They say experience is the teacher of all things, and that could prove to be a key factor for the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team as it approaches the final weeks of preparation leading up to the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
U.S. head coach Tab Ramos is at the forefront of that experience. Not only did he play in both a U-20 and senior team World Cup – three in fact – but Ramos is also entering his second World Cup as head coach of the U20s.
“Having been in a World Cup before is a great experience,” Ramos said. “Going to my second World Cup (as a coach), it’s easier for me to focus on the team and not on everything that surrounds the team.”
Ramos isn’t alone in experience with this group – and this tournament. Also returning from the 2013 U-20 World Cup in Turkey are assistant coaches Javier Perez and Russell Payne, as well as goalkeeper Zack Steffen and midfielder Kellyn Acosta. While neither player played in Turkey, the experience they gained as being part of the group was invaluable.
“Looking back at 2013, I didn’t get to play, but I was there learning, and taking it all in,” Acosta said. “I was able to look at how polished pros like Will Trapp and Luis Gil led and handled the group; how mature they were about what they did.
“Going into this World Cup, with what I was able to observe two years ago, I think I can help the guys that maybe haven’t been in such a big stage before be more prepared so they can play and just be focused on the game and not be distracted by all the other things that come with the World Cup.”
Acosta was the captain for the 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championship team in Jamaica, however he injured his knee in the second game and was forced to miss the remainder of the tournament.
“I was very disappointed, because I wanted to be able to help the team,” said Acosta. “But I was very proud of the team. They had four great games and they grinded it out and got us through. And I thought Russ (Canouse) did a great job in pulling the team together.”
That the team could qualify without Acosta – who is now fully healthy and playing regularly with his team, FC Dallas - is another reminder of the depth that the U-20 age group has.
“The difference from 2013 was fairly big,” Ramos said of selecting the final roster. “We didn’t have as many options for the 2013 roster. This is a roster with a number of options to select different types of players. It’s a very competitive group and one with many more players who are playing in the first division.”
Acosta said the competition for positions is a good thing for the team.
“No spot is guaranteed,” Acosta said. “I’ve been fortunate to get minutes with my team, but not going to those camps had me on my toes. Anyone can come in and play well. I feel like these last two camps mattered a lot.”
And that they did.
Desevio Payne and Maki Tall are two examples of players who had previously not been part of a U.S. Youth Team who impressed Ramos in camps in England and Austria and made the World Cup roster.
Marco Delgado, Jordan Allen, Erik Palmer-Brown, and Joel Soñora are players with previous YNT experience who did not participate in the CONCACAF U-20 Championship but made the final roster through their play at the recent camps.
The group will get together starting next week in Carson, California, leaving two weeks to prepare for the World Cup opener against Myanmar on May 30.
“The goal at this point is to win our first game,” Ramos said. “So we are completely committed to seeing what Myanmar is about and being completely prepared to win that game.
From California the team will travel to Australia for a few days before departing for New Zealand.
“We have to act like it’s game mode,” Acosta said of the team’s approach from here on out. “No opponent is going to be easy, so any game we play in the next few weeks we have to treat it like it’s a World Cup game.”
Acosta has been a leader on the team for a while now, and while he accepts the role, he also stresses the importance of everyone being able to contribute.
“I’ve taken the role over the past year, and I’m ready to take the role again. But I think every guy needs to be vocal for us to be a good team. As a group collectively, we need everyone pulling together.”
Having been there before, and knowing this team, Acosta is anxious to get to New Zealand.
“I can’t really express how excited I am to go out and show the world what we got and prove to everyone why we should be a force to be reckoned with.”