“Obviously the Guatemala game changed our plan a little bit for the Panama game, which put us behind the 8-ball for the rest of the tournament,” Ramos said in quotes released by USSoccer.com. “I’m really happy for the boys because it was really difficult in the last four games to have to eliminate an opponent, and they did it.”
The Americans beat Aruba (8-0), host Jamaica (2-0) and Trinidad & Tobago (1-0) to earn the top seed in the playoff regrouping and the do-or-die game against El Salvador.
Paul Kennedy: Three takeaways from USA-El Salvador
“We pushed them hard and they did a good job,” Ramos said. “Today’s game [against El Salvador], we knew it was going to be very difficult. I thought we were well prepared because we’ve played in particular the last two games were very difficult for us as well. The boys did a good job. Defensively we’re playing really well, very organized.
“And when you limit other teams to very few opportunities to score, when you do that and you have the sort of firepower that we have up front, we always feel that at some point we’re going to get the game going in our direction. And today that’s just the way it went.”
The USA took a 37th-minute lead with a Ben Spencer header and were spared a nail-biting finish when goal keeper Zack Steffen saved a Jose Villavicencio's penalty kick early in the second half before Paul Arriola made it 2-0 in the 68th minute.
“Zack made a great save at the right time for us, although I felt El Salvador really was not dangerous throughout the game,” said Ramos. “They did have some possession on our side of the field, which is not really what we wanted. But these are difficult games.
“In general, the defense played very well. We have Cameron [Carter-Vickers] and Matt [Miazga, who flew to Qatar after the tournament to join German club RB Leipzig for training] in the middle and I think they’re a great pair of center backs. They play well together. And with Zack in goal -- we’re very fortunate in that way. The U.S., we have very good goalkeepers and Zack is definitely one of the next ones to come up. And so between the two center backs and the goalkeeper I think they did a amazing job throughout the whole tournament.”
Ramos was asked to compare his current team to the U-20s he guided to the 2013 World Cup:
“Well, this team is better,” Ramos said. “This team is just as technical as the last group, but they’re more dynamic and we have speed on this team. And also anxious going in to the World Cup, in getting guys like possibly Rubio Rubin back, and other guys that may come in to the fold at that point that may get released and that will help us up front as well.”
For the third straight game, second-half subs Junior Flores and Arriola helped spark the attack.
“We feel fortunate with this particular group because I’ve been speaking about the depth of this group in general,” Ramos said. “I felt as if I really had 14 starters, and the other guys also play well. I felt like there were 14 guys who really could have started tonight’s game, and last game and the game before. And when I brought them off the bench, to have that type of attitude to come in and be willing to change the game, they did an amazing job. At the end of the day, they may be the guys that made the difference for us.”
On the team rebounding from the poor start, Ramos said:
“It’s definitely not easy. I think you need good leadership in the group,” Ramos said. “I thought we had that. I thought we had humble players who were willing to work hard. It’s not easy because the expectations are so high for us. We came here with no other desire than to be champions of Concacaf, and after two games that dream was already over.
“It was hard to regroup, but we regrouped and we got to this game. And as everybody knows, it’s always difficult to qualify to the World Cup. So for them to have won four straight games and to go to another World Cup, I think it’s just really an amazing job, considering where we were after two games.”
Concacaf Under-20 Awards:
Jan. 24 in Montego Bay
USA 2 El Salvador 0. Goals: Spencer 37, Arriola 68.
USA -- Steffen; Moore, Miazga, Carter-Vickers, Requejo; Thompson, Hyndman (Gooch 70), Canouse, Gall (J.Flores 61); Jamieson, Spencer (Arriola 46).
El Salvador -- Canas; A.Flores, Moreno, Tamacas, Canales; Barahona, C.Flores (Hernandez 46), Orellana, Guardado (Merino 65); Villavicencio (Amaya 85), Perez.