The importance of Tab Ramos

At last, the USA has a coach with vision. For the first time in my experience of U.S. national team coaches -- an experience that reaches back over 45 years -- I am looking at a coach, Tab Ramos, who has the vision to take in the full extent of the rather tangled American soccer scene, and who has the courage to respond to what he sees.
When Ramos set about building the USA’s team for the current under-20 World Cup, he applied criteria that he had learned as a player -- as a particularly skillful, ball-playing midfielder. Nothing esoteric or complicated -- he simply looked for players who were comfortable with the ball. But Ramos’s definition of “comfortable” is no doubt more stringent than most people’s -- he tightens it up with a knowing grin and adds, “I mean players who are not afraid of the ball,” then adds, in a mildly menacing tone, “I’ve played with guys who are afraid of the ball ...”
So Ramos ended up with a heavily Hispanic team. That will surprise -- and, no doubt, annoy -- only the reactionary, anti-Hispanic brigade that has been holding back the free development of the American game for decades.
Ramos is adamant -- he did not go looking for Hispanic players. He wanted skill on the ball, and he found it most consistently among the Hispanic players.

His ball-comfortable team came of age on March 3 this year, with a magnificent performance against Mexico in the Concacaf under-20 final. The game was lost, 3-1 in overtime, but an indelible, unanswerable statement was made. The USA had played splendid soccer in this game. This was not a performance based on strength or stamina or speed or tactics or that mysterious “determination to win” that, it seems, only American teams have.
This was an American team playing terrific soccer. An American team with eight Hispanics on the field. At the World Cup, the results were not there -- but did anyone expect them to be, in a group that also contained the favorite Spain, France (now one of the finalists) and Ghana, which has never been kind to the USA?
But the soccer was there. If inconsistently. What we got, against Spain, was a rather naive first half of ebullient soccer -- then a sterling second half played by a team that was anything but demoralized by the drubbing it had taken in the first half. Against France, the soccer was not so inspiring -- but the result, a 1-1 tie, was good. Unless you were Tab Ramos, who felt the team looked too ... well, too much like other U.S. teams from the past. Too ordinary might one say?
Ramos wants better than that. He has shown that his team can be better than that. He has proved to himself, and to the American soccer community, that the oft-derided rumors of a wealth of Hispanic talent in this country are not rumors. They are reality. And he has proved that a team, at long last incorporating this talent, can compete.
The case is closed. There is no more room for doubt. At all levels of the American game -- and this includes Jurgen Klinsmann and his German oriundi -- a much greater effort must be made to search out the real ball players ... and they will, at the present stage of U.S. development, be primarily Hispanic players.
What Ramos and his team achieved on March 3 was a breakthrough, an inevitable breakthrough, but one that has been inexcusably delayed by the combined forces of hostility, ignorance and an unwillingness to accept change. A breakthrough that showed a highly promising future for U.S. soccer.
I’m not underestimating the entrenched opposition that exists to the very idea of Hispanic soccer being important on the U.S. soccer map, never mind dominating it.
But the naysayers have had their time. Change is sweeping all around them, change they can no longer resist. Sadly, very, very sadly, so many of those naysayers are coaches. It is an appalling reflection on the American coaching community that the key issue of the American game -- the one truly vital issue, especially at the youth level -- is rarely, if ever, discussed: how to get the Hispanic style working together with the traditionally more physical American game to produce a style that is truly representative of all the talent we have right now in this country, in this game.

On March 3, 2013, Tab Ramos and his under-20 team showed the way. A date to remember -- the day American soccer came of age, the day it cast off the burden of now out-dated traditions, the day we were shown the future. By the USA under-20 men's team, and by Tab Ramos, a young coach with the guts to trust his own inner soccer voices.
32 comments about "The importance of Tab Ramos".
  1. Allan Lindh, July 10, 2013 at 8:45 p.m.

