U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team head coach Tab Ramos will lead a U.S. U-21 MNT camp from April 20-24 at U.S. Soccer’s National Training Center in Carson, Calif. The camp serves as the starting point for solidifying a roster that will represent the U.S. U-23 MNT for the 2016 CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament and potentially the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil.
Ramos spoke to ussoccer.com about the camp and getting an early start on this cycle:
ussoccer.com: The 2016 Summer Olympics is still a ways away, but take us through the start of this particular U-21 camp and the process of how this age group will represent the USA during Olympic Qualifying down the road.
Tab Ramos: “I wish I could give you a perfect answer in terms of the time frame and what the planning is going forward exactly all the way through the Olympics. The fact is, we knew that we made some mistakes going into the last Olympics because we didn’t get the group together earlier, so we wanted to make sure that this time we started to gather the team.
"In terms of our programming and in terms of where we’re going from here, we’re very excited to bring some of our best young players together for this initial U-21 camp. We’re hoping that we can have another two or three camps between now and the end of the year. This camp is purely to have the team together so that we begin moving in the right direction. When the time is right, we can put a group that has kept playing together and is familiar with each other in front of a permanent coach.”
ussoccer.com: Some of the U.S. MNT staff will assist in this process. How important was it to have the first-team staff in place to help lead this camp?
TR: “One of the things that is important for us that we wanted to do is get the Olympic-aged players, which is the ’93s this year - and it happens to be an Under-21 - we wanted to get them involved as close as possible with the first-team staff. [U.S. MNT head coach] Jurgen [Klinsmann] thought that it would be a good idea for me, Andi Herzog and Kasey Keller to be involved with this group early to give them a good sense of connection between where they are and where the first team is. We wanted to make sure that we put the most professional people possible in front of them who are involved with U.S. Soccer.”
ussoccer.com: How was it determined that you would be leading this first U-21 camp?
TR: “I have other jobs within U.S. Soccer – the U-20s being a very important responsibility, being the Youth Technical Director, where I travel a lot with that. But, when Jurgen asked me if I could help him with this group and putting it together, of course I wanted to do it. Anything I could do with U.S. Soccer to help. This, after all, is the age group that I coached into the U-20 World Cup last year, so I think I’m probably the right person in terms of guiding them right now before whoever the permanent coach is going to be.”
ussoccer.com: Approximately half of this roster went through either the 2013 CONCACAF U-20 Championship or the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup. How invaluable was that international experience toward progressing for this eventual Olympic Qualifying group?
TR: “It was very important, all the experiences that we had with the Under-20 National Team. That’s one of the things that I always speak with U.S. Soccer about. We, as coaches, have the responsibility of qualifying and of winning games and all those things, but at the same time we have the responsibility of giving our players good experiences for their development.
"In terms of experiences and development in our past U-20 cycle, we were able to have the team play against European teams in Europe. We played domestic games against Caribbean teams and against South American teams. We traveled to South America and played games there. And then we played in the U-20 World Cup in probably one of the toughest groups the World Cup has ever had. Our players have had great experiences, and I think they should be prepared for the next level.”
ussoccer.com: What do you think are some of the greatest strengths of this pool of players you have in camp?
TR: “I think one of the biggest strengths that this group has is the fact that when they come together they are a group that is able to possess the ball really well. They’re not afraid to have the ball against any opponent, and when you take that fear away – the fear of playing against some of the biggest teams in the world – I think that American players tend to come through in that environment. I think with that [2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup] team, if we had to do it all over again, we would probably do a lot of things the same. I do believe that, had we gotten a couple breaks in the World Cup, this team would have gone really far.”