An important victory, the 2-0 win over El Salvador that qualified the USA for the 2015 U-20 World Cup.
We’ve seen within the last decade unprecedented investment in player development by the U.S. Soccer Federation but the most recent U-17s and U-23s failed to qualify for the U-17 World Cup and the Olympics, respectively. The U-20s avoided another embarrassment. And by qualifying we’re able to witness the next chapter of Tab Ramos’ coaching career.
After a quarter century of following the U.S. national team, if you forced me to list its Top 5 most impressive players – with all due respect to many others I enjoyed watching and who made great contributions to American soccer – they would be: Hugo Perez, Tab Ramos, Claudio Reyna, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey.
Donovan just retired, Dempsey is still playing. Perez is a U.S. Soccer Technical Advisor scouting West Coast players. Reyna is the director of soccer at New York City FC, and Ramos is the U-20 coach, and he succeeded Reyna as U.S. Soccer’s Youth Technical Director.
Being a star player isn’t a requisite to being a successful coach and great players don’t necessarily make great coaches. Nevertheless, the rise of American player in the last quarter century -- qualifying for the 1990 World Cup and each one since after a 40-year drought, the arrival of MLS, American players finding success abroad -- certainly raised hopes that the American coaching corps would be boosted from its player ranks.
Ramos, who also played at 1983 U-20 World Cup, is the first former U.S. national team star to coach a U.S. national team that competes for a world championship.
Upon retiring -- after a playing career through American youth soccer, high school ball, college, and pro ball in Spain, Mexico and MLS -- Uruguayan-born Ramos decided to pursue a coaching career. His first step was to start a youth club and, year-by-year, coached every age group from the youngest to the oldest. He won a U-14 U.S. Youth Soccer national title with his New Jersey SC 04.
He became U-20 national team coach in 2012 and has been serving as an assistant to Jurgen Klinsmann. Ramos guided the U-20s to the 2013 U-20 World Cup after the previous team failed to qualify for the 2011 finals.
Ramos’ 2013 U-20s, who qualified with a second-place finish to host Mexico, exited in the first round of the U-20 World Cup in a group that included eventual champion France, which the USA tied, Spain and Ghana.
From that team DeAndre Yedlin went on to play at the 2014 World Cup and recently moved from the Seattle Sounders to Tottenham Hotspur. Yedlin, Wil Trapp, Shane O'Neill and Luis Gil are on Klinsmann’s roster for the USA’s friendly in Chile on Wednesday. (A fifth player in Chile, Dillon Serna, played for the 2013 U-20s in qualifying.)
The current U-20s started slowly in qualifying, tying Guatemala and falling to Panama before four straight shutout wins. They never seemed to play as cohesively as the 2013 squad, but their 14 goals in the tournament were second to champion Mexico and it led the tournament in shots with 92.
FC Dallas’ Kellyn Acosta, who made the 2013 U-20 World Cup team, went out with a knee injury after captaining the team in its first two games. The captain’s band went to Russell Canouse, the Pennsylvanian who plays for Hoffenheim’s reserve team.
Junior Flores, who plays for Borussia Dortmund Regionalliga team, was injured in the second game and was limited to appearances off the bench in the later games, but did spark the offense, as did Paul Arriola as a sub.
The Columbus Crew's Romain Gall the tournament’s co-leading scorer with five goals. He and right back Shaquell Moore made the all-tournament team. (The USA also won the Fair Play Award.)
Forward Bradford Jamieson IV, who benefitted from the LA Galaxy fielding a USL PRO team last season, showed great potential. The most consistent overall performance came from Fulham midfielder Emerson Hyndman, who debuted for the U.S. national team in September.
I stated in a previous column that I thought the team’s style of play veered from the 2013 squad -- that it more resembled the traditional American teams that relied more on brawn than technique. But Ramos says the current team, “is just as technical as the last group, but they’re more dynamic and we have speed on this team.”
Thanks to the Saturday’s win, we’ll have another chance to judge the progress of young U.S. talent and the coach who remains on a path to being the next coach of the full U.S. national team.