    Bravo, Mr. Gardner. For once we agree completely on something. Tab Ramos, with maybe a little help from Claudio Reyna, have brought new life to US soccer. (Not surprising, they were by all odds the best players we've had in a generation, the smartest, the classiest.) The other three in our group in the U20 WC all made the final 8 -- we were clearly good enough to have made the final 16 with just an average draw, with a little luck the final 8. And especially the CONCACAF final against Mexico was a joy to watch, real soccer played in a positive spirit, with both teams having several players that could have played for the other side. And there is one very real benefit playing in CONCACAF with players who can actually talk to the Ref in his native language, make jokes with him even. At last we're not just a bunch of big arrogant Gringos with bad manners.

  2. Richard Beal, July 10, 2013 at 8:50 p.m.

    There are very few positive comments from the announcers for the Hispanic players on the US team. Last night you wouldn't have know that Orozco or Torres were on the field if you were only listening . The only comment on Torres from Soccer America was that he missed a lot of shots and he was given a 5.

  3. Alex G. Sicre, July 10, 2013 at 10 p.m.

    Allan and Richard, you guys are right on.

  4. Rich Blast, July 10, 2013 at 10:17 p.m.

    Forget race, we are all Americans. Just play and develop the best, even if they are purple.

  5. Jeanine Valadez, July 10, 2013 at 11:29 p.m.

    I have been following this national team since they started, watched every one of their games, and was SO happy that Tab Ramos' vision was so clear. But I feared for him the whole way and still fear that denialists will take the raw data of the WC results and use them to move him out and revert to "same as usual." All along its journey, I mentioned the profile of his team to everyone I knew, posted about them, shared the data, convinced even my naysaying US-college-playing son that he needed to watch this team (he never watches US soccer teams except out of obligation, and still prefers international soccer over MLS, and has always played more technically than even his college coaches want him too, coaches preferring that he "beef up" and "get stuck in"). FINALLY, there was a USA coach and team endeavoring to play real soccer and -- guess what? -- they were mostly Hispanic! The correlation between comfortability on the ball and race was never lost on those coaches and players around me (I was deep into boys youth club, ODP, and Academy ball for many years); however, I always saw it wrapped -- cloaked -- in rationalization, resistance, and racism: they're undisciplined players; they're just dirtier players; of course they are good, they never study or work; we'll just out-size or out-muscle them; their skill doesn't matter because they'll never get into college; they don't even speak English; they're criminals. I could go on with more examples of the denigration I heard. Nobody ever bothered to ask about these kids' GPAs, post-high-school plans, or, yes, if applicable, if they suffered extenuating circumstances. Nevermind that the highest GPA (4.6) held by a player on my very diverse club team was held by a Hispanic with parents who worked the wine fields in California, nevermind that we also had a Hispanic kid who struggled to stay out of jail, nevermind that I had white and Asian kids with the same spectra of attributes. Reality is that life's blessings and troubles affect kids of all races, but all people ever saw was that my "white" town team had too many boys of color on it (oh yeah, we had a black coach and Hispanic female coach/manager, too). So I THANK Tab Ramos and I THANK Mr. Gardner and I CONGRATULATE the U20 team. I sure hope US Soccer sees the wisdom in Ramos (and Reyna) and others of like mind and allows them to finish the job and finally transform USA into a soccer powerhouse.

  6. soccer talk, July 10, 2013 at 11:38 p.m.

    Amen, Blast. The focus is finding American talent no matter the race. The best US U20 players as well as the lacking players happen to be Hispanic Americans. Not to jilt Gil which is best player in my opinion.
    Torres and Orozco showed well last night, but were not the only players not given the lime light regardless skin color.

