The USA won its group at the 2017 U-20 World Cup and advanced to the quarterfinals, where Coach Tab Ramos’ team fell, 2-1, in overtime to the surprise team of the tournament, Venezuela, which won its first four games with shutouts and faces England in the final on Sunday.
The tournament in South Korea marked Ramos’ third U-20 World Cup at the helm and the USA is one of only two teams, along with Portugal, to reach the quarterfinals in 2015 and 2017.
We spoke with Ramos, who also serves as U.S. Soccer Youth Technical Director, about his team’s performance in South Korea, the U.S. Soccer Development Academy’s impact, and his coaching future.
SOCCER AMERICA: Now that you’ve some time to digest the run in South Korea, how do you assess the USA’s performance, pros and cons?
TAB RAMOS: Very happy with the team, their effort, the way we played and the progress that we made overall.
We built a team with confident players who were there to win the tournament. We fell short but could have won it.
I don't think that there were any negatives, but if I had to name something I'd say that Gedion Zelalem's injury was a big blow to the team as was Marlon Fossey’s injury the day before we arrived in Korea. In the end, these are opportunities for other players we selected, so that is a plus, and that's why they are there.
USA at 2017 U-20 World Cup:
USA 3 Ecuador 3
USA 1 Senegal 0
USA 1 Saudi Arabia 1
USA 6 New Zealand 0
USA 1 Venezuela 2
SA: How big an impact do you think it made that Venezuela had two extra days of rest?
TAB RAMOS: It helped them. Had it been three days for us and five for them, I don't think it would have affected us as much. Because it was two and four, just two days rest is difficult at this level where every play is maximum effort. We needed one more day regardless of how many they rested.
Back row (L-R): Erik Palmer-Brown, Derrick Jones, Josh Sargent, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Justen Glad. Front row: Eryk Williamson, Brooks Lennon, Luca de la Torre, Tyler Adams, Danny Acosta.
SA: How confident are you that players from this U.S. U-20 team will end up on the senior national team?
TAB RAMOS: Tons of potential, for sure, but you never know 100 percent. When you combine the last two U-20 cycles, it makes me feel extremely bullish about the future of our senior national team.
U.S. 2013 & 2015 U-20 World Cup Alums:
Player (senior national team caps)
DeAndre Yedlin (45)
Kellyn Acosta (7)
Paul Arriola (4)
Rubio Rubin (4)
Luis Gil (2)
Emerson Hyndman (2)
Matt Miazga (2)
Wil Trapp (2)
Caleb Stanko (1)
(Note: Although not yet capped, Eric Miller, Mikey Lopez, Cody Cropper, Jose Villarreal, Zack Steffen, Tommy Thompson and Marco Delgado have started MLS games this season. Christian Pulisic, who was eligible for the 2017 U-20 World Cup but was already on senior national team duty, has 15 caps.)
We are one of only two countries [along with Portugal] in the world to have made it to the quarterfinals the last two U-20 World Cups. The other two are not France, Argentina, Germany, Ghana, Brazil, England, Nigeria, Spain, Uruguay, Italy, Colombia, etc. They were missing players at the U-20 World Cups, but so were we.
SA: What was
your impression of the overall quality of the tournament? Any revelations?
TAB RAMOS: It was an amazing tournament. Very nice to see England focused on their U-20s and Italy as well. They are not countries who normally do well. I enjoyed watching South Korea and thought Portugal and Uruguay were very good.
But the revelation is easy -- this Venezuela team was truly special. They had very good players in every position and considering the difficult situation that their country is in right now, how could anyone not root for them?
SA: The Development Academy is wrapping up its 10th season. How satisfied are with how it may have improved the national team program? Are we getting better players than before?
TAB RAMOS: All we have to do is look back at what soccer looked like without the DA. It was a free-for-all of soccer trophies, points and awards. The DA put the focus on training and the results are starting to be seen. Our players are better prepared.
MLS clubs have invested in youth development and other clubs outside of MLS have made a huge effort to do things the right way and follow along. I'm very thankful of MLS owners and youth club boards who are seeing the big picture.
