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U.S. Youth Soccer

Tab Ramos Discusses U.S. U20 And U21 Strategies

Tab Ramos wears multiple hats for U.S. Soccer, and between the Dallas Cup and the U-21 camp in Carson, Calif., the former U.S. captain has had a lot on his plate. ASN's Brian Sciaretta caught up with him.

BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
April 23, 2014
4:08 PM
TAB RAMOS IS A BUSY MAN these days. The former United States captain is currently the full-time United States U-20 head coach as well as the U.S. Soccer’s youth technical director. As if that wasn't enough, he is in California where he is helping to oversee the first-ever camp for the U.S. U-21 team that will eventually become the Olympic U-23 team.

American Soccer Now’s Brian Sciaretta spoke with Ramos about U.S. Soccer's future plans for the U.S. U-21 team as well as the recent performance of the U.S. U-20 team at the Dallas Cup, where it advanced to the finals before losing to River Plate.

AMERICAN SOCCER NOW: In creating the U-21 team U.S. Soccer appears to have a new approach toward the Olympic team in starting preparations almost two years away from qualifying. When was it decided that this new approach was necessary?

TAB RAMOS: We wanted to be as prepared as possible for the next Olympic qualifying. I think last time maybe we didn’t, as a federation in general, maybe we didn’t put as much work into the last team before going into qualifiers. So we felt that this time maybe it was better to get the ball rolling sooner rather than later. Obviously we know there are no guarantees but at least we’ll be a lot more prepared.

ASN: You and Jurgen Klinsmann are overseeing this camp. Is there a timeline to name a head coach for the Olympic team? Are you a candidate for the job?

RAMOS: No, I’m not in the running for it. I’m trying to help as much as I can to put the group together. As far as the timeline, at this time we really don’t have one. At this point I don’t know. We’re just getting the group together. It’s still a year-and-a-half away from being in a situation where we have to have someone. That's something that’s definitely not up to me. I’m just helping as much as I can.

ASN: What are your goals over the next 18 months with this U-21 team? What kind of competitions or opponents do you want to have for this team?

RAMOS: This was just a camp to get the players together and let this first group know that this is happening and what some of the goals are. In terms of competition, I think we’ll have something in the summer. There will probably be an international game at some point in August—that’s not defined yet. But that’s what we’re looking for. Going into the fall, there may be some good opportunities and the possibility of traveling to Europe and playing other U-21 teams. The competition is probably not in our area in terms of finding the right type of opponent because in our area there is no U-21 competition. But there certainly is in Europe. We’re probably looking at our program doing certain camps domestically just as training camps and the possibility of playing some games in Europe.

ASN: The last U-20 team had a very difficult draw in the World Cup with Spain, France, and Ghana. The players from that team will make up a core of the U-21/U-23 team. Do you think that this team and this group of players can close that gap and achieve better results in the three years between the 2013 U-20 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics?

RAMOS: Realistically, we have to think that in a year-and-a-half we are not going to be France or Spain. We are just not going to be that team. Could we beat them in one game and maybe next time will we have guys like John Brooks or Marc Pelosi or Will Packwood, or maybe some guys who were not in good form at the last World Cup, and maybe be a better team? That’s a possibility for us. I think what we have to do is get closer. In general, I was very happy with our team at the World Cup. I think we were a good team. I think if we were possibly in another group, we could have done some damage at the World Cup. But that’s all "ifs," and that’s not a guarantee either. I do know that we were a good team and that we had good players. What we’re going to be striving for is to be closer and closer to those teams come a year-and-a-half's time.

ASN: With the U-21 team, it becomes more important for players to be earning first-team minutes with their clubs whereas at the U-20 level, you could have academy level or college players. With the Olympic cycle now starting, are you satisfied with the club situations with many key players?

RAMOS: Yes. I think that is one of the places where we can close the gap a little bit with other countries. When you compete at the U-20 World Cup, a team like France has every single one of their players competing in a first division in one of the top five leagues in the world. We are barely getting our feet wet in MLS. The next time we have to compete in a competition in the same age group, we have players who will now have been professionals and have played every day in a professional competition. MLS is not Spain, or France, or England, but at the same time our players will be in a professional environment and not from an amateur environment. I think we will be closer.

ASN: Are you looking forward to getting the European-based players involved with this U-21 team in the future?

RAMOS: I’m very excited about it. So hopefully if we do a camp later this year, if we can organize something in Europe and get all those guys in, I think it will be incredibly beneficial for the rest of the group. We certainly missed a few of those guys last time and hopefully they’ll be fit this time and be ready to go.

ASN: What is the scouting process now for the U-21 team? Is it extensive like it is for the U-20 team and the full national team? Has this been worked into the budget?

