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How to judge Tab Ramos' U-20s' performance
by Mike Woitalla, June 28th, 2013 1:52PM

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TAGS:  men's national team, under-20 world cup, youth boys

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By Mike Woitalla

The stats don’t look good, do they? The USA was outscored 9-3 in three games at the U-20 World Cup and exited with two losses and a tie.

A debacle?

No, it wasn’t.

First of all, the most significant criteria in judging a youth national team is how many players end up becoming key contributors to the full national team. So on that the jury will be out for half a decade.

Coach Tab Ramos’ U-20 team did better than the last, which failed to qualify for the 2011 World Cup.

The 2009 U.S. U-20s didn’t reach the World Cup knockout stage. Only goalkeeper Sean Johnson and Brek Shea from that squad seem to have a chance with Jurgen Klinsmann.

From the 2007 U-20 World Cup squad, famous for beating Brazil and reaching the quarterfinals, came Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, both of whom were more established pro players than any of Ramos’ 2013 roster members and Bradley had already played for the full national team. The Brazil team the USA beat included David Luiz and Alexandre Pato.

The USA in 2007 beat Uruguay, 2-1, in the round of 16 and Freddy Adu scored more goals in the tournament than Luis Suarez or Edinson Cavani, and where are they now?

What really makes it difficult to pass judgment on how Ramos’ team performed in Turkey was that it was drawn into a group that pitted it against three opponents that were each favorites to win the tournament.

The U.S. U-20 World Cup team of 2001 that had DaMarcus Beasley, Edson Buddle, Bobby Convey, Landon Donovan, Oguchi Onyewu and Brad Davis reached the second round by beating Chile and tying Ukraine despite losing to China, and it lost to Egypt in the round of 16.

Ramos’ team was eliminated by Ghana -- the country that knocked the USA out of the last two senior World Cups and which won the 2009 U-20 World Cup.

Before the loss to Ghana, Ramos’ U-20s tied 1-1 with France, which includes in its roster some of Europe's brightest young talents with the likes of Paul Pogba, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Yaya Sanogo and Lucas Digne. Pogba starts for Juventus in Italy’s Serie A.

In its opener, Ramos sent his team out to beat European champion Spain -- whose team included forwards on the verge of breaking into Barcelona and Real Madrid’s first teams -- instead of setting up a bunker.

The USA had 51 percent of possession in the first half -- against a team that usually doesn't let the opponent have the ball for more than a few seconds at a time. The Americans got burned on counterattacks, so they lost 4-1 instead of 1-0, a losing scoreline that most coaches would be satisfied with because then they could say they came close against the world’s best.

Ramos took the risky, bold and right approach. Trying to ball pass out of the back, keep possession, attack, play in the other team's half -- even if it meant that his team would be susceptible to heavy losses that they indeed suffered.

It would have been good to see how Ramos’ team fared if they faced weaker teams. Because the draw didn’t afford that, we’ll have to wait a few years to judge this team by how many of the players end up on the full national team.

But one thing’s for sure, trying to play real soccer instead of being scared of losing is what American teams should be doing.


28 comments
  1. James Froehlich
    commented on: June 28, 2013 at 2:20 p.m.
    With all of the whining about the U20's, nobody has really addressed the level of competition until now. Thank you!! I thoroughly enjoyed the game against Spain even if the result was heartbreaking. Klinsmann and Ramos are both changing thr way we play although Tab has a bit more leeway to fail since JK must make it to the WC. Nevertheless, I am happy to see that skill and possession are becoming trademarks of US teams.

  1. Luis Arreola
    commented on: June 28, 2013 at 2:31 p.m.
    Mike Woitalla!!!!! YES!!!! Couldnt have said it better myself!!!! Perfectly said !!! Thats exactly what American teams should be doing !!! Real soccer is played only one way. Soccer that a typical American wants to see is attacking soccer. Not bunker in the snow and applaud our team's effort in not getting scored on !!! Who wants to see that??? Very few. Thats who. This USA team also played Mexico, another favorite to win this World Cup, to an overtime loss in Concacaf Final by going at them, for once !!! Mexico killed Mali today, a team that both Greece (Euro Finalist) and Paraguay tied just before. Mali had to play to win and Mexico ate them up. The score in the Spain game, in no way, did USA justice as to how the game was played. Spain resorted to playing long balls to beat USA by figuring out that back line was the weak link on this team. Keep this style USA. Next step is to get the truly best players that fit this style before worrying about anything else. I suggest we find a way to keep the best from leaving us to other countries.