  7. Kent James, July 11, 2013 at 1:21 a.m.

    The impressive aspect of Tab Ramos' career is that as a former national team player, he had the cajones to start at the grass roots level, and coach youth soccer (instead of going straight to the higher levels, which his credentials would have allowed him to do). So he knows what goes on in youth soccer. His U20 team is quite impressive, and the poor results at the U20 WC can now be put in perspective; of our three opponents, who would've anticipated that Spain would be eliminated first? We were clearly in the group of death. It is great to see a US team that likes to work with the ball. As for the anti-Hispanic bias in US soccer, yes, of course there are ignoramuses out there who can't see past skin color, but I think the best way to move beyond it is to stop focusing on it. Instead of calling it "the Hispanic style", just focus on getting kids with good ball skills, and then work on what style you want to team to play. And if the kids with good ball skills happen to be Hispanic, who cares? Eventually coaches who don't accept Hispanic players will realize that failing to do so puts them at a competitive disadvantage. There is progress in this area, so we just need to keep pushing it.

  8. feliks fuksman, July 11, 2013 at 4:43 a.m.

    Well said everyone; congratulation Tab and Claudio!
    Thank you PG for this article.

  9. Pablo Flores, July 11, 2013 at 8:41 a.m.

    Thank you Mr. Gardner for beating this drum for quite awhile now. I'm hoping that what Tab has shown, that a predominately latino team can compete at the international level, filters down to the college ranks. It would be great to see colleges actively recruit more Latinos and change the style of college ball from a run and gun mosh pit to a more physical-technical game. The Latino players should not be overlooked anymore and should be incorporated more into the USMNT. It will only make the USMNT stronger. The future is bright for the USMNT.

  10. R2 Dad, July 11, 2013 at 8:47 a.m.

    Positive developments for that U team--but what about our other national sides? This cohort has been narrowed down and Tab has done good things to select this team, but how about the rest, starting with the 14s? Do they get old-school kick-and-run coaches? I can't believe that Claudio's regime hasn't been standardized at the lowest levels, to create the largest pool of qualified players by the time they get to U20. It's still quite haphazard and we will not get any consistency in our youth sides from year to year unless we do. This variability would not result if we concentrated on the system we taught vs a specific coach. It shouldn't be about the coaches--they come and go. But our kids all have to find their individual ways because the system is not constructed for their benefit. I want to see Sunil come down from the mountain with the Reyna tablets and enforce our system. Grow a set US Soccer!

  11. Bobby Bluntz, July 11, 2013 at 9:08 a.m.

    Great overall point to the article. We've all seen a lot youth coaches who do hold some sort of anti hispanic sentiment. I also hope we do caution the media and soccer fans in general to paint a picture of a player based on race, though. We have a lot of smaller white kids who play with great skill and technique, and a lot of athletic hispanic players who play a more power game. If we start to see through colored lenses, we'll miss out on players because they don't fit a certain bill. Like we have for the last 30 years.

  12. Walt Pericciuoli, July 11, 2013 at 9:33 a.m.

    Amen!As a fan,former coach and player, I don't really care what the ethnic background is of the players representing my country.I care that they play skillful entertaining soccer that makes me want to watch and enjoy every game win or lose.Bravo Tab Ramos for selecting this group of boys,and bravo to Paul and the rest of you for sharing my vision of what our sport should look like.Lets hope this catches on.

  13. David Mont, July 11, 2013 at 10:41 a.m.

    The premise of the article and many of the comments here is that Latino players are better because they're more skillful (in a very narrow definition of the word) and are more comfortable with the ball (again, in a very narrow definition of the term). I am not at all sure about that. There was no "magnificent performance" on March 3rd -- there were just two very mediocre teams, which has been proven by the U20 world championship. Actually, the US performance and result in Turkey were worse than in years past. The team lacked tactical awareness, spirit, determination, desire, speed. And I'm not at all sure about skills. Just because a player tries often useless fancy footwork and keeps the ball long past the time he should've passed doesn't mean that he has better skills. It just indicates a certain style of play. According to Mr. Gardner, somehow this "Hispanic" style is what will take the US to new levels. Why will it? Look at Mexico -- a large soccer-crazy nation where every kid plays and dreams soccer. Yet Mexico has never even accomplished in world cups what the US has: a place in a semifinal (albeit many years ago) or a quarterfinal in a non-home world cup -- something the US accomplished quite recently. Nor has Mexico ever produced any truly world class players, with one possible exception of Hugo Sanchez. (And I'm not even going to mention any Central American nations.) So, if Mexico hasn't had much success with its infrastructure and love for the game (and please, don't bring up Olympic and junior-level results), why would that style work wonders for the US?

