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Patience leads Bagramyan to professional contract with Portuguese soccer club

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La Cañada High graduate Armand Bagramyan has earned a contract to play soccer for a second-division team in Portugal.
(Tim Berger \ Staff Photographer)

The flight from Spain to Argentina took 14 hours.

For two days, Armand Bagramyan had a chance to display his talents through a 60-minute 11-on-11 soccer scrimmage to prove he was capable of performing at the professional level.

That’s all it took. Two hours. Two days. It seems so simple after four years of patience and disappointment for the former La Cañada High standout striker.

Nevertheless, Bagramyan impressed Portuguese third division club AD Oliveirense over the course of the team’s two-day trials in Buenos Aires, and it was enough for the 23-year-old to sign his first professional contract with the sides agreeing on a two-year deal.

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“More than anything, I’m just excited to prove myself in Europe and in the world,” Bagramyan said. “Now that I have my foot in the door, everyone can see what I am really about. That’s what I’m most excited for. Not just being a professional, but showing everyone what I can do.”

Oliveirense competes in the third division of Portuguese soccer. The team also plays in cup competition Taça de Portugal, a knockout tournament that pits teams from all four divisions of Portuguese soccer.

The club is located in Olveira de Azeméis, a city in the Porto Metropolitan Area of Portugal.

Bagramyan, a former All-Area Player of the Year, had experience training with European clubs since he was 16. The 2013, the La Cañada graduate previously trained with Spanish side Elche and La Liga club Levante. It was at Levante that he got a call to train in Argentina with Olveirense.

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His latest opportunity gives Bagramyan a chance to continue playing soccer.

As a senior, Bagramyan broke the 16-year-old La Cañada single season goal-scoring record with 43. That was good enough for No. 2 in goals in the state that season, according to MaxPreps. He also contributed 21 assists.

He scored 87 goals and assisted on 44 in 70 matches with the Spartans and was named to the All-CIF Southern Section first-team and earned All-Rio Hondo League Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2013.

Since then, he’s experienced a rollercoaster ride over the past four years in his attempt to achieve this level of competition.

“I’m not going to lie, there were moments where I thought I was going to be done with soccer because of everything that happened,” Bagramyan said. “But it just made me stronger.”

The strenuous journey started with his time as a player and sociology major at the UC Santa Barbara, where a hamstring injury limited his playing time for the first two years.

Although he enjoyed some starts in his freshman season, he was mostly relegated to the bench his sophomore and junior campaigns.

In his final season at UCSB, Bagramyan was not happy with his situation and ultimately took a year-long hiatus.

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“I had to get out of there, so I left,” Bagramyan said. “From there, I wasn’t sure that college soccer was the right path to get to where I wanted to get to, so I took a year off with a leave of absence from college and I decided to go back to Europe to see if I had any luck out there.”

Bagramyan trained with a few teams in Europe and ended up with a preseason trial with Spanish second division side Elche Club de Fútbol in the summer of 2017. Though prospects were high for the forward, the club still faced monetary penalties from the governing body of Spanish soccer.

Elche played two seasons in the Spanish first division and finished 13th in La Liga in 2015, but was relegated at the end of the season because of unpaid taxes. The following year, the club was relegated once again to the Spanish third division, Segunda B.

“I was going to go back there, but in the middle of the summer, right before I left, they were bought out as a club and all the players that were supposed to come in weren’t any more,” Bagramyan said. “I kind of got unlucky there, so my options were limited at that point, and I decided to go back to college soccer and maybe play one more year.”

Bagramyan began his search for a new college, but his leave of absence made it difficult and many universities were unwilling to give him a shot. Eventually, the University of San Francisco, under then-head coach Edwin Soto, provided an opportunity for Bagramyan in the middle of the winter semester.

Soto, now the men’s soccer coach at Cal State Dominguez Hills after five years with the Dons, was immediately impressed by Bagramyan’s play.

“What he brings is just the ability to stretch teams,” said Soto, who was named the West Coast Conference Coach of the Year in 2017 and guided the Dons to the NCAA tournament that season. “He’s got good pace. He can run in behind a lot and can shoot well from distance.

“We were eager to use him as a seven or 11 out wide. Obviously, that didn’t happen, but he’s got that ability.”

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Within a month, Bagramyan was named captain of the Dons’ squad and made an immediate impact during their spring games.

However, as summer rolled around, Bagramyan was informed that the NCAA ruled that he would not be able to play for San Francisco in the fall.

“I had a medical redshirt in my first year and we contested it, but the NCAA denied it and did not let me play my senior year of college at USF,” Bagramyan said. “It was a pretty big bummer. It was a really, really big deal, actually, that it didn’t happen. My coach and team were devastated. It sucked.

“Not playing my senior year was tough, but I knew I had to bounce back. That was my college career.”

Undaunted and despite the setback, Bagramyan’s fortunes culminated with a plane ride to Portugal last week with the chance of a new adventure. Bagramyan now turns his attention to competing against the European behemoths, and he plans to relish every opportunity.

vincent.nguyen@latimes.com

Twitter: @ReporterVince


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