  1. Kent James
    commented on: June 28, 2013 at 2:34 p.m.
    Points well made.

  1. Kerry Solomon
    commented on: June 28, 2013 at 2:38 p.m.
    The team played attractive attacking soccer...just as they should.. The defense was fairly solid but they lacked organization. Sometimes there was mass confusion back there. Blame there is with the defense, midfield and the keeper. Lack of communication and tracking back from the midfield hurt. Keeper has a lot of potential but the coaches need to pull him aside and instruct him to position himself better and quit yelling like a crazy man after something doesn't go right back there. It ruins his concentration AND the defenders plus players are human and they don't appreciate being yelled at constantly. Cropper needs to shut up and work on his communication skills with the defenders and work on his positioning. I'm not being hard on him, because I see great potential and a future MNT keeper. To the entire team...great job, I wish it had turned out better for you!

  1. Jim Feldman
    commented on: June 28, 2013 at 3:08 p.m.
    What about the selection of the team? Anyone think that perhaps that could be part of the problem? There's a lot of really talented players that don't appear to be given the chance? Wake Forest's Sean Okoli?

  1. Scott O'connor
    commented on: June 28, 2013 at 3:09 p.m.
    Agree with all the comments. I was watching the Spain game thinking "I hope Klinsman is seeing this". The score was quite flattering to Spain. I loved the way our guys pressured Spain in their half. Delofeu and Jese are both studs and punished the US's inexperienced defense. I'm not as hopeful for Cropper. But fortunately, Howard and Guzan will be able to backstop us for the next 10 years until some now 10-year old goalkeeping prodigy is ready to take over as the next great American keeper.

  1. Miguel Dedo
    commented on: June 28, 2013 at 3:10 p.m.
    Tab did OK and probably learned a lot from the experience. Keep him on, that learning would be thrown away by replacing him. I am always amused by the many sanctimonous comments each US match brings forward. “The team played attractive attacking soccer...just as they should.” “Real soccer is played only one way.” “I am happy to see that skill and possession are becoming trademarks of US teams.” Can we add, “and would spend my money forever to see teams who maintain 51% possession, even if they always lost 9-3.” These high-minded would go to a National Hockey League match and tell everyone in earshot that the league would be better if it were Holiday on Ice. With this comment, have I discredited myself from being a REAL soccer fan?

  1. Tim Lenahan
    commented on: June 28, 2013 at 3:16 p.m.
    I would be stunned in Cropper is a future national team GK. Terrible communication skills. If you are going to yell and scream every time you make a save - you better back it up - which he did not. FYI, just because we attack, doesn't mean we have to play all attacking players and not defend. Spain attacks, Germany attacks but don't surrender four goals twice. Poor defending, poor on set pieces but our excuse is it's ok because the other teams were good and we attacked. Why can't we do both ? Spain, Barcelona, Real Madrid all have great attacking players but also have 6'+ DCMFs and Centerbacks (Alonzo (6', Busquettes 6'2", Pique 6'4", Sergio Ramos, 6') - did we miss that memo when we evaluated those countries as part of our player development model. Using "we attack" as an excuse for poor organization and not taking care of fundamentals defensively is just another way of washing our hands of responsibility in terms of our development as a soccer nation.

  1. John Singer
    commented on: June 28, 2013 at 3:17 p.m.
    I said after watching USA v. Spain--"Finally, an American team that looks comfortable on the ball, that can play, and not just sit back and absorb pressure, a team full of Tab Ramos'" Then, I saw them come apart against Ghana. Honestly, this could have easily been 8-1. This team was not the same team I felt I saw against Spain. They were tentative, intimidated, second to every ball and header, whooped athletically, looked like they had on the wrong boots for the field and like a bunch of teens who'd been away from home a week too long. Not sure which match better represents the state of our game.

