Former U.S. great creates youth powerhouse club in New Jersey
In 1998, after Tab Ramos played in his last of three World Cups, I asked him if he thought about coaching when his playing career ended.
"I've thought about not coaching," he said, with a chuckle. "It's so difficult. It's not just about knowing the game, but making something out of talent. I think you have to have a gift, and I don't think I have it."
Ramos retired in 2002, ending a career that included 81 appearances for the USA and club play in Spain and Mexico, in addition to his seven years with the MLS's MetroStars.
So guess what the Hall of Famer does now?
In 2008, he coached the Gunners of the New Jersey Soccer Academy 04, which he founded in 2004 with fellow former MetroStar Rob Johnson, to the U-14 U.S. Youth Soccer national title. It was the first national championship for a New Jersey club since the Union Lancers' McGuire Cup title 20 years ago.
This winter, Ramos is joining U-20 national team Coach Thomas Rongen as an assistant coach for the second time. Ramos also coaches a younger team at NJSA 04, of which he is president. And he runs Tab Ramos Soccer Programs, which offers camps, clinics and coaching services in the Tri-State area.
Upon his retirement, Ramos and three partners bought an indoor multi-sports facility in Aberdeen, N.J., and rechristened it the Tab Ramos Sports Center. He also got his USSF B license, which he followed up with an A license.
"I learned so much when I took my B license," he says. "I actually wish I would have taken the course when I was still playing. It simplifies a lot of things about how to look at the game."
Ramos was born in Uruguay and immigrated to the New Jersey with his family at age 11. At age 15, he played for the USA at the 1983 U-20 World Cup. He was drafted by the New York Cosmos out of high school, but the NASL was about to fold and he instead played four years of college ball at North Carolina State. One of the few U.S. players who impressed at the 1990 World Cup, Ramos played in the Spanish Second Division for five years and two seasons in the Mexican First Division before being celebrated by MLS as its first player signing.
At the 1994 World Cup, Ramos assisted on Earnie Stewart's winning goal in the 2-1 victory over Colombia, the USA's first World Cup triumph in 44 years. As a player, Ramos remains incomparable by U.S. standards. He was a midfielder with a dizzying array of dribbling moves. But Ramos, during his long playing career, never won a national league or cup title, which was something he remembered when his NJSA 04 Gunners lifted the national title in last summer.
He insists that when he started coaching the team four years earlier he wasn't thinking about winning a national title.
"It wasn't something we were working toward when I started," he says. "It was my first experience at coaching, so I had no idea if I was doing the right thing."
Ramos did want to build a strong club to develop New Jersey youth talent.
"There's no hiding the fact that we live in a competitive environment," Ramos said. "We want to develop players, but the parents expect results, and if you don't get them, your club won't attract the best players. So what we try to do is find a balance –- develop players and at the same time win as much as possible."
NJSA has had five players selected for the U.S. youth national team pool. So it looks like Ramos' prediction a decade ago was a bit off the mark.
(This article originally appeared in the January 2009 issue ofSoccer Americamagazine.)