SA: As U.S. Youth Technical Director, anything you’d like to address regarding the state of the U.S. youth game?
TAB RAMOS: I have been saying for a couple of years that we have good players in this country. Of course, we have to continue to get better but it's not the gloom and doom that some people who don't understand youth development have been vocal about. Those same people who thought just four months ago that we were not developing any players now criticize us for not making it to the final of the U-20 World Cup. That is crazy! How quickly things change!
SA: Now that you’ve taken the U-20s to three straight World Cups, what do you imagine might be next for you as a coach?
TAB RAMOS: What happens with me is not important. I will get a little time to think about that. What is important is that our program has changed for the better over the last four or five years. I am proud of the work that has been done, proud of wearing the crest every day and will always feel that U.S. Soccer is my home.
Great interview. Venezuela was very impressive in their skills and positioning. Youth teams are a shaky basis to compare national programs because you are seeing only a brief snapshot of some future senior players. Reflection is good, but Tab should not be bothered by critics. The main concern I have with the DA is the inefficiencies of both time and expense in maintaining a nation-wide league competition for amateur youth players. A second concern is the exclusiveness of the program where selection decisions at the 10-year-old level for practical purposes determine who has future access to training. No program will ever be perfect, but as Tab said, "we have to continue to get better." The USA is fortunate to have Tab (and other former players) in the program. The progress the USA has made over the last 30 years is astounding.
Prior to 1990 the USA went 50 years without an appearance at the finals. In 1990 our team was essentially a team of young amateurs. Gradually we have included more professionals in our pool. In 1996 our professional soccer league started. The skill and tactical ability of the average college player has consistently increased over the years. While the movement skills and fitness of the average person in the US has decreased over the years and people participate in physical activity less, that is generally true in other countries too. Today's youth coaches need to be able to coach general movement skills and mental skills to an extent not present 30 years ago. On the other hand, coaching information and training are more readily available as well as technical assistance from clubs. Finally I have seen some very impressive groups of U-Little players. I am not talking about kids attempting to play adult possession-style soccer. I am talking about kids displaying good skills and positioning. I think the difference between us is that I am 65 years old and remember what soccer was like in the 1950s.
Sorry, 40 years without an appearance, not 50.
J Kumar, I would like to see some figures to back up what you are claiming about foreign players. My recall is that in 1970 soccer players at my university were virtually entirely foreign. Of course that was intramural. There wasn't a college soccer team at my university until about 25 years later. These Sunday Pub League players were better than US college players. That recall is consistent with my playing experience. (Over the years I have played with and against hundreds of former college players from the 60s thru the 2000s.)
Kumar - Foreigners in MLS have not harmed youth development. We have more teenage prospects than ever before. So much so that we were forced to bring a B team to this U20 World Cup with five of our top players not able to play. Meanwhile, Mexico, Ecuador, and Venezuela all brought A squads.
Thank you Bob for providing Kumar with a much needed history lesson. Kumar's 60% of MLS minutes played by foreigners number seems high. Any proof of it or did you just make it up like you usually do?
No, I asked for the % of minutes. The stat you gave was based solely on opening game starters this season. Please try again. You may also note that the article you found shows that more Americans are playing in MLS even if the % is lower because there are more teams.
Kumar - Once again, foreigners in MLS have obviously not hurt our player development. We have more teenage prospects than Mexico does. They brought their A team to the U20 World Cup while most of our best players were held back. Unless you are going to tell us again that a 21 year old is eligible for the U20 World Cup. ... Where is that research again? ...
Somehow, less opportunities has turned into more actual production. How could that be? It's much more nuanced than the simple formula you state.
% of minutes is meaningless, especially when you are comparing it to past MLS seasons when there were fewer teams. The raw number of Americans playing in MLS is higher than 5 or 10 years ago and that's what matters.