  14. Futbol Genio, July 11, 2013 at 10:52 a.m.

    Comfort on the ball is very important, as is taking the space in front of you, without looking back for the easier, safe pass. Sometimes soccer is all about doing the little things well, rather than marveling the crowd with one touch passes to no one.

    Fear of failure has to motivate some to play the more aggressive game of letting the ball do the work, and attacking the seams of the defense, while the MFs and Fs disect the gaps in front of the defense. And when this is done, having the skill set to fire the ball on goal and with power.

    Spain's Deulofeu runs hard and creates things because his coaches encouraged him to move forward quickly and go to the goal. Same for Messi.

    I wish the same for every American player that wants to progress...coaches that understand talent and positive reinforcement, and don't just fancy killing the game and the ball through most of the game.

  15. Karl Schreiber, July 11, 2013 at 11:19 a.m.

    ¡Increíble! Finalmente, ustedes han encontrado un nuevo tema con la ayuda de Paul Gardner. You moved on from Klinsmann-bashing and college-coach wisdom to referee-bashing and now you are trying to play the Hispanic card, not just any race card. Shameful! And incredible for someone who has tried hard to be color-blind and gender-blind since he came off the boat. – Rich Blast’s comment is the only one that makes any sense on this topic IMHO. But heck, it’s a free country. Anybody is entitled to her/his opinion. I just feel you should use the forum provided by Soccer America with more intelligence and tolerance.

  16. David Parsons, July 11, 2013 at 11:31 a.m.

    Fully agree with the article. Most posters here are missing the fact he is requesting a truly American style that takes the best of our melting pot of our human beings to create a special mixture. I see it as a more mature version of the athletic/unpredictable African soccer we see currently. Many also mention a form of reverse racism, which is false. You must acknowledge that the Latin (Brazilians are not Hispanic) style is ball control and skill oriented, in contrast to the Northern European kick and run. The Brazilians I've played with get truly mad at you when you unthinkingly blast the ball up field.

    I'm a youth coach and former semi-pro. I want skillful players. I attempt to create that when it isn't there. That is coaching. The big clubs here in San Diego keep bringing in British coaches with their credentials, recruit the best players, get given all of the resources, and win. They don't develop anyone, and actively encourage physical play. My small skillful players get run over at this age. One day, when their game speed and maturity can overcome the physical play, they will be successful, but only with opportunities and luck.

    Also, parents and coaches sacrifice time and money. Imagine if these skillful boys were seen for their potential, and given resources to developed accordingly. That is why we fail at youth development. We won't ever have a Messi or Neymar with our current setup. Go Tab!

  17. Millwall America, July 11, 2013 at 11:41 a.m.

    Have to agree with David Mozeshtam on this one. What exactly is special about the US finishing runner-up in the Concacaf U-20? We've been doing that with great frequency since 1980. And I'm not sure what's so great about failing to get out of the group stages of the U-20 World Cup, especially since we were consistently making the round of 16 and even the quarter-finals in the late 90's and the 00's. PG says, "This was not a performance based on strength or stamina or speed or tactics..." And that's a shame, because maybe if we'd had any of those things we might have won something instead of just racking up style points (which last time I checked don't actually win you anything under the Laws of the Game). At any rate, kudos to Tab Ramos for delivering an entirely average and historically typical result for the US U-20's in 2013...may we continue to benefit from Tab's vision in the future now that US soccer has "come of age".

  18. Robert Robertson, July 11, 2013 at 12:16 p.m.

    Great article. Good job Tab.

