[INTERVIEW] Tab Ramos, one of the USA's greatest players, played in three World Cups in the 1990s and starred in Spain, the Mexican league and MLS. Now president and coach of youth club New Jersey SA 04 and a member of the U.S. Soccer Federation's Technical Committe, Ramos comments on the 2010 World Cup, the U.S. national team coaching situation, MLS, and more.
SOCCER AMERICA: What did you think of the USA’s performance at the 2010 World Cup?
TAB RAMOS: We showed how far we’ve come over the last 20 years. We showed we’ re competitive.
I was a little surprised how well we played offensively. For the first time ever, whenever we had the ball, we were actually dangerous.
It didn’t result in goals all the time, but you always felt that something could happen. In the past years, we never really had that.
On the other side of the coin, I just didn’t see how the team was going to succeed playing defensively the way we played.
SA: It was discouraging that the USA isn’t very deep in the central defense …
TB: When I had a chance to play on the national team for all those years, there was always either Marcelo Balboa and Alexi Lalas, or Marcelo Balboa and someone else. It seemed like the center of defense was always very simple, right to the point, and there would rarely be a mistake there that would cause you to lose the game.
That’s something maybe we took for granted all those years. I don’t know. It’s something to think about, that’s for sure.
SA: Who do you think the next U.S. national team coach should be?
TB: I really don’t know. I think they’re deciding which direction to go. I think we’ve completed an excellent cycle. I want to call it a 20-year cycle.
We went from complete unknowns to a country that’s competitive, day-in and day-out against everyone.
And this may be the time to choose someone to take us even further, or at least begin our journey over the next 20 years to make us different.
SA: With the exception of Bob Bradley, you played for all the coaches in the era during which the USA has been a regular at the World Cup -- Bob Gansler, Bora Milutinovic, Steve Sampson and Bruce Arena. It seems like the Federation’s main consideration should be whether its next coach can improve on the USA’s performance at a World Cup …
TB: I think all the guys we’ve had so far have done a great job. I think Bob Bradley did a great job with the team over the last three or fours years.
It’s hard to comment on that because I don’t know the way the federation is going to go. Will they say we’re going to go in a different direction and go for something bigger, or do we continue improving at the pace we have been improving?
It’s a difficult call. Certainly Bob Bradley can do the job, no question.
SA: What did you think about the 2010 World Cup in general?
TB: The first group games I thought were a little bit boring. Then it picked up and I really enjoyed it.
I liked that this World Cup had an emphasis on the teams that could keep the ball and the teams who had guys who could play with the ball. I really loved that.
The South Americans did well because they could hold on to the ball and weren’t afraid to go forward. The same for the European teams that advanced, the Netherlands, Germany, and of course, Spain.
Germany wasn’t the team we grew up watching and it was great. I’m not German! But it was great that the German team didn’t look like Germany. I loved that and I really enjoyed it.
SA: And then there was Uruguay …
TB: It was really special. I was born there and I grew up with generations behind me thinking of Uruguay being a world powerhouse. And I never really saw it and never really bought into it.
My grandfather always talked about it. My father always talked about it.
I was never a fan of Uruguay until a year and a half ago when I watched them in the qualifiers. They were one of the teams that scored the most goals in South America.
When they lined up in their first World Cup game, with three forwards, I thought that was great. When Diego Forlan is your forward who’s deepest back, you’re really going forward.
[Editor’s note: Ramos was born in Uruguay and moved to New Jersey at age 11.]
SA: Uruguay, despite being a country of 3.5 million, keeps producing world-class players. Why do you think that is?
TB: It’s really amazing and we’ve been saying that for years, but it never turned out that they played together and I think this is the first time the coach had them buy into the whole team thing.
I don’t now. I guess it’s the mentality. Everybody’s grandparents or parents grew up with the World Cup victories in 1930 and then 1950, and always being competitive. So they’re thinking they’re going to win the World Cup again.
SA: The Mexican league is becoming a popular destination for American players for the first time since you, Marcelo Balboa, Mike Sorber and Dominic Kinnear played there in the mid-1990s before MLS launched. U.S. left back Jonathan Bornstein is moving to your old team, Tigres, and several Mexican-Americans are already there. What do you think of this trend?
TB: I think it’s great. I think the Mexican league is great for the American player.
It may not be the Spanish La Liga, English Premier League, the Italian Serie A, Germany or France, but it’s up there. The level is very good.
Mexico requires a different set of skills because holding on to the ball becomes a lot more important, because of the weather and the different places you play. You go from playing in the mountains one weekend to playing in the heat the next weekend. That takes its toll, so the ball becomes very important. You don’t want to lose it.
We’ve always known Mexico is a great league and it was good to see another American player go there.
SA: You played in MLS from its inaugural 1996 season until 2002 for the MetroStars, which have since become the Red Bulls. What’s your opinion on the progress of that team and the league in general?
TR: I’m excited about Red Bull, that in our hometown not only do we have a good team, but good facilities. A company like Red Bull coming in and putting money into a stadium shows the local fans that it’s in it for the long term in this market.
I think the league has done a good job to improve and get new teams. The league is doing terrific. It’s great.