club wants them to play.”