Ramos: 'I expect us to be a possession team'

[CONCACAF UNDER-20 COUNTDOWN] The USA kicks off play at the Concacaf Under-20 Championship next week in Puebla, Mexico. Tab Ramos has been preparing the team in Toluca for the opening game against Haiti. He says he's assembled some very good players, in particular on the offensive side of the ball, with the likes of Luis Gil of Real Salt Lake, Jose Villarreal of the Los Angeles Galaxy and Benji Joya of Mexican club Santos. Here's what he had to say about the U-20s as the final training camp opened ...

Opening statement:
“We are very excited here in Toluca to begin our final preparation for World Cup qualifying. We’ve had eight camps already and we feel good about the group that we’ve selected. As many of you know, there are still two players to be named and we are hoping that that will happen over the next couple of days.”

On the U-20 national team’s defensive line and working with club commitments:
“I feel like our back line is well prepared. I don’t think there’s been one camp this year out of the eight camps that we ran where I can tell you we were able to get every player we wanted. I feel comfortable that the players we have here are the best that we could get and the ones we’ve prepared the most. So we feel confident that these guys are going to do a good job.”

On the two players that will be added and whether they are coming from overseas:
“As you know, and people who have been involved with the U-20 program over the years know, getting the releases is always a challenge and it takes time. Some come before others. Just because we named 18 players now doesn’t mean that they’re all here. There are a couple players still coming over the next couple of days, even though they’ve been released for over three weeks now. Releases come at different times and sometimes unfortunately we have to wait. I think the great thing for us is we’ve developed some great relationships with the clubs in Europe and we believe at the end of the day we’re going to have most of the players we wanted released.”

(Editor's note: Forward
Jerome Kiesewetter, who plays for VfB Stuttgart II, joined the U-20s as a 19th player.)

On his experience coaching the U.S. U-20 national team since he took the position in October of 2011:
“For me, it’s exciting to have this group. It’s a particular age group in which you have players with the beginning of the cycle where some of them are in high school, some are freshmen in college, and by the end of the cycle you have most of them playing professionally. I think it’s a good step that they take in the middle of the cycle. It is one that I felt I was prepared to handle from the beginning. Having helped Thomas Rongen in the past with the U-20 teams, I really felt that this was the perfect first step for me.”

On forward Brandon Allen:
“Brandon has scored a lot of goals everywhere he’s gone. He’s a Jersey kid, so I’ve followed him for many years. He’s always been scoring goals. He didn’t stop when the Development Academy started. He kept scoring goals for the Red Bulls [Academy] and went to college and did the same thing at Georgetown. In a roster, you can always find a little space for someone who can get you goals. Even though he’s practically new to our group because he’s only been involved with us for a month and a half and only the last two camps, we really felt he was a little bit different from the other guys and someone that we felt could give us something at different times that we needed.”

On the attempts to try and bring in Marc Pelosi out of Liverpool:
“First thing is: we do have a great relationship with Liverpool. They’ve been great with us throughout the year with Marc. We’ve gone back and forth on certain camps on when it has been ideal to bring him in and when it was not ideal to bring him in. We’ve both worked well and I think both sides are happy with that. Obviously Marc is a great player and because of that he has many other opportunities that maybe not all the players have. In this case, with his possible Europa League call-up, his release became a little bit more difficult than it otherwise would have been. At this point, I wouldn’t want to say that that’s a closed door, but it’s something that we may work on that at the end of the day might not make sense for Marc. We’ll keep working at that for the next couple of days, and we’re happy with his development. We feel that Marc is going to be an important player for the National Team, whether it’s on this team for this particular trip, or whether it’s on this team for down the road in the World Cup, or the ultimate goal which is to be an important player on the senior team. I really feel like he’s one of those guys that’s making his way in U.S. Soccer.”

On defender Shane O’Neill fitting into the mix:
“Shane has done a great job with us. We brought him in for the first time in October of [last] year on a recommendation by Wilmer Cabrera who had him and knows the national programs pretty well. We brought him in and he’s a great kid. He works very hard, he can play either the 6 role, which is a defensive midfield role, or he can play a center back role on the right side, which is a great help for us because we’ve been a little bit depleted in that area. He’s done a great job. I think he’s going to be an important part of this group, and possibly not only for this part of it but moving on if we’re lucky enough to move on.”