RAMOS: The budget is not really an issue. What’s an issue is: Do we actually have players playing in the games? With the U-20s, this is a big issue. Now with the U-21s, it is a little bit different because most of our players are starting to play all the time and the ones that don’t play on the first team are playing on the reserve team. So we can actually watch them. What happens with the U-20 team sometimes is our players are just signing with professional teams for the first time and they’re not actually getting games. The fact that they’re signing professional contracts is not necessarily an indicator that the players are making progress all the time. I think with the U-21s, it is a little bit different.

ASN: The U-20s just came off a run at the Dallas Cup where you lost in the finals but had five really good games. Do you like where this team stands right now? You said you seem to have a pretty good grasp on the team’s core—correct?

RAMOS: We felt that the last group we sort of had to rebuild. I think this time around, personally, I’ve been around, U.S. Soccer a little bit longer so I’ve been able to monitor the U-18 national team that Javier Perez coaches. I’ve watched them play the last two years so I’m very familiar. I could have told you the starting lineup that Javier had for the most part within two players, because one or two come in and out. But I knew every player coming into this age group. So it’s a very different place to start than the last group.

ASN: Is the CONCACAF U-20 World Cup qualifying set in terms of the hosts, the schedule, and that odd format where the quarterfinals become sole play-in games for the World Cup?

RAMOS: All we know now is that the qualifying tournament will be between January 9th through January 25th. We will land at whatever country it will be on January 5th. That is all I know. In terms of the actual tournament itself, I have heard that there is the possibility that there is not going to be the cross-over game like there has in the past. That has not necessarily been confirmed yet.

ASN: It was a big story last month when Julian Green decided to use his change of association to switch to the United States. He has played for the U.S. national team and is in the running for a World Cup spot. He is also age-eligible for the 2015 U-20 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic team. Do you see him being a part of these teams or is he beyond that and focused on the full national team?

RAMOS: For Julian, the reason he cannot be considered for the U-20 team is because he has already played for the German U-19 team in European qualifiers. So he is not eligible for our U-20 national team. I’m not sure how the Olympics work but he will probably be eligible for the Olympics but not for the U-20s.

ASN: What were your big takeaways from the Dallas Cup? Who may have improved their stock the most?

RAMOS: Yes there were a couple. But I would have to start with Rubio Rubin because, don’t forget, Rubio is one year younger. I, of course, knew that Rubio was a great player but I didn’t know he would be able to adjust this way to the older age group because a lot of those guys normally can’t. One year is a big difference in terms of the physicality of the game. He has not only adapted, he has become certainly one of the best players and one that we definitely want to have on board.

The other one I would have to say right off the bat is how quickly Erik Palmer-Brown adapted to playing two full years up—which is extremely difficult. So I brought him in as a backup right back for the last camp just to try him a little bit and give him an opportunity as a younger player. I ended up playing him at center back, where he was excellent. Then actually gave him an opportunity to play center mid because I thought he was so good and I just really wanted to test him. It really didn’t have to do with the team, it didn’t have to do with us winning the semifinal game, it purely had to do with me trying to see how much he can give because I truly felt like I had him at two positions and I felt that he could give even more. He really impressed me and is definitely somebody we want to keep around because I think we certainly are barely scratching the surface with Erik Palmer-Brown.

ASN: With the two players you just mentioned. Rubio Rubin is joining Utrecht next season and Palmer-Brown is linked to strong interest from Juventus. Then you see some U-18 players signing for solid European teams recently. Is this something you find exciting for U.S. Soccer?

RAMOS: It’s very exciting and it’s also very scary for me because I know once Rubio signs his contract with Utrecht—which will be July 1st possibly—that it’s going to become very difficult for me to get him released for World Cup qualifying. When you lose players like this, it definitely takes a toll. Once you lose one, you’re probably not going to get [Paul] Arriola from Mexico for that whole period of time. Then you add one or two injuries, and then next thing you know you struggle a lot more than you’re expecting to.

That’s why it’s always important to build up a depth chart. That’s why when I went to Dallas, as much as I want as a coach to win every game and I wanted to win the Dallas Cup, I took every game as a learning opportunity for me to see the players in a good competition. That’s why I changed the lineup every game.

ASN: Are you expecting to lose a lot of these European players for qualifying or are you trying to work with the clubs early in the cycle?

RAMOS: I do as much work as I can. Normally with every cycle I go to Europe and meet with the clubs myself. But that doesn’t guarantee anything. I did it with Liverpool last year [for Marc Pelosi] and I did it with Hertha Berlin [for John Anthony Brooks] but in the end I couldn’t get either one of those players.

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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