  1. Peter Skouras
    commented on: June 28, 2013 at 3:59 p.m.
    Here we go again..."analyzing!" This morning during the Greece v Paraguay match, I was with a former 1980 U-20 teammate enjoying the match. Of course "the state of the game" in the United States was discussed and its overwhelmingly agreed that in order for American players to improve and get to the level of what we are seeing in Turkey is a "DOMESTIC STRUCTURE" on par with the rest of the world...OR, try to get overseas or to Latin America! If it doesn't change this is what we have! Mr. John Singer is accurate. Potential...all over the country! "The most significant criteria in judging a youth national team is how many players end up becoming key contributors to the full national team." Not true...we know scores of players who never were discovered by their Federations but were identified by Professional Clubs and later in their senior careers were chosen for full National Team duty. And the Youth National Team Stars? Couldn't make the grade!!! It's like this misinformation of the DFB, the German Federation and every federation developing players through satellite programs.programs. Yes, of course the Federations have input but the core development is done by the CLUBS. Mr. Woitalla, you should utilize your Masters Degree to improve the Domestic Structure in the United States...and that includes MLS, NASL and USL. We are stuck in our tracks people! Yours in American Soccer, Peter Skouras

  1. Luis Arreola
    commented on: June 28, 2013 at 4:09 p.m.
    Good point Pete. Mexico moves on after thrashing Mali, a team that Greece and Paraguay tied with.

  1. Peter Skouras
    commented on: June 28, 2013 at 4:40 p.m.
    VAMOS MEXICO!:)

  1. Allan Lindh
    commented on: June 28, 2013 at 6:56 p.m.
    We drew the worst group of death I can ever remember anywhere anytime. Maybe a coincidence, but maybe the small countries of the world -- who control FIFA -- are happy to see us cut down to size -- can't blame em. The teams we played were bigger, by several inches and many pounds, and several years more pro experience apiece. Our tie against France was a great result, given that almost everyone of those kids plays in the French 1st div. If we had drawn one of the many easy groups, we could have gone through, and you'all would be saying how much we'd improved. As it is, it just shows we're not one of the world's best yet, but that's hardly news. Some of these kids had very good moments.

  1. Peter Skouras
    commented on: June 28, 2013 at 8:03 p.m.
    What we all need to do from this point forward is keep watching and learning from the round of "16" and beyond. We need to take the positives from all of the nations involved...tactically (3) in the back, numbers in midfield both offensively and defensively, speed without the ball into space, and the energy and, pace and power. Yes, the US had its work cut out and maybe the result would have been different if we were in another group....however, we still would have struggled physically and psychologically and tactically! You see Allan, the U-20 Professional Leagues (I'll speak for Europe) are very "hard and intensive" domestic competitions. Then you have (which I will attending matches in 2013-2014) the NEXTGENSERIES which are the "top" clubs of Europe added to the domestic championships. It's simply the "way" of Football overseas on the Youth level! And these young players are constantly observed by the First Team Managers in their competitions. Lot's of "pressure!" But when you come from a "poor" or "low-income and indigent" environment as in the United States with Basketball and Football say in South Central Los Angeles, these "youngsters" will "give anything" to make it!!! The United States will only reach the next level if US Soccer sanctions the MLS, NASL and USL for Divisions 1-2-3 AND the USSDA incorporates Promotion-Relegation!!! The level will rise and become "much more competitive" thus increasing the "maxim" of our young players. THIS IS THE ONLY WAY! Oh, and yes, if the NCAA was a 9 month season with the same structure...(NOT HAPPENING!) So, there we have it...the level we exhibited in Turkey is for the moment the "state of our game!" How about Iraq? Yes, war and poverty stricken Iraq? They are no surprise I tell you!

  1. Ihor v Kutynsky
    commented on: June 28, 2013 at 8:57 p.m.
    All well and good,but if you take into account the missed opportunities(many sitters) by the opposing teams the score line against the US would be in triple digits if not more.

  1. Allan Lindh
    commented on: June 28, 2013 at 9:41 p.m.
    Dear Peter I agree that US Soccer sanctioning full Div 2,3 & 4 leagues would help, especially if full relegation were implemented. But we should also remember that most of those kids overseas who devote their lives to pro teams at age 12-16 yrs, never actually make a living wage as soccer players. I can't imagine what they fall back on. Everyone denigrates the US college centered system, but the reality is that most of those kids (99%?) that will never make a living wage in soccer, have a college degree to fall back on, and an environment rather more conducive to growing up, I believe than those poor devils who end up stuck in Div 3&4 in Europe. Is having better national soccer teams more important than having decent lives for the tens of thousands of young soccer players who will never draw a paycheck in the game? I agree that the NCAA changing its perspective would help, but that's like wishing that FIFA would be an honest, well-run organization. As for missed sitters Ihor, we missed a few also.

