After the La Cañada High boys’ soccer season ended in 2012, Armand Bagramyan, assuming his high school career was also done, set his sights on the professional ranks.
Spartans Coach Alex Harrison also figured the standout striker wouldn’t be back in his lineup for his senior season when he agreed to help train Bagramyan for a trip to Spain during the summer of 2012 — one he spent auditioning for European pro teams.
“When we finished last year’s high school season, he and I never stopped,” Harrison said. “I volunteered to train him daily for an hour to an hour-and-a-half five to six days a week for like four months.
“I never in my wildest dreams thought he’d be back. I was honestly banking on him not being back.”
While Bagramyan had an opportunity to stay abroad, receiving offers to play for Reial Club Deportiu Espanyol and FSV Frankfurt’s youth academy teams, he decided it was in his best interest to postpone a professional career, finish his education at La Cañada and pursue a scholarship at an elite NCAA school.
“It was [tough] at first,” said Bagramyan, who was in Spain from August to November, of returning to high school. “I was thinking, ‘I want to become a professional soccer player eventually and this is the easiest way for me to do it. I am right here, I’m right next to the best team in the world, [Futbol Club] Barcelona, and I could be doing this right now, playing for one of the best academy teams.’”
Today, Bagramyan couldn’t be happier with his decision. The striker committed to play for UC Santa Barbara in the middle of his senior season — one that turned out to be historic.
He etched his name into La Cañada lore, breaking a 16-year-old record of goals scored in a single season with 43. Josh Henderson held the previous mark with 41.
The awards have continued to come in for Bagramyan, who was named the Rio Hondo League Offensive Most Valuable Player and an All-CIF Southern Section Division V first-team selection for the second year in a row.
Bagramyan, who’s currently competing on the Chivas USA youth academy team to prepare for college, was also selected to play in the CIF Southern California and Southern California Senior All-Star games and scored two goals in each contest, earning MVP honors in both.
“I think I could have done better [this year], honestly,” said Bagramyan, who also had 21 assists on the year, but had it end in heartbreaking fashion in the first round of the playoffs. “Even though I broke records, did really good and got MVP awards — a lot of them — I think I should have done just a little bit better.”
While Bagramyan and the Spartans’ season ended far sooner than anticipated, it’s impossible to deny how much Bagramyan stood out on the pitch. As a result, he was unanimously voted the 2012-13 All-Area Boys’ Soccer Player of the Year by the sports writers and editors of the Glendale News-Press, Burbank Leader, La Cañada Valley Sun and Pasadena Sun.
Soccer has always been part of Bagramyan’s life. He grew up watching his two older brothers play and by the time he was five, people began telling him he’d be something special, and he quickly set his sites on a pro career.
“I’d say family then soccer and then school for me,” said Bagramyan, listing his priorities in order. “It’s always been like that. Soccer is always a priority for me.”
A natural scorer, he said he routinely scored seven to eight times a game when he first started playing organized soccer.
“I just love scoring goals and every time I step on the field I have in my mind, ‘I’m going to score,’” he said. “I just love scoring, it brings a smile to my face.”
Bagramyan always had plenty to smile about at La Cañada. When he first came up to the varsity team as a sophomore, he scored 21 goals — three behind the team’s leading scorer — on a squad stacked with offensive firepower.
This season, Bagramyan nearly doubled his goals from a junior campaign in which he racked up 23 goals to go along with 15 assists.
“In terms of scoring goals, he’s probably the best player I’ve ever coached,” said Harrison, who also coaches at the LA Premier Futbol Club. “In terms of understanding the game, getting the game going and understanding the mechanics of the game, his vision, his passion — it’s second to none. He’s at the professional level in terms of how he takes things seriously.”
Bagramyan had three four-goal games, five other hat tricks and a total of 12 multi-goal games this year.
“He’s a pretty explosive player, he’s a skillful player,” said South Pasadena High Coach Juan Zurita, who coached against La Cañada and Bagramyan the past three years. “He can use both legs and that’s probably why he got 43 goals.”
