Tab_ramos_-_asn_top_-_isi_-_u-20_camp_-_march_2019_-__david_aliaga David Aliaga/ISI Photos
U-20 spotlight

Ramos hails attacking talent & confidence ahead of the U-20 World Cup

Tab Ramos and the U-20 team are in their final preparations for the U-20 World Cup in Poland and Ramos talked extensively about the team's attacking qualities and confidence - which is unique when compared with previous U.S. youth natonal teams.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
May 14, 2019
8:00 AM
THE UNITED STATES U-20 national team is now assembled in Europe and in preparations for the 2019 U-20 World Cup which will begin in less than 10 days. This tournament will mark the conclusion of the team's fourth cycle in which Tab Ramos as been in charge. A difficult group awaits the U.S. team but Ramos indicates that his team is going to try to go toe-to-toe with any opponent.

It will be a bold strategy for Ramos, as Ukraine, Nigeria, and Qatar make for a challenging group. In particular, Ukraine’s U-20 team has beaten several of Europe’s best teams to qualify. During last years’ UEFA U-19 championships, Ukraine finished first in a group that consisted of France, England and Turkey.

But Ramos, insists that no matter which opponent is in front of his team, he is going to try to attack and be in control of the game.

“I like the team we have,” Ramos explained. “I think it's the best team we've had. We have the most talent we've had. But I don't know every single team at the World Cup right now. I don't know if Ukraine doesn't have the best team it has ever had in their history too. It's really hard to tell.”

“The idea for us is always the same, we want to have the ball,” he added. “We're going to the World Cup and trying to figure out how we can breakdown Ukraine, how we can break down Nigeria, how we can beat Qatar. Part of our way of breaking down Ukraine is not sitting all the way back and hopefully countering. That's not something I am comfortable with, that's not something I like, and it's not something that fits our players. Our players want to attack and be aggressive. If it happens that we lose that way, then we lose that way. But we're losing that way going after it.”

This tournament will be an important test for young American players to not only keep possession against good teams but also create chances with the ball. Ramos has seen tremendous growth in the ability of young American players who can keep possession but his goal for this U-20 team is to see those skillful players take the next step.

“It's amazing. Back when I played, I used to get a lot of credit for being the skillful guy who could have the ball and pass it around to other guys,” Ramos said. “But back then we just didn't have a lot of possession players.. Now? I mentioned Frankie Amaya but I could have said Christian Cappis, Brenden Aaronson can keep the ball at the highest level. Then we probably have a 100 guys under them who can keep the ball in possession. One of the knocks I have in academy games is that you have a lot of guys who just keep possession and play the ball sideways and backwards.”

“This is why at the U-20 level I pull guys aside like Paxton [Pomykal] or Alex Mendex and say: it's great that you can keep the ball but how about now making plays?” Ramos stressed. “I need you in the final third to make plays that win games or create dangerous situations whether its passing, shooting, getting fouled, or creating corners. Make plays. We still could use more of those players but in terms of possession, we're in a completely different world than when I played. There are literally thousands of players who can keep possession.”

Ramos likes the difference players he has on the current team and was quick to point out guys like Paxton Pomykal, Alex Mendez, Tim Weah, and Konrad de la Fuente.

Regarding Konrad de la Fuente, Ramos has been monitoring his progress closely at Barcelona and wanted to bring him into camps throughout the cycle but club commitments prevented that. Finally in March, Ramos was able to bring in the Miami native and he did not disappoint when his incredible individual effort ignited comeback that saw the U.S. team turn a 2-0 deficit at halftime into a 2-2 draw.

For Ramos, de la Fuente is the type of player that U.S. teams have lacked but elite nations have had. Often times, it is those players that can be the difference between wins and losses.

“Konrad is an excellent 1v1 player who can break teams down by himself,” Ramos said. “That sometimes has been the difference that I've experienced between who we have been and who, for example, Brazil is or who Serbia was [in 2015]. These are teams who are in games even when they're not playing well, all of sudden the ball comes out and one player 1v1 breaks the game down and they score. All of a sudden, everyone is talking about how good Brazil was, but yeah, they weren't great until that one guy dribbles through two guys and scores. I think Konrad is one of those guys.”

