Armenian striker Yura Movsisyan's life has gone full circle as he stars in Russia

The attacker decided not to wait for his U.S. citizenship, but his agent says a return to Major League Soccer in the near future is a real possibility despite success in Europe
Yura Movsisyan was good with his family’s move to California. He was 12 years old, and, after moving from his birthplace in Baku, Azerbaijan, to various places in Europe, Movsisyan was getting used to relocating.

After settling in Pasadena, though, Movsisyan was thinking he could stay close to home to compete in MLS. But being selected by Kansas City in the MLS draft meant Movsisyan would be on the move again.

Two seasons with the Wizards. Two-plus seasons, including an MLS Cup title, with Real Salt Lake. Two seasons with Randers FC in Denmark.

Now, Movsisyan, 25, is in his second year with FK Krasnodar, and leading the Russian Premier League with eight goals in nine matches.

Movsisyan’s impressive start to the season is setting up some interesting scenarios. Russia’s big clubs – Anzhi Makhachkala, Dynamo Moscow, Lokomotiv, and Zenit Saint Petersburg – have expressed an interest in Movsisyan. At this pace, Western Europe is also going to be taking notice.

But Movsisyan is not automatically going to pack up and go to the highest bidder. Partly because that bidder might well be right where he is. Krasnodar players earn plenty, thanks to club president Sergey Galitskiy, an Armenian-Russian business magnate.

“They haven’t been in the mood to sell him and they certainly have the resources to keep him,” said Patrick McCabe, Movsisyan’s agent. “The question is, is he going to stay in Russia? That’s difficult to answer right now, because salaries outside of Russia are much lower. And he has added more value to this club – when they paid $3.5 million (€2.7m) for him they didn’t have high expectations, and he has outperformed them.”

McCabe returned this week from a meeting with club officials after watching Movsisyan knock in two goals in a 6-1 victory over Mordovya.

“They are going to make a strong effort to keep him,” McCabe said of Krasnodar. “At the same time, the money you can earn in Russia is beyond what can be made with some [English] Premier [League] clubs. He’s 25 now and he knows he doesn’t have a long career, so he wants to make the most of it and do what’s right for his family. He wants to play in the Champions League or Europa League, but it’s also a business decision. This is a job he has to do for himself and his family.

“He took a big risk when he went on a free transfer from Salt Lake to Denmark. That’s when he put himself on the map.”

Movsisyan was a 22-year-old starting striker back then, alongside Robbie Findley, as Real Salt Lake won the MLS Cup title in 2009. Movsisyan scored eight goals in 2009 bringing his overall tally to 20 goals in 83 appearances for Kansas City and RSL. Movsisyan turned down what McCabe termed “a strong effort to keep him” by RSL, going to Randers FC.

Movsisyan soon committed to play for Armenia’s national team, just before Krasnodar was gaining promotion. There were unusual circumstances – Krasnodar had finished in fifth place, but higher-placed clubs could not meet first division standards. Krasnodar needed a striker and Galitskiy tapped into his Armenia connections to recruit Movsisyan.

So, Movsisyan’s life has gone nearly full circle, as he moved to Krasnodar, near the Black Sea, less than 1,000 miles from his birthplace in Baku.

Last season, Movsisyan hit 14 goals in 37 appearances as Krasnodar finished in 10th place.

“I knew if I came in and scored goals things would be good for the club and myself,” Movsisyan said in a phone interview. “And now, for me as footballer, a soccer player, basically I’m scoring and I’m used to scoring goals.

“It is very competitive. There are world-class teams and there are good strikers playing in this league - Aleksandr Kerzhakov [Zenit], Roman Pavlyuchenko [Lokomotiv]. Any of them could be the top goalscorer, so I am happy to be on top alone. It’s enjoyable to see, especially playing in a club like this, which is a new club.

“I would say I am getting extra attention from teams. I’m playing well and they know who I am and my ability. Every game I try to be more precise with my chances. Maybe, before, I would get three or four chances and score one. Right now, one or two is enough to score.”

This could be a breakthrough season for Movsisyan. He has displayed potential since emerging as a 17-year-old playing for Arsenal FC in Los Angeles. The next year, after performing for Pasadena City College, Movsisyan became the No. 4 pick in the 2006 MLS draft.

In his first season with the Wizards, Movsisyan produced 0 goals in 10 appearances. Movsisyan had five goals in 18 games before being sent to RSL in 2007.

“No one predicted he would have come as far as he has,” McCabe said of Movsisyan. “His game has developed over the past two years, playing on the national team, Euro qualifying – I think he got a regular run of games. The first year, he didn’t play at all in Kansas City. Only in Salt Lake did he get regular playing time, and even then he wasn’t starting every game because Findley and [Fabian] Espindola were there, and that frustrated him.

“At Randers he played January to December, basically the full game, 90 minutes, every game, and with the national team. His confidence was high. He played as a lone striker with Randers and Armenia, and they were not that strong, offensively, and so they play on the break. And that suits his strengths. His hold-up game has improved, he’s developed his finishing. He always had speed and one-on-one ability. But a lot of people didn’t think Yura would pan out – he showed flashes of speed and strength, athleticism, but was he going to be consistent enough? His goals to games ratio was not that great.

“He had to put it all together and, now, his maturity as a person has helped. When he was young he was prone to frustration and wanted to play all the time. He didn’t understand what he needed to do.”

Fate, politics and socio-economics have taken Movsisyan on some long journeys.

The Movsisyan family moved to the U.S. seeking asylum, which was not approved until Movsisyan turned 19. Before that, Movsisyan “was a person without a state – he didn’t have a passport, only a refugee travel document,” McCabe said.

But Movsisyan was all right with staying in southern California for football and he was planning to play for the USA.

Then came the draft. Chivas USA would have selected Movsisyan with the fifth pick, according to McCabe.

“(Former Chivas coach) Bob Bradley was a big fan of his,” McCabe said.

Bradley then became national team coach. But Movsisyan lost patience awaiting citizenship and also felt the pull of his homeland.

“Definitely, I did have a chance to play for the U.S., it was a matter of time,” Movsisyan said. “But I just decided I wanted to play for Armenia, just because I like to represent my country, and I think Armenia could use help, they could use my services a lot more than the U.S. That’s why it was the right decision to play for Armenia.”

Movsisyan's wife and two children, could someday re-trace the steps which brought him to the U.S.

“Yura’s an adventurer,” McCabe said. “He’ll go where the interest is. He’ll take a risk and he bets on himself – he doesn’t lack confidence. He would like to come back to MLS, and not too late in his career.”

But stability is not a bad idea, either. The Russian league is healthy financially. The Winter Olympics will be held at nearby Sochi and the country is preparing for the 2018 World Cup.

“For weather, this is probably one of the best places in Russia,” Movsisyan said. “Of course, with the Olympics and World Cup, things will definitely progress and cities will become more developed and things will get better. There will be newer buildings. Right now, it’s pretty nice just because the football is going good. No complaints at the moment.”

Armenia is placed in a difficult World Cup qualifying group and will meet Italy in Yerevan October 12.

“We’ve got a win and a loss, which is not too good,” Movsisyan said of qualifying.

“But we have a very young team and these games against Italy, Denmark and the Czechs are just going to make us better. It’s a good group and a talented group of guys. Now, everyone has a chance in football – football is so diverse and any team can beat any team at any time.

"Playing at home gives us a boost. There will likely be a lot of people in the stands cheering us on. We want to make a good showing but we can’t forget they were a finalist for the Euros.”