On the 30th anniversary of Ramos playing in an Under-20 World Cup and how the game has changed:
“I’m kind of surprised U.S. Soccer changed their logo to the 100 years and I don’t have any logo for myself for 30 years. I probably should have had that by now [laughs] … It is special for me. Thirty years is a long time. It’s now 31 years that I think I’ve been contributing to U.S. Soccer in different ways and from different angles. I’ve always been very proud to wear the U.S. uniform and I’m very proud to be a U.S. coach now. This position brings a new challenge for me. I continue to be proud every time I put on the logo. For me, having the crest and being able to represent the U.S. has always been important. I can’t remember that long ago. It’s a lot different. I believe we’re much better prepared. At the same time, I believe all the countries are much better prepared at this point. Soccer has evolved over the last 30 years immensely and it’s really a different game today than it was back then. There are better athletes and players, there is better coaching and there’s a lot more homework that needs to be done from game to game to be prepared to face any opponent.

On preparing for Group A opponents Costa Rica and Haiti:
“Our first game is Haiti and at this point we are pretty much focused on just that. We have seen Costa Rica – we saw them play Canada and I personally flew down to the Caribbean Union tournament to watch Haiti play twice, so we do have a good report on them. That’s our only focus at this point is Haiti. We’re not looking at Costa Rica or going to the World Cup. Haiti is a very athletic team. They’re a very strong right-sided team where they go forward pretty well. They have, for years, had skillful players. This time around they have a good combination of skillful players that can cover a lot of ground. There’s no question that Haiti will make things difficult for us. I also think we will be very well prepared for them.”

On whether he feels pressure to bring the U-20  national team to the World Cup after the group fell short in 2011:
“I don’t feel like we need to carry that responsibility, for our players more than anything else. I want to win every game I coach and I certainly want this team to be successful. I think the team will be prepared to play the best it can play. At the end of the day we’ll see what happens. Certainly we need a good result. We would need this team to do well. But there’s no added responsibility with this particular group.”

On whether he has named a team captain for this tournament:
“I have not named the team captain yet. That will happen over the next few days and normally you want a player who’s been a big part of the group, a player who has the captain leadership type qualities, a player that the other players are willing to follow in difficult moments. There’s no question, especially in particular this tournament where we’re playing at altitude and possibly a little bit of heat, depending on the weather on that particular day, so there’s going to be a little bit of suffering on the field, and having a captain who can lead the troops and get the guys together at the right time is very important for us. That’s sort of my thinking. To put it out there, Caleb Stanko has been captain for us on some of these trips, Boyd Okwuonu has been captain with us, Will Packwood, who unfortunately is injured and out now, has been captain, as well. I believe all of those players carry those qualities. I think we will stay along those lines because I believe those are the players that the rest of the players will be able to follow at the right time.”

On Stanko’s abilities in both the midfield and defense:
“It’s really been amazing. Caleb has made some great strides from the beginning in this group. It’s mostly because he has great focus. He’s a very good professional every day, for every training session. He leads by example with the rest of the guys and his game has improved immensely. He came here mostly as a defensive midfielder but also open to the idea of playing right back and center back. He’s one of those players who’s open to playing wherever the coach wants to put him. I think he’s done well for us at the center back position the few times we’ve had him in there. That’s certainly a possibility going into next week.”

On the value of the U-20s competing in a high-level tournament:
“I think value is great not only for our players but for our national team program to have these players in must-win situations, playing in Mexico and in a difficult environment. I think it can only grow as players for what we need them for in the future. That’s the obvious part from us looking from a coaching standpoint and what it brings to U.S. Soccer. I think from a player’s standpoint, they find themselves with a lot of new situations. It’s a lot different playing against teams in Central America certainly than it is to play European teams who just focus on the game. When you play Central American teams their gamesmanship is a little bit different. They’re used to a little bit more of wasting time and to try to win the game in any way they can. All the experiences that they get playing the Latin American-style teams, where they’re a little bit slower, where there’s more importance to holding the ball, those are all the things that have a great value for us as a national program and for the players themselves as they move on to the older teams.”