Regarding Weah, Ramos has not had the talented Paris St. Germain player at his disposal the entire cycle before the World Cup. Weah has spend the last five months on loan at Celtic and he spent all of 2018 for Paris St. Germain while playing for the full United States national team under interim manager Dave Sarachan.

But Ramos has said that he has known Weah for many years dating back to his time at the Red Bulls academy in New Jersey as well as watching the 2017 U-17 World Cup and World Cup qualifying teams. He acknowledged that Weah can play both as a wing and as a center forward for the U-20 team but he might play on the wing more because he believes that is where he will be playing more with the senior national team.

“The thing about Tim Weah is that he has that killer instinct,” Ramos said. “He's a winner and he's constantly looking to hurt you to win the game. The fact that he had the opportunity to be on a roster with guys like Mbappe, Neymar, and Cavani for a year, I think that can only help.. I think that growth is something he has accomplished by moving up from year to year. I like his personality; I like that he is aggressive mentally to try to win and to make plays. Obviously, he has great speed, he is a great 1v1 player and he can shoot from outside that box. Those are three qualities that can open up a defense on his own.”

Attacking midfielder Paxton Pomykal is another player who will be critical to the team’s chances of advancing into the knockout stages. Coming into this cycle, Pomykal was expected to be one of the players who Ramos could count on to play his attacking style. Former U.S. U-18 national team head coach Omid Namazi gave Ramos a very favorable report that Pomykal was the best player moving on from his team to the U-20 team.

But that wasn’t initially the case and Ramos had to have conversations with the FC Dallas product about taking his game to the next level. Then at qualifying, it seemingly all came together for Pomykal.

“I had that conversation with Paxton,” Ramos said. “It pretty much was saying: you can do everything. But can you do the things that win games? When you have the ball, go at defenders in the box and get the defenders on their heels. Don't control the ball and play it sideways so the defenders can take a step towards you. Everything you do, make it forward so that they're maybe taking a step backwards.' I think if you watch World Cup qualifying, he did a lot of that…Every time he got the ball it was a positive touch forward towards the box that made the other team go backwards. That makes a big difference. Now when you watch him play for the first team at Dallas, he does the same.”

But it is not on an individual basis either, Ramos is excited about the team’s collective mentality and confidence that it has the potential to win every game. Whether or not this team can return to the quarterfinals or advance further, Ramos believes their mentality will only help them in the future.

“The one thing that is a little bit different from this group than in the past is that I worry a lot - about every opponent,” Ramos said. “I always think that somehow I hate losing more than I like winning. I worry about everything, all the time. This group sometimes goes: 'we got this, coach.' It's that kind of group where they're like: 'it's going to be okay.' I really like that. When I see us walking on the field and I see guys like Alex Mendez and Mark McKenzie and Paxton - those kinds of guys are so confident when they walk onto the field. It gives you a good feeling as a coach that everything is going to be okay.”

Perhaps more than anyone, Ramos has witnessed the emerging generation of American players first hand – as either the U-20 coach or working with the recent U-17 national teams as the federation’s youth technical direction.

Even when the full national team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup he wasn’t worried about the team’s future because he felt the U.S. has good players coming through. With the improved performances of U.S. youth national teams at World Cups, Ramos preached against the "tear down everything" mentality following the team’s loss to Trinidad & Tobago.

But looking ahead to Poland, he notices that there is more interest now among supporters for U.S. youth national teams, and he believes that is healthy because the players deserve it. It even reminds him of discussions he had with his former college coach at NC State, George Tarantini – brother of Alberto Tarantini who was the left back on Argentina’s World Cup winning team in 1978.

“And they are not just good players here [in the United States],” Ramos said. “I had an old coach in college, George Tarantini, who told me there are very few players who can play. Obviously, that is many years ago but that was when I was leaving college and going to go to Spain. He said: 'remember, there are very few players who can play.' So, if you can play, you can play anywhere. And I sort of feel that. Our players are good players and good players can play on any team anywhere. I think we have those so people should be excited about these players.”

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