Kumar - First, our league is only 20 years old. Second, we only starting focusing on developing our own players 10 years ago. Third, we have already surpassed the vaunted Mexicans in this regard in an impressively short period of time. Fourth, this is obviously not tied to the number of foreigners in the league because if it were, we would not see record numbers of young professionals breaking in to first teams while the numbers of foreigners are also increasing. Fifthly, you are not considering the development of the lower divisions, which are adding hundreds more opportunities for young American players. Conclusion: Regardless of the increase in the number of foreigners in MLS and the brief period of time that it has been a priority, we are producing players at a rate much greater than ever before.
Both statements are true - we havee more homegrowns than ever and MLS is young compared to other peer leagues around the world.
Kumar - When I say that MLS is too young, I am saying that the league is not ready to depend on young Americans as the backbone of its player pool. The league is producing a record number of prospects, but we are another couple of generations of homegrown players away from having a league where a third to half of the players are homegrown. We saw the first generation of homegrowns come through with guys like Fagundez, Trapp, Hamid, Ulloa, etc., and now I would say we are in the midst of the second generation, which is producing significantly more prospects. When the first generation is at the tail end of their careers (another 10 years), we can have a league that relies on a couple hundred homegrown players for its foundation. Hopefully at that point, the foreign players will only be truly first class players instead of a few of those types with mostly second tier and even some third tier foreign players that we have currently. That's when we'll be competing with the best leagues in the world (having blown past Mexico already by then).
Reading comprehension, J - I said that in 10 years we will have blown past them. We have currently surpassed them in terms of the number of teenage prospects. Hopefully that is the beginning of a trend and not just a blip.
Don, he is just trolling.
Yeah, I was tired of waiting for you to get back to us, so I did some research on my own. Turns out Mexico sent damn near an A squad to the U20 World Cup. Who are the Mexican teens in Europe? Maybe I missed something.
I did. Very few teenagers are on first team roster in Liga MX and fewer are playing. Thanks for confirming the fact we have much better teenage prospoects than Mexico. And you're welcome.
lol. That is the information that YOU said that YOU were going to provide (it's obvious that you didn't provide the details because the facts completely destroyed your argument -- kind of like all of the other times that you have done the same thing). Now, after I did enough research to find out that Mexico did, in fact, send a A team to the U20, you are going to ask ME to provide specifics. Being such a fan of US Soccer, I would think that you would be proud to know that it was an Mexico A team that our U20 B squad handled easily in the CONCACAF tournament. However, you are curiously dismissive of this. We have better teenage prospects than Mexico does by a mile, and you can't stand it. You're welcome!
Great job Tab Ramos, if Pulisic would have been allowed to play with this team I am sure we would have been the new champions. I hope the higher ups make Tab Ramos the coach of the senior team after they realize that the Bruce Arena experiment is not the answer.
Kumar - Which U20 teams were missing key players? I think this is the first time we've had players (surely this many) that have already surpassed this level. Can you name other American players that were withheld from the U20 World Cup in the past as you say? You have shown yourself to be completely fraudulent in the past -- even after you were the one who promised to come back with the info many time -- so I'm certainly not holding my breath this time. Until then, I will assume that your comment is total bs.
Vicinus Junior is 16 - he wouldn't have even been in the U20 squad if Brazil had qualified. Pulisic is one of the best 18 year old players in the world. I supposed you're going to deny that now?
More childish name calling. Please grow up and raise the level of discourse. Thank you. Also you don't think Pulisic would cost 45 million euros if he was transferred today?
You are only impressed with Vinicius Jr. because he was sold for a huge amount of money. When you had the chance to actually see him play, you did not think he was special. Yet you pretend to be the authority on this stuff. You're a fraud.
Money really has nothing to do with it. There have been plenty of high priced players who didn't pan out. Meanwhile, Pulisic has already proven himself capable of playing at the highest level in Europe. If Sargent were Brazilian, he'd be worth ten of millions of dollars too. Watch as the price of the American player grows significantly over the next few years.....
No argument there
Pulisic isn't worth half of a guy who's played five first team games in his life?