On how Mikey Lopez will be used during qualifying:
“Mikey has done well because he is one of those guys who can play any position in midfield. He works extremely hard every day, works hard in the games, and everywhere you throw him in you’re making your team a little bit better. He brings that intensity that’s contagious to the other guys and I think that Mikey is certainly one of those guys that, when we put the final 20 players together, was one of those guys that we put toward the top of our list because of his work ethic.”

On the team’s style:
“The players that we’ve selected here are players who are comfortable on the ball, players that we’ve said from the beginning we want to make a difference in the game and want to make things happen and are not afraid to have the ball at their feet when it really matters. I believe we’ve put a good group together of guys that want to have the ball. I expect us to be a possession team. I expect us to have the ball, and hopefully that will be our formula to win the games.”

On the challenges of bringing a group together in hostile environment:
“It’s difficult because they haven’t experienced this. I think fortunately for us three weeks ago we were already in Puebla, so we were able to play in the stadium where we’re going to have our games. We were able to take a trip over to the hotel where we’re going to stay. So I do believe that this group in particular is very well prepared to encounter whatever is coming our way. I’m not all that concerned with that. My main concern is how we’re going to react to the actual games, maybe in difficult situations. Every game that goes by, there are times where you need to weather the storm, there are times where the other team is playing better than you are and how we react to those situations is going to be key for us in this tournament.”

On whether he sees players in this group making their way to the full national team:
“I hope most of them. I think we have very good players here, in particular on the offensive side of the ball. Our defenders that we have here work extremely hard, and maybe as a defender sometimes you need a little bit more experience so those players take more time to develop, whereas the offensive players you can see the one or two good plays they make and it makes you feel like they are ready for the next level. I’m very comfortable with the group that we have in the midfield going forward. I’m very comfortable with this particular age group, the 93/94 we selected. They are players who are very comfortable on the ball and players who will be valuable down the road. I could start with names, but we could go Benji Joya, to Wil Trapp to Luis Gil, to Jose Villarreal, Danny Cuevas, Mario Rodriguez -- these are all guys who are comfortable on the ball. These guys can play. They make a good effort on the field and I believe that these are the types of tournaments that we need to see them in. They’re good players. They have a good engine. They make a good effort, and if they can have good tournaments in situations like this, I think that Jurgen [Klinsmann] will take notice, because he will be watching.”

On Klinsmann’s influence in the formation of youth teams and style of play:
“Sometimes I think what people want to hear is for the head coach of the senior team to say, ‘Everybody plays this formation and everyone has to follow along.’ Obviously, that’s very difficult to do because you depend a lot on the players you have in one particular age group, and in particular that happens with youth national teams because you don’t know until the cycle starts. It’s very difficult to figure out where you’re going to be strong. What I can tell you is that fortunately for me I have been involved with the senior team whenever I get a chance. Jurgen always keeps the door open for me to come in with them when I’m not involved with this team, I know how things work with the first team and I believe I’m preparing the players here as well as I can to be able to take that step into the first team as well and as easily as it can be. We have good players here. Some are a little bit different than the players on the first team, but certainly there are players here that would fit into what we’re trying to do at all the levels, straight up and down.”

1 comment about "Ramos: 'I expect us to be a possession team'".
  1. James Froehlich, February 12, 2013 at 2:58 p.m.

    With all of the concern about the loss to Honduras and the associated depression about the state of the MNT, this article is a refreshing reminder that there are positve elements for the future of US Soccer. The real problem is that there is no patience among the fans and pundits, totally forgetting that it takes time to turn the ocean liner that is US Soccer.
    When Klinsmann started he said that he would be implementing a possession game. Unfortunately he has discovered that the skills just aren't there to field 10 players, all comfortable on the ball and able to execute quick accurate passes. With the onset of the real world of WC qualifying, his ability to continue to experiment has stopped -- it's "make-do" time. However, things ARE changing: the Hispanic player has at last begun to make more than a cameo appearance; the possession game is migrating to the younger teams and with that a greater presence of Hispanic players is being seen. The world isn't ending as some pundits would say, we are just witnessing the throes of a rebirth of US Soccer.

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