The U.S. Under-20 Men's National Team ended its weeklong camp in England on Monday, March 30, as players returned to their clubs in nine different countries. For U-20 MNT head coach Tab Ramos, the first training camp since qualifying for the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup in January had a number of benefits.
"I think it was a very positive camp for us," Ramos said. "We had an opportunity to train at great facilities at Tottenham, and for me, it was an opportunity to see some new players that I hadn't seen before. I thought what I saw was very positive."
The group trained at Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur’s renowned facility for five days before playing England's U-21 MNT on March 29 in Plymouth.
Among the 20 players that made up the training camp, 10 were part of the group that participated in January's 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championship, while four others were part of their first camp with a U.S. team, including Desevio Payne, Maki Tall, Ethan Solis and Thomas Olsen. Payne and Tall started in the 2-1 loss to England, while Sonis entered in the second half.
"I think it's very important to always to bring in new players in the national team environment,” Ramos said. “Not only for those players but also for the players who are already on the team because they realize how competitive it is. Now going into the World Cup, it's a brand new stage and a team that everybody has to fight for."
Payne, who was born in Greenwood, South Carolina, but was raised in Amsterdam, started at center back alongside Cameron Carter-Vickers.
"It was unbelievable to stand there wearing a USA shirt," Payne said of his debut. " When I put it on, I thought about my career and why I came here. It's an honor to play in this shirt so I'm very happy."
Maki Tall had a similar experience. Tall was born in Washington D.C. but moved with his family to Senegal when he was seven years old, and then to his parents’ native Ivory Coast when he was 11. He went on to play in France, signed professionally, and even made nine appearances with France’s U-18 and U-19 teams combined.
"Hearing the (USA) national anthem, I don't even know how to say it,” Tall said. “It was unbelievable. I've watched (MNT) games before on TV, so to hear it for the first time, it was crazy.”
For Carter-Vickers, another dual-citizen, the match against England was the first time he lined up against the country where he was born and raised. Carter-Vickers’ father, Howard Carter, is American and still lives in Louisiana.
"A little bit when you hear the national anthem, a little bit,” Carter-Vickers admitted to the odd notion of going up against England. “But it's also just another game, and you just have to get on with it. You stay professional and play."
The loss to England was the lone negative from the trip.
"In general, I thought the first half was very disappointing for us in terms of our effort and what we brought to the game,” Ramos said. “I thought it took us a good 20-25 minutes to get into the game and definitely in international games you can't afford to do that.”
Forward Lynden Gooch shared similar thoughts.
"It was a tough game,” said the Sunderland forward. “We're all trying to get familiar still; there are new players, and we have to make sure we're right for the World Cup. Aside from that, everything else from the week was 100 percent."
For Ramos, the camp was the first of two this year before he decides on the 21-man roster that will represent the U.S. at the U-20 World Cup in New Zealand this summer. The team will return to Europe from April 18-26 for its second training camp in Austria, with matches scheduled against Qatar and Croatia.
"Between this camp and the camp that we have in Austria, I think it's the last opportunity for us to make final conclusions on players," Ramos said. "I'm trying to see them in different positions and see how certain players may be able to help us. And then after that, we'll focus on trying to get the best group together. We don't have a lot of time for the World Cup but that's normally how this works."
Tall understands the process, and knows that despite scoring the USA’s lone goal against England, he needs to keep his form up.
"You always have to prove yourself,” Tall said. “Moving forward, we all want to play in a World Cup and we're all fighting for positions, like coach said. Everybody needs to impress him and work hard every day. If you're not doing well, you still need to work hard, and that's what's important on the team."
The message is also clear to Payne.
"Of course I'm happy and I'm thinking about the World Cup,” Payne added. “So it would be nice if I get the call to go, but I just need to do my best at my club and then we'll see."