  1. stewart hayes
    commented on: June 28, 2013 at 9:42 p.m.
    At this level there is no respect for playing attractively and losing. You only get respect by winning. When the opponent is dominate you hunker and when you have opportunities you open up. The players have the talent but in my opinion they did not play with the right mindset and they were poorly organized at back. There is no excuse for that.

  1. Bruce Gowan
    commented on: June 28, 2013 at 11:39 p.m.
    Thanks Stewart. The better team in a match gets to play "their game" the other team has to adjust to stay in the contest and look for an opportunity. Soccer is a defensive game so trying to out score the opponent with an attacking game plan and giving up goals will not work. First objective is to stop the opponent even if that means getting eight men behind the ball.

  1. Luis Arreola
    commented on: June 28, 2013 at 11:45 p.m.
    Bruce, you have a point but Usa will win no fans doing what you say. Get used to filling very few wtadiums with that style.

  1. Peter Skouras
    commented on: June 29, 2013 at 3 a.m.
    HEY ALAN...YOU ARE SPOT ON! PLEASE UNDERSTAND, I CAME UP THROUGH THE US SOCCER SYSTEM...U-15'S, 20'S NAD WAS ONE OF THE 4 NORTH AMERICANS WITH THE SAN DIEGO SOCKERS IN THE NORTH AMERICAN SOCCER LEAGUE WHO GAVE "EVERYTHING" I HAD TO HOLD ON TO MY JOB. I ALSO HAD WORLD CLASS TEAMATES AND OPPONENTS WHO WERE MY IDOLS AND EXAMPLES...KAZ DEYNA AND GEORGE BEST TO BE SPECIFIC...THEY ARE NO LONGER WITH US DUE TO SUBSTANCE ABUSE. AFTER INJURY, CHALLENGES PRESENTED THEMSELVES IN THE LIKES OF GEORGE AND KAZI. CONTINUED IN THE GREEK SUPER LEAGUE AND 2ND DIVISION FOR 5 MORE SEANSON UNTIL INJURY HIT. LIFE BECAME EXTREMELY DIFFICULT. TODAY, I AM 50 AND WORK WITH AT RISK YOUTH AND AM PURSUING A BACHELORS DEGREE IN HUMAN SERVICES. ALTHOUGH I HAVE PROFESSIONAL PLAYING EXPERIENCE AND LICENSED TO COACH THE DOMESTIC STRUCTURE IS NOT SUITED OR APPROPRIATE TO "PRESSURE" OUR YOUNG PEOPLE TOWARD A PROFESSIONAL SOCCER CAREER. YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY CORRECT WITH YOUR ANALOGY AND OPINION. COLLEGE AND AND AN EDUCATION IS 100% THE CORRECT WAY FOR A YOUNG AMERICAN. I AM NOW PROVIDING 2 MATCHES FOR THE FORUM TO HAVE A LOOK AT...IT IS THE "TOP" U-20 LEAGUE IN EUROPE...STRUCTURED LIKE THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE. THIS LEAGUE IS CALLED THE NEXT GEN SERIES. TO QUALIFY FOR THIS LEAGUE, YOU MUST WIN YOUR DOMESTIC U-20 CHAMPIONSHIP OR FINISH 2ND AND 3RD I BELIEVE. ALL THE TOP CLUBS IN EUROPE TAKE PART...I MEAN IT'S AT ANOTHER LEVEL. MANY OF TODAY'S FIFA YOUTH WORLD CUP PLAYERS ARE PRODUCTS OF THE NEXTGEN. DO WE HAVE THIS STRUCTURE? TAKE CARE ALAN AND MY FACEBOOK IF YOU LIKE IS PETER SKOURAS HERE ARE THE LINKS...https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ix6I_H1kD34 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iR6KXzzVlqs

  1. Peter Skouras
    commented on: June 29, 2013 at 3:05 a.m.
    SORRY...THIS IS THE SORT OF LEVEL OF FOOTBALL THE UNITED STATES NEEDS AT THE YOUTH LEVEL IN ORDER TO ADVANCE. ALSO AND AS MENTIONED, THE PROFESSIONAL LEAGUES NEED TO MERGE. MORE "PRESSURE" MUCH MORE PRESSURE IS NEEDED...HAVE WE WATCHED MLS MATCHES? O DEAR. ANYWAY, ALAN IS CONCERNED ABOUT OUR YOUNG PEOPLE...SO AM I.