According to Bagramyan, the time spent in Spain lifted him to new heights as far as his play is concerned. The two-a-day workouts helped him become a better player in every facet of the game.
“Everything just got better over the time I was there for three months,” said Bagramyan, who didn’t go a game without at least scoring a point this year. “Everything I learned over there, I just brought it to what I had here and it was all so much easier because everyone’s amazing over there.”
It wasn’t just Bagramyan’s play but his leadership that kicked into another gear. Harrison said he became a leader and pushed the entire team to a new level. La Cañada midfielder Armaan Zare said Bagramyan was a better teammate because of his leadership.
“He was passing more, he was more about the team,” Zare said. “Even though he got all those goals, he was more focused on the team this year.”
In the past, Bagramyan hadn’t always focused on the team, Zare said.
“He had a transformation and he was definitely more focused on the team,” Zare said of this past season, while admitting it wasn’t always perfect. “You can expect there to be some qualms, he goes back to his old self now and then, but generally we were pretty good. There was a mutual respect, he listened to everyone and we all listened to him.”
While there were a number of high points for Bagramyan and the Spartans, who climbed to the No. 1 spot in Division V early in the season and held it until the playoffs, there were also some low ones as well.
La Cañada went 18-4-2, 8-1-1 in the Rio Hondo League and earned a share of the league title. However, the Spartans had their 36-game league winning streak snapped by South Pasadena with a 2-1 loss Jan. 23.
The Spartans season-ending descent appeared to start Feb. 5 — an historic day for Bagramyan. Coming into a game with San Marino with 40 goals, the forward scored twice to break Henderson’s record and added two assists in a 5-0 victory.
Any celebration was marred when Bagramyan was given his second yellow card with about 10 minutes left in the game. Bagramyan said both cards were questionable, but admitted he retaliated and hit and ran into a player, who’d done the same thing to him earlier.
The two yellows resulted in a red card and barred Bagramyan from playing in La Cañada’s league and regular-season finale, a rematch with South Pasadena.
Although he was sick and not at the game, Harrison said he felt somewhat responsible, saying he likely would have taken Bagramyan out of the game after he broke the record and picked up his first card.
Without the services of the player who had a hand in 64 of its 73 goals on the year, La Cañada played South Pasadena to a scoreless tie Feb. 7.
“It’s good and bad, it’s like a double-edged sword,” Harrison said of having a player so key to a team’s offense. “It’s great that you have someone like that who’s your go-to guy, who can win games for you and score lots of goals, and at the same time it’s bad because toward the end of the season everyone figures you out.”
The draw with South Pasadena, which finished 7-0-3 in league, led to both teams sharing the league title with the same amount of points in league competition. Holding the tiebreaker, South Pasadena entered the playoffs as the top team out of Rio Hondo League and the No. 2 seed in the bracket, dropping the Spartans to No. 4.
It put La Cañada in a much tougher first-round matchup against Marshall Fundamental, as it didn’t have the benefit of the No. 1 seed and a potential easier contest. It led to a 2-1 Marshall upset, with Bagramyan scoring on a penalty kick just before the final whistle.
“It took its toll mentality wise,” Harrison said of being viewed as favorites throughout the year. “It’s a lot of pressure and a lot of frustrations come up and expectations are high. It was tough, those expectations are tough to live up to.”
While Bagramyan was disappointed about how his final high school season ended, he was pleased looking back and was happy with his three-year career at La Cañada. Each season there were lessons, he said, perhaps more this past campaign, and there will likely be more, as he works toward his ultimate goal.
“I want soccer to take me to the heart of Barcelona playing at [FC] Barcelona, honestly,” he said. “That’s been my dream ever since I was three years old watching Ronaldinho play at Barcelona, it’s always been my dream. I know it’s really hard to reach and it’s like one in a million it will happen, but I’m still determined to do it.”