I recall seeing rumors about Pulisic earning transfer fees of more than half of that last summer and that was before he had an excellent season at Dortmund. I think he would go for 45 million Euros. However, I think he'll stay at Dortmund at least for next season so we may never know.
Agree with Bob, DA has brought much needed progress to youth soccer but cost and travel issues still unresolved since inception 10 years now. Also for majority of players ages 18-22 system in disarray, compared to Europe.
Marc, we also had 4 Americans playing in Europe that coaches refused to release for World Cup play. So, we weren't just missing injured players and Pulisic...as Ramos noted. Even so, we had more depth than I can remember having before. Bob, your comments are spot on. I was musing last night on the Golden State Warriors. They've been in the NBA cellar for 30 some years. I lived in the Bay Area for about 20 years, so I was aware of their perennial problems even though I don't follow professional basketball. And now they've become a respectable team that's in the playoffs! And leading! Of course, American soccer will get there, too. It just takes time and determination. I remember when our senior men's team was comprised of mostly college players. Now college players are in the minority even on our U-20 team. If I read the roster correctly, the 3 goalkeepers are collegians, but there are only 2 field players currently in college. But there are still areas of the US where "smash mouth" football is the only "real" sport for men...soccer is for girls. I know that's the attitude in most of SEC country. As a result, there are very few soccer academies in those states. As I've stated before, my daughter's u-14 traveling team was the ONLY one in the state of Arkansas when we moved there in the 90s. We played boys' teams the first couple years and then drove to Tulsa, Oklahoma every weekend to play in a girls' competitive league. Although I moved away years ago, The problem still persists that about the only way for boys there to continue play after high school is to play in college. There are no DAs affiliated with their competitive leagues. MLS? Ha! And I'm sure there are other areas of the country where talented and skilled players have no other options. How do we reach them?
Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee have solid soccer hotbeds. You make good points, but the blind spots in our soccer landscape are getting smaller by the year.
It is better to not say anything and let others think you a fool, then say something and confirm it.
Only an invalid, vapid, bitter hater like you could scoff at the immense progress US Soccer has made over the past ten years.
Kumar - Ironically, YOU are the one making excuses as you talk about the unfairness of the "system." Our system is not running at it's most efficient, but it's about 1000x more efficient than it was ten years ago. I don't have any issue with you pointing out some of the current inefficiencies because they are there, but you clearly have little perspective on how this thing has progressed over the last 5-10-20-30 years.
So now we have 22 MLS DAs that are free whereas ten years ago we had zero but that isn't progress? LOL! No one has ever said our system is perfect but it's a thousand times better than even five or ten years ago.
Kumar - Tell me the reasoning behind the logic that claims that an increase by many times over of free spots for players in the best developmental environment that we have to offer is "pushing rich kids through." You abandon debates after promising to provide information and make arguments based on illogical reasoning such as this, and then you call other people childish names. Something tells me, this J Kumar name isn't going to last much longer, and then you are going to come back with another name claiming that SA deleted you because you are talking bad about USSF or MLS. Grow up...
MLS academies = free spots. If you were writing this post, you would probably say something about me being retarded, or dumb, or being a Trump supporter, or kissing someone's ass, or some else immature. Those are the the things that you deleted. Plenty of other people on here say critical things just like you. They just do it in a more mature way. No doubt you would end with "Your welcome."
No, I don't catch your drift. Player development in no way resembles a cookie, no matter how much creativity I try to approach that analogy with.
The next step is for DA clubs to field a "first" team with promotion/relegation up to USL/NASL. A void exists in US with no D3 level and summer only D4 (PDL).
USL is starting a D3 in smaller markets in 2019. I am in favor of pro/rel when we have the number of clubs needed to sustain it but there is a risk of fetishizing it too. Or just complaining for the sake of it like Kumar.
Stephen, there was a column just the other day on a new D3 league starting up that would work with USL/NASL with promotion/ relegation. I'm pretty sure it was posted on Soccer America.
Quite the conspiracy theorist you are, J.
USSF has done NASL a lot of favors. NASL returned that with lawsuits and and bush league leadership and organization.