  1. Sidney Hall
    commented on: June 29, 2013 at 9:49 a.m.
    Bravo Mr Woitalla, well done! It is refreshing to finally see a POSITIVE yet objective analysis of the US Youth Soccer programs. Yes, there are many things we still need to work on, but isn't that true of almost all national youth teams? I would wholeheartedly agree the combination of attack and possession could finally be the American style of play. We exibit that sort of style in almost all other sports we participate in internationally. I believe in Ramos and Klisman, and that they have already done an amazing job and should be allowed to continue the road to progress and success. If they continue to show progrress, they will begin to attract other worldclass american athletes who now look to the NFL, NBA, and MLB for success and fortune. Again well done to you and Ramos and Klinsman! A great start on the bumpy road to an aggressive American soccer style and international success.

  1. Peter Skouras
    commented on: June 29, 2013 at 4:01 p.m.
    PLEASE SOCCER AMERICA WRITERS...PLEASE DO NOT WRITE OR ANNOUNCE THAT "ENGLAND" WERE "SHOCKED" OR "SURPRISED" BY LOSING TO IRAQ AND EGYPT!!!! A TITLE MORE ON THE LINES OF, "ENGLAND TAUGHT A FOOTBALLING LESSON" FROM ARAB FOOTBALL" IS ABSOLUTELY APPROPRIATE! ANYTHING OTHER YOU SHOULD "HANG UP YOUR PEN!"

  1. Kent James
    commented on: June 30, 2013 at 10:23 a.m.
    Alan's point about the kids that don't make it is a good one. If the goal of US soccer was to produce the best professional players, then throwing as many kids in a hyper-competitive environment would probably do that. Additionally, increasing the poverty levels to make the kids even more desperate to succeed would also benefit the desire. But I hope we don't go down that road. Peter's point about the pressure needed to produce players who do not wilt in big games is certainly well-taken, but I think we need to be careful about how early that pressure is applied. I would like to see the professional teams have a greater role in developing talent, but combine that with an educational fall-back. For example, taking college freshmen to develop as professional players, but enroll them part-time in a flexible educational program to allow them to continue their education (albeit at a slower pace) so that for the vast majority who won't make it as pros, trying to go that route would not force the abandonment of other dreams. And of course, if the NCAA had an extended season over 2 semesters (but with fewer games/week), that would help also.

  1. Luis Arreola
    commented on: June 30, 2013 at 10:23 p.m.
    Kent, look at the top U16 teams in each conference. Most of them have 4 97' born players on them or less in a mostly 96' team. Teams at bottom of brackets mostly average 10 or more 97/98' born players. That tells you that many top 97' players are not getting the opportunity to compete at the highest level in the most "meaningful" games in USa at these ages. Most of these players have to sit a year and play another. Does that make sense?? Does it make sense to now create a U14 Academy division now as well instead of creatimng a U15 Academy division??

  1. Aresenal Fan
    commented on: July 3, 2013 at 1:43 p.m.
    Just wondering why we are not looking how south america are developing their youth systems? instead of europe. These countries are the ones dominating this competition since it's inception, and still are!!

  1. Luis Arreola
    commented on: July 6, 2013 at 9:21 a.m.
    Arsenal, I have always asked that question but I always get attacked for being bias to Hispanics. Common sense would tell you that is exactly where we should look. South America also did very well in WOrld Cup 2010 with Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay advancing to top 8.

  1. Dustin Johnson
    commented on: July 16, 2013 at 8:05 a.m.
    Ultimately here is the problem Ghana population 24 million. Until we build a soccer culture that can match the resources of countries with 1/8 the population and 1/1000th of the resources we are losers. And all this talk about the race of our teams make is insane. It's unamerican. We need to play well with the hand we are dealt.


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