  19. Nick Megaloudis, July 11, 2013 at 1:43 p.m.

    I agree with what Mr. Blast wrote, this is not about Hispanic, German, whoever. This is about American players living, learning and devoloping here in this country with every type of nationality coaching.

    Rich Blast
    "Forget race, we are all Americans. Just play and develop the best, even if they are purple".

  20. beautiful game, July 11, 2013 at 2:46 p.m.

    Ramos' squad showed lots of promise and their early exit at the U-20 stage should not be viewed as a failure.

  21. David Sirias, July 11, 2013 at 2:57 p.m.

    "Brazilians are not Hispanic "! What ....Look up Hispaniola and the Iberian Peninsula
    Unless 100 indigenous or trace ancestry to Africa , many Brazilians are Hispanic. Like a ginormous percentage That's like saying Americans or Cubans are not Hispanic. Geez. Some are some are not ....

  22. jim smith, July 11, 2013 at 3:26 p.m.

    As long as the US continues with the current plan of player development we will be average at best! I don't care what sport it is but size, speed, and athleticism are more important than heritage!!! Once on a US dev squad you are a lifer. I watched U19 regional games and saw better players than on some US squads. The USDA are a joke! They don't reach the best players. Currently if your name doesn't end in a vowel, an "s", or a "z" you will never be identified. Sorry but it's the plain truth. Give me the best athletes! We place way too much emphasis on technical aility!I cannot anything positive in 3-1 defeat to Mexico in a U-20 game!!

  23. Millwall America, July 11, 2013 at 3:29 p.m.

    Agreed that the early exit at the U-20 WC should not be viewed as a failure...but it's hardly US soccer's coming of age either. From a historical perspective, it's an entirely average result for the US U-20 team, if a bit worse than what the team was achieving a decade ago.

  24. Glenn Korenko, July 11, 2013 at 3:33 p.m.

    Gardener says it best as the US team looked the best it has ever been, going back 40 years or more. I was so inspired with the team skill and passing even against Spain,France and Ghana.Remember everyone in coaching says to look at technical skill first and not athletic abilities as the number one consideration for soccer players in the USA. Tab showed we have some to choose from which were rarely seen in the past.

  25. Bill Anderson, July 11, 2013 at 9:53 p.m.

    I love skillful possession soccer. I love my son. My son loves skillful possession soccer. My son is NOT Hispanic. I guess he is just out of luck according to many of you who claim it is only Hispanics that understand. The thing I don't get about racism is that so many can't see anything except skin color.

  26. Jason Homowitz, July 11, 2013 at 10:07 p.m.

    Great article Paul. I couldn't agree with you more. Our whole American philosophy on soccer must be geared towards as Tab puts it "players not afraid of the ball". Building that foot skills confidence in kids at a very young age and allowing them to be creative with the ball and experiment is what is going to turn things around for our National teams as Tab is demonstrating. We need our rec, travel and academy teams to start developing this foot work early in a players development and focus more on the process vs. the result.

  27. R2 Dad, July 12, 2013 at 9:59 a.m.

    Glad to see the recognition of hispanics as an important element of our NT makeup, and look forward to seeing more in the future. In trying to understand why past club coaches (and our NT coaches have all been club coaches at some point) have been reluctant to incorporate hispanic kids, I'd have to mention economics as a primary reason, although there has to have been racism at some level. We still see this scenario regularly: primarily white/asian/hapa teams with families paying full boat fees, trying to include hispanic kids/families who don't have the resources to pay those fees. Some subsidization results, uneven playing time, varying commitment/ability to make all practices, as well as the inability of the coach (is it really his/her job?) to integrate the families off the pitch with hispanics on one side of the field and white/asian/hapa on the other. I don't mean to hijack PGs excellent article and points, but as a parent would like to see additional discussion about this situation and possible ways to work around it given the limitations of the current club model.

  28. jeff tackett, July 12, 2013 at 11:23 a.m.

