Tab Ramos, a U.S. Hall of Famer whose playing career included three World Cups, is entering his fourth year as U.S. Soccer's Youth Technical Director. Ramos, who is also aiming to become the first coach to lead the USA to three straight U-20 World Cups, has been at the Technical Director helm during a period in which U.S. Soccer has increased its impact on grassroots youth soccer by implementing rule changes such as the build-out line, standardizing small-sided formats, and switching to calendar-year registration. The USA has also seen an increase in teenagers turning pro.
SOCCER AMERICA: It’s now been three years since you were named U.S. Soccer Youth Technical Director. Have seen the kind progress you were hoping for in U.S. youth programs?
TAB RAMOS: Three years is a very short period of time for youth development, and still we have changed so much. From small-sided games to the addition of two new youth national teams – U-19 and U-16 – and so much in between.
With the help of all youth soccer organizations, we have changed the size of fields, improved rules, and hopefully the approach to the game by the clubs all the way down to 6- and 7-year-olds. Everything is guided by a complete focus on players’ relationship with the ball first.
From a youth national team standpoint, organizationally we are in the best place we have ever been. For the first time we have a youth national team in every age group from U-14 through U-20, and solid integration between them that is continuing to improve.
Our young players are getting more and more opportunities with the senior team, and players like Christian Pulisic, Matt Miazga, Rubio Rubin and DeAndre Yedlin have taken huge steps to play overseas for important clubs. We cannot take credit for individual players development, but our coaches have provided solid international experiences that are really important for them and their futures on our senior national team.
SA: One of U.S. Soccer’s youth rule changes is the “build-out line” -- which requires the opposing team to retreat when the goalkeeper has the ball -- and no punting at U-10. What are the benefits?
TAB RAMOS: We all would like for coaches to teach and for players to learn and not be afraid to have the ball and play. It is important that younger age groups believe that punting or clearing a ball is always just giving the ball away.
The build-out line takes the responsibility of taking chances away from the coach; it is now part of the game. Teams will automatically make an effort to play out of the back. Too many of our youth coaches have had the pressure to win games, and because of that they would do whatever gave them the best chance to do just that. You cannot blame a coach for trying to keep his or her job. This particular change should help players to learn to want the ball and to play out of the back, and it should help coaches to not be “blamed” for trying to play the game properly and losing because of it.
SA: Can you comment on the change to calendar-year registration? There have been a fair amount of complaints during the transition.
TAB RAMOS: Change is always difficult. We are conscious that some players have had to change teams and that is not easy. We care about every single player and would like for soccer to be a good experience for them. We need the support of the adults.
As an example, I have three children and their classmates change every year in school, and although it takes a few weeks to adapt to the new classmates, classroom and teacher, they do adapt. In this case, I believe adults play an important role in being positive about the change of teams. Kids will adapt fast. We are looking at the big picture as a nation.
SA: Do you believe young American players are getting enough opportunities to play in MLS? If not, would you advocate for a minimum number of minutes as the Mexican league once implemented?
TAB RAMOS: Of course you have to be a good player to get a chance, but I do not think that American players are getting enough opportunities. It seems like for the most part MLS teams are investing in foreign players for most all of the important positions. I would be supportive of any change which could potentially help MLS teams be rewarded for giving young American players more minutes. Clubs like FC Dallas and New York Red Bulls already do a very good job moving youngsters up.
SA: How would you rate MLS’s youth development efforts?
TAB RAMOS: MLS is doing a great job in investing in youth development. We have to give Commissioner Garber and MLS owners a lot of credit for believing that the future of our league depends on our youth. MLS clubs are investing heavily and it will pay off, but youth development needs time.
SA: How would you rate the progress of non-MLS clubs in producing players for the higher levels?
TAB RAMOS: Youth clubs are incredible. More and more of them are investing time, effort and so many resources without a reward in the end. Many develop players for six or seven years only to lose them to an MLS or an international club without anything coming back to them. We are working diligently to try to figure out the right way to help them. We think about this every single day. Our youth amateur clubs are our backbone. We need them.