Interview by Mike Woitalla
Last month, the U.S. Soccer Federation named Tab Ramos its Youth Technical Director, replacing Claudio Reyna, who left for MLS expansion club New York City FC in May. Ramos, also an assistant to Jurgen Klinsmann with the full national team, will continue as U-20 men's national team head coach. We spoke to Ramos, who in December was selected to the USA’s All-Time National Team Best XI, about his expanded role with the Federation.
SOCCER AMERICA: You were surely a top candidate for an MLS head-coaching job. Why did you opt for U.S. Soccer’s Youth Technical Director position?
TAB RAMOS: I’ve been with the program a long time. 2014 will be my 32nd year of wearing the crest on and off in different ways. For the last six-seven years I’ve been assistant coach to head coach, to helping Jurgen with the first team for the last two years.
I thought I would be the right person to take on the challenge of youth soccer -- having had the experience of coaching at all age groups for the last 10 years [with New Jersey youth club NJSA 04].
There were opportunities of going to MLS but once U.S. Soccer decided that they wanted me in this role and keep head coaching the U-20s, it was a very easy decision. Having Jurgen [Klinsmann] and U.S. Soccer’s support, I would not want to be anywhere else.
SA: What does the position entail …
TAB RAMOS: I work very closely with Jurgen. With Jurgen having a World Cup year, it’s a little more difficult for him to be involved in the day-to-day of the entire program. The youth part of it is a lot easier for me.
Beginning with the youth national teams -- the top priority would be to organize and integrate all the teams as we’ve done with the U-20 national team falling under the senior national team, and with the U-18s, with Javier [Perez] and the U-20 national team. And pass that down to the 17s and 15s and 14s. And decide if we want to make a U-16 team, which currently exists but in some between way, just having some camps, in order to prepare the next U-18 team, which eventually becomes the U-20 cycle.
I’m working closely with Tony Lepore and the Development Academy and see how we can continue to improve the Development Academy and provide resources so it can continue to grow and put more players on the national team. ... And helping out Director of Coaching Education Dave Chesler. … There’s a lot of work to do in my position in general.
SA: How important is it that the various national teams are coached in the same manner and play the same way?
TAB RAMOS: I’m coming into this position where the coaches are already in place. One of the things we don’t want to do in general is tell anyone how to coach. Everybody coaches a little bit differently and at every age group you have different types of talented players, so you can’t possibly play exactly the same.
Now, there’s a certain way that we’ve been doing things for the last maybe year and a half, and one of the things that I did and one of the things that I certainly want to pass down – and what I addressed to the Development Academy coaches -- is that we are looking for players who are comfortable on the ball. It doesn't have to be players who are specifically great in any one position, but players who can adapt to positions because they are comfortable on the ball.
It begins there. The rest of it will be little steps at a time.
But I don’t see it getting to a point where we dictate exactly how everyone has to play. It would be difficult to coach that way because not all the groups are the same.
SA: The last few years have seen an ambitious expansion of the Federation's youth programs, with the Development Academy, Training Centers, Technical Advisors and a network of 100 scouts ...
TAB RAMOS: This is the great thing. Sometimes when somebody is put in the position like mine, most people tend to think they need to immediately try and change everything -- but what’s important is to recognize there have been some great things that have been done.
There have been great things done by Claudio Reyna, including the Curriculum. The Development Academy -- it’s unprecedented worldwide. There’s no one else that does what we do.
I think we’re in a great place. We certainly have a lot of room to grow ... The Development Academy is still relatively new. The organization and what Tony Lepore has done with the Development Academy is unprecedented and we have to continue to provide resources for it to continue to grow and become better and better.
SA: There have been some vehement complaints from clubs that aren’t part of the Academy, particularly that their players are shut out of the national team program or steered to Academy clubs by national team staff ...
TAB RAMOS: Look, all the best players will get a shot at the national team regardless of where they play. I believe that we're very lucky to have the Development Academy because we force them to train a minimum of four days a week. We are managing their game schedule. We’re making sure that they're not playing in too many games and have a good practice-to-game ratio. We're taking care of a lot of the things that are important in general in world soccer.
I think a player who comes to the Development Academy has a great advantage in terms of moving on to the national team because he's already familiar with working under a specific practice plan, a specific periodization within his team. Working basically the same way he’d be working with the national team or a professional team.
I don’t want to say that every single academy in the country is doing a perfect job. And I also don’t want to say that outside the Academy there aren’t coaches who aren’t perfectly capable of running their teams. Or running their teams just like an Academy team would be run.
But for the most part, when you look at numbers in general, the Development Academy is a great place to be. And the best place to be. And we do encourage all the players nationwide to be in an Academy club.
That’s not to say there aren’t some clubs who are also doing a great job and who we would want to consider down the road for being in the Academy.
In Part 2 of our interview, Ramos discusses his work with Jurgen Klinsmann, the high school vs. club controversy, young Americans going abroad, and the 2013 performances of the U.S. U-17 team.
(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, is co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper and co-author with Claudio Reyna of More Than Goals: The Journey from Backyard Games to World Cup Competition. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)