    Although I am happy to have someone find positive out of a negative tournament...I would hasitate to place Tab on the pedal stool of our saviour for soccer as with whatever Reyna did as his short stint here. Neither with any high level of coaching background...As we saw tactically with this team...US Soccer has scouts that bring in these players, they have a residency progeams that is to groom these players...Ramos has been in that position for a year? With minimal contact as to minimal contact...sure he brings in the final products but to say its going the right path because he is letting hispanic player in is a bit naive. ..Latin players have always been a staple of our younger programs so this is nothing new..what is new is the senior team actually have kept them in the mix.
    Lets not forget the most talent u20 side and might I add very enjoyable to watch was Donavan and Beadsley when then went to the third place team...And the golden boot went to american...Tactically they had a better plan and a better coach that was played out by very skilled players....This team is even more skilled but finished 22nd...this is a tactical problem that a more seasoned coach would of handled...That skillwith a true structure with "people not afraid on the ball" would of seen us do better...Good luck to us the talent pool is getting better

  29. Jeremy Klein, July 12, 2013 at 2:27 p.m.

    To be honest, the article was borderline racist which looked at an extremely poor tactical performance with rose colored glasses. For those historians, the 1989 U-20 team with Keller, Snow, Dayak, Henderson, Brose et al finished 4th after losing to Nigeria in extra time in the semifinals. That team had loads of skill (I saw Brose, who had German parents, up close and personal and would have put him up against anyone from this year's team), yet the days when an American player was taken seriously in Europe was far off, so most got stale playing college soccer over the subsequent three years. The 2007 team with Jozy, Freddy, Bradley, Rogers was also outstanding. Neither of these squads had an over reliance on Latino players. Given the amount of youth soccer we have in this country, we should expect to advance out of group play in every tournament we enter up to U-20 and maybe threaten to win, especially at the U17 level. I am sure Tab, Thomas Rongen, Richie Williams, and Wilmer Cabrera believed they picked the best players available, yet the last two cycles for the U-17's and U-20's have delivered poor results, so there is something fundamentally wrong with how we are developing talent whether their ethnicity is Latino, German, Asian, 5th generation American or whatever. Paul Garner needs to recognize this as opposed to trying to paint over the problem with broad strokes of racial stereotypes.

  30. Rick Figueiredo, July 12, 2013 at 3:43 p.m.

    First and foremost let's stop calling players Latin or Hispanic or Asian or African American. That is insulting. They are on the US National team so they are AMERICANS! I am from Brasil and I do not like being grouped as Latin or Hispanic or an other profile people like to create. Back to the subject at hand. Yes Ramos did a good job. Ramos was a good player. Not great. But good. He seems to have connected well with his staff and roster. The more power to him.

    Enough said.

  31. R2 Dad, July 12, 2013 at 9:35 p.m.

    Sadly, Rick, that America has sailed--at least 30 years ago. We are in the America that self-segregates. This has encouraged immigrants to celebrate their culture and language, but there are disadvantages as well. Hispanic coaches have almost exclusively Hispanic players. Who did that? Hispanic parents. Those Utah futsal teams that kick butt at the regionals? All Brazilians.

  32. Bill Morrison, July 13, 2013 at 5:25 a.m.

    Here's the problem as I see it. I don't care if your heritage is Hispanic, German, African, Asian or Martian. Every one of those players on the Spanish and French U20 teams have been professionals since they were teenagers. What kind of set-up were our players in when they were 16-17??? ODP, Development Academy, or God forbid, High School or College? Our players are too "comfortable", they are not in a cut-throat, competitave environment that challenges them every day and week to justify their place in a side. I can only imagine the competitive environment at a club like Real Madrid or Barcelona that produces players like the Spanish U20s. Until our players are in a full-time professional environment like their counterparts every where else in the world, we will never develop world-class players or even boat-loads of players that are, "not afraid of the ball." Yes, we will always have exceptions, Donovans, Dempseys, or Bradleys - but until our players are are actual professionals as teenagers, the US will probably only muddle along at the International level regardless of the heritage of our players.

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