Apparently not since I believe the lawsuit was never filed. It was just threatened. I also read that a potential NASL investor backed out because he did not want to pay a share of the legal fees should such a lawsuit be filed.
The NASL lawsuit, much like everything else they were doing at that time, was an act of desperation. It had no ground to stand on and was totally symbolic of the shambles that the organization was in.
Actually that's exactly what it means. If they had strong legal grounds to sue and recover money from the USSF they would have done so. Threatening a lawsuit was just grandstanding. NASL will likely be defunct after this season.
Quality of players is definitely increasing as noted by other commenters here. Would like to see the U.S. federation spend some of that $100 million sitting in the development fund on more talent identification scouts and DA scholarships.
What other areas would you like to see us spend some of this $100 million?
I think the obvious answer is coach training at the youth level. Getting Highschool players to coach U6s (to seed the pool for future coaches), ex-pros to coach U8s (to get the best minds working with promising kids). Current coaches may be a lost cause--I'm watching England-Scotland right now and Gordon S. is too old-school to turn a sow's ear into a silk purse.
Thanks for the link. That sounded like a future replacement for another USL. A bottom-up approach like in Europe is needed. So players can choose high level full time club while attending college. The only option now is an MLS academy, which is a very small pool.
Good interview--thanks for providing this, Mike. Is this an excerpt from a longer more thorough article from the print version? I'm only familiar with the digital side...
R2, agreed on the coaching/age group pyramid thoughts you have. Having certified and/or highly experienced coaches at the U10 and below levels would have a tremendous impact. Unfortunately, if kids have not been exposed properly by age 10, it does not bode well.
It is always the next generation that leads the charge. The current are not typically the disruptors needed.
Bravo, Tab Ramos. It's to our benefit that one of our better former MNT players is ow on our coaching staff.
In 2000 the German MNT was embarassed and Germany has created their answer to being an also ran, it's called spending $1 billion a year on a program from the youngest youth players through adults, a comprehensive national training site so everyone is on the same page, youth player fees that include everything but shoes and shin guards of under $5 dollars a player per month that covers everything from coaching to competitions, a program to expand their player pool by identifying and recruiting the best players/athletes from non-soccer playing nations like the United States, a professional academy system with all Bundesliga teams in divisions I and 2, incorporating some of the best training materials developed in Holland, Spain and other nations into their national training program, etc. >> Bottom line is they are committed to the development of all German youth players, when in the United States with 48% female players the girls DA and other programs lag behind. >> Our national teams will benefit from players skippping college to learn to play in Europe. In some respect Jurgen had the right idea, let European clubs develop our best players.
Yes, Germany has some advantages we don't like the fact their league and federation are swimming in money. We cannot rely solely on Europe because our players can't go to Europe until they are 18 (or 16 if they are able to get a EU passport). That's obviously too late.
Germany and France probably have the best youth development systems in the world and we can learn a lot from them.
Quarterback, any comments?
Would all the pro/rel geeks please put a sock in it. While it might make the leagues below MLS (whose investors will never adopt it) a tad more interesting It is the solution to nothing regarding player quality.
I saw some dad was coaching a middle school girls soccer team. He was trying to demonstrate how to kick the ball properly. His technique was somewhat of a NFL kicker. He missed the ball completely and fell on his tail bone....was funny and at same time painful to watch.
IIRC leaving Sargent and players on yellow card accumulation in when the US was already up 4-0 on NZ was bad. Tab wasn't looking forward there.
Kumar guaranteed that the winner of Uruguay-Venezuela would win the U20 final. Another promise broken!
England won the game which you guaranteed would not happen. So you were wrong again.
So exactly what you said would happen didn't happen but that still proves your point?
Another racist comment. This is why you have been banned under previous names. All of the England U20 players were born in England except one player who was born in Canada. But in your narrow and biased mind, black people are all from Nigeria.
