Interview by Mike Woitalla
U.S. Hall of Famer Tab Ramos' run with the U.S. national team program dates back to playing at the 1983 U-20 World Cup as a 16-year-old. Last year he coached at the U-20 World Cup, assisted with the full national team, and in November became U.S. Soccer's new Youth Technical Director. In Part 2 of our interview we continue our discussion about the U.S. youth soccer landscape and his work with Jurgen Klinsmann.
SOCCER AMERICA: What role do you play when you assist with the full national team?
TAB RAMOS: When I’m with Jurgen, I basically do whatever is needed of me. I’m there as an assistant coach, whether that means setting up cones for the session or scouting an opposing team.
What I always take from the camps with the first team, and this is something -- one of the reasons Jurgen has me around -- is to see how they work so I can carry it on to the younger team. ... How the presentations are made to the first team when you have a game coming up. How the presentation of the scouting of the opposing team is made to the players.
I obviously have my technical opinions when I’m with the first team because Jurgen as a head coach, like every other good head coach, will listen to all the different opinions, and at the end he decides what we do and don’t do.
Sometimes the more opinions you have around you the better, so I’m there as another voice to help in anyway I can.
SA: On the youth national team front, the U-17s, under Coach Richie Williams, ended the year on a high note by beating England, 5-1, and Brazil, 4-1, to lift the Nike International Friendlies …
TAB RAMOS: I thought it was excellent. I think there’s a lot of talent on the team. Richie’s doing a great job with the players he has. This group may be a little more talented than the last group he had.
SA: The previous group, also under Williams, failed to qualify for the U-17 World Cup for the first time in history …
TAB RAMOS: U.S. Soccer obviously wants all our teams to qualify. But we also have to see how they work. If the work done is good work and if the players are getting better -- and in the end it comes down to one game you have to win or lose, sometimes you’re going to lose that game, because in one game anything can happen. And if we happen not to qualify, we have to deal with that. It’s not the end of the world for us.
We’re fully confident Richie is doing a good job. The new team that he has is very talented. There are players we believe will be in the U.S. program for a long time.
In general, from the U-17s only four or five players move up to the U-20 team. So it’s a very small number. Hopefully with this group there will be more players for the U-20 cycle.
SA: What’s your opinion on the increasing amount of America teens moving abroad at a young age?
TAB RAMOS: I think it’s a positive. When I look at the last U-20 cycle, we had very few players who had already been overseas. On this new U-20 cycle, there are many of them.
It’s positive because going overseas not only gets you on an 11-month rigid training environment, mentally the players have to adapt – to a new culture, perhaps a new language, and everything else. It makes them stronger mentally and helps them develop more as players.
SA: When the U.S. Soccer Development Academy moved to a 10-month schedule, it eliminated high school ball for its players and the controversy was picked up by even the mainstream media. Now that it’s been in place for more than a year does it still seem like the right move to make kids decide between club and high school?
TAB RAMOS: Sometimes when you make those types of decisions, they don’t necessarily go down smoothly.
We did the right thing for the players. There’s no question that high school soccer around the country is not always coached by qualified coaches. Most of them don’t even have coaching licenses to coach high school. At least, that’s the case in New Jersey.
And I always have to have a disclaimer, because you end up getting e-mails from coaches who are qualified. There are some who are qualified, but it’s such a small number compared to the coaches who are not -- so I believe we did the right thing for the players.
For example, I can tell you my son was a senior last year and he had played on the high school team. His senior year he couldn’t play because he was on the Academy club and he was the first one to say: “I’m glad I’m just playing Academy soccer for 10 months.
Not that every player reacted that same way, but I think most of them did. I think most of them were happy to play in a good training environment with a good coach rather than playing high school.
SA: Eliminating the high school factor must certainly simplify the players’ schedule. It seems that Academy players might have a less hectic schedule than non-Academy players?
TAB RAMOS: It’s an easy schedule. When you walk into the Development Academy’s first training session in August, you know your game schedule all the way until June of next year. You’ll know your practice schedule until the June of next year.
That’s a lot easier to manage. That’s just on the organizational side. Then you have to deal with the physical side, which in the fall, at least on East Coast -- if you’re doing high school and club at the same time, you have to fit in 20-22 games at the same time. … You’re playing Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday, and you have to fit in Academy training on a Sunday to be with your team and it’s crazy.
This way there’s usually one game on the weekend. You have your four or five trainings sessions during the week. And when you go to school you focus on school.
Part of the debate a little bit is without high school you’re losing the fun of playing on your high school team. That I understand. And there’s nothing we can do about it. It is fun playing on your high school team. I’m not saying the Academy is not fun, because it is -- but playing with your classmates is a little bit of a different and we lose that.
SA: The Academy launched a U-14 league in 2013. How do you see that impact of that?
TAB RAMOS: It was something we’ve been waiting for. The younger the better. I think it’s been incredibly successful. It’s a great start. We’ve included clubs that don’t have the older Academy age group teams, which enables it to be more regional and requires less travel for the younger players. Now it’s a matter of continuing to grow and provide more resources. Later we’ll reassess whether to grow to an extra age group. Not necessarily to 12s. Currently, we have 18, 16, 14. Do we want to think about possibly having 19, 17, 15, 13? At this point, we’re in a good place but there may be another age group coming.
Read Part 1 of the Tab Ramos interview 'We're in a great place with room to grow' HERE.
(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.)