Yes you racist, that's why you have been banned in the past under previous names like "All American" and others. I believe it was you who said that Freddy Adu would have been better than Pulisic except all of the coaches he played for were racists. In any event, if someone is born and raised in England, they are not "produced" in Africa. They are English. Saying otherwise is highly offensive. Also I would note that England won the world cup in 1966 and France won the Euros in 1984 so it's not accurate to say they hadn't won anything before mass immigration.
Another good performance by a Ramos U20 team, without his best three players. Argumentative clowns spoil this forum. No one should be allowed to post more than once (comment or reply) to a given article.
Please learn grammar - you really need a lesson on "your" v. "you're". It's embarrassing.
FPGN: u shud read up on cel fones--its a thing.
In my opinion, these great players would have been great regardless of DA. Identification of some players is easier with DA, but I know many many examples of players that thrived on non-DA teams, and then were forced to play DA by US Soccer etc. Even one of the u20 stars from Georgia, only started DA this season, surely you can't call him a product of DA.
DA is great if thats all we had, but the youth pyramid is ugly, disgusting and dang right ridiculous with various levels of non-promotion leagues now.
The current youth system needs a major overhaul, and with 2 year age bands at the 2 older age groups, quality kids getting left out. And the younger ages is all size. Zero respect for soccer IQ, its all how big are you right now...
A lot of DA is about winning -- coaches want to move up the latter, the way to do that is have a winning team and make a run at the national showcases.
The u12s to u14s aren't playing any meaningful games at all. No win and advance, basically play 24 scrimmages during the year, with sometimes 3 weeks off between games. Substitution restrictions need to go away at these age groups. If not at least allow re-entry and don't count 2nd keepers against the roster cap. Allow more flexibility with DPS and the keeper position, then clubs could have one main keeper and and have more flexibility with a 2nd keeper.
Keepers are not playing enough games in the current DA system
Ga makes some very essential points on soccer.Let's not think about soccer as a foreign or American sport. It's a Universal sport and it doesn't matter how tall you are, what the color of your skin is, what language you speak; just a ball, space and players. The simple fact is, Other European countries are better because it's in their blood. Just like we dominate the world in football, other countries dominate it in soccer. Think about some of the greatest soccer players to ever play the game. Pele, Maradona, Beckenbaurer, Ramario these players back then didn't have shoes on there feet when they hit the street at a young age and probably not a TV to watch. Were very spoiled in America. The desire when we watch these Brazilian players play is incredible and they don't have to think about it. There skill comes natural as they hit there teen years. I can tell you they didn't pay thousands of dollars learning it either. The DA program on the boys side is bringing a fresh look at how soccer is suppose to be played. The youth programs are going to start to tapper more and more bec the talent levels beginning to drop. The more dedicated players who can make the Academy programs are going. I believe it's a sensational thing soccer for youth players. Believe me though, were not catching up anytime soon. The academies are starting to bring them in a little earlier now, u7 and u8, starting the programs to get them geared in the right direction. The youth academies of the past all focus on dribbling and ball control and when the kids get off the computer watching messi they think they can go 0-60 down the field. SPACE is the key and what you do without the ball will define how you perform on the field. The youth programs underestimate the smarts of our kids. Teaching space and movement is critical, but there's ways to implement that in practices without losing there attention. Skill easy to achieve. Everyone thinks Cristiano dances around and takes dives at times. Find some of the footage what he does off the ball. He make some of the most dynamic runs in soccer without the ball. This is why he's so success on the field.He knows how to maximize the space given him.
The DA is definitely a huge plus. There is going to be a huge separation in talent from league to league now. The once Strong divisional leagues are going to begin to diminish because of US Club Soccer. The disparity is easily seen at some of the big tournaments now. It's a moment to think when the true academy program put there hearts and money into the programs because the kids pay 0, Yet other big clubs who, charge 3k a year to play for the other programs can't give a little back to support their top program. Although, they scholarship some of the kids, some get left out and missed their opportunity and if it's 1 that's to many because we put this straggle hold on ourselves with the greed of the opportunity.
I think the top level programs are in good shape and in the next 10 years will start to see a shift. It's evident now because, who would think there player would think of coming over here and play.