Tab Ramos on 2017 Development Academy finals and Mexican-American tug of war

By Mike Woitalla

The U.S. Soccer Development Academy concluded its 10th season last weekend, with the Texans SC Houston winning the U-17/18 title and Atlanta United the U-15/16 crown. U.S. Soccer Youth Technical Director Tab Ramos, also the USA’s U-20 national team coach, liked what he saw.

“I think every year the Development Academy is getting better and better,” Ramos said. “I think this year both finals could have been won by either team and they were both great games down to the last second. It was very exciting and very competitive, which is something we’ve been looking for — trying to make games more and more competitive.”

The Texans beat the Los Angeles Galaxy, 2-1, on goals by Christian Cappis and Omar Vasquez. The Houston club was the only non-MLS team to qualify for the final four at either age group and its victory marked the first by a non-pro club since New Jersey’s PDA claimed the U-17/18 title in 2014. Of the 20 champions in the first decade of DA play, 12 have been MLS clubs, and in the last five years, eight of the 10 winners have been MLS clubs.

The concern is whether amateur clubs can compete with well-funded pro clubs.

“I think it’s a great sign,” Ramos said of the win by the Texans, whose founders in 1983 included Roy Rees, who coached the USA at four U-17 World Cups, from 1987 through 1993. “Although I always try to be as thankful as possible for MLS for investing so much money into development, and they’re developing better and better players, I think it’s great that the non-MLS clubs are also doing a good job. And sometimes it requires winning and results for people to actually acknowledge that, so I’m very happy for the Texans club, but I’m very happy for all non-MLS clubs.”

The Galaxy, coached by Brian Kleiban, in the final started six U-16s and Efrain Alvarez, who turned 15 last month so is still U-14 eligible. Alvarez scored in the final and scored the first goal in the Galaxy’s 3-2 comeback semifinal win over the Seattle Sounders.

“They had a young team,” said Ramos. “A lot of the clubs who happen to have a lot of talent have different opportunities to use their players in such a way to benefit their development. And the Galaxy is one of those clubs that has a lot of talent among their younger players and they played quite a few young players in the final.

“It’s important for players [to play up]. It mirrors international competition. On the youth national team side, it seems in the past we haven’t been as prepared physically to match up against our international opponents, but I think now that some of our better players are getting opportunities to play up in the Development Academy age group, it prepares them a lot more.”

Atlanta United beat two-time defending champion FC Dallas in the U-15/16 final thanks to two goals by Andrew Carleton, who made his MLS debut this year. Atlanta United began MLS play this season but was able to field such a competitive DA team because it adopted Georgia United, which had been created with a merger of Georgia clubs United FA (which merged with Norcross SA), North Atlanta SA, Lanier SA and Southern Soccer Academy.

“The quality is improving,” Ramos said. “The other thing you notice, in this particular showcase, we had players playing who were already professional players. Atlanta United won the U-16 title and Carleton is already a professional player on the first team. That’s just one example.”

FC Dallas’ U-16 Jesus Ferreira has also already debuted in MLS. As many as 10 Galaxy DA players have already seen USL action with LA Galaxy II.

“This is something we weren’t seeing a few years ago,” Ramos said. “And there may be players missing, because they are already first-team MLS players. For example, [the New York Red Bulls’ 18-year-old] Tyler Adams has been a first-team player for a couple of years, so he doesn’t even participate in the Development Academy anymore. At some point you’re missing the top, top players because they’re already playing for the first team — and that’s a job well done by all the MLS teams.”

One of the biggest stars of the weekend, Alvarez, has been playing for Mexico’s national team program. Will he decide to change his mind come back to the U.S. national team?

“I don’t know,” says Ramos. “We’d like to have him play for us.

“But I’m a very big believer that those decisions are not just about environment and they’re not just about national teams. They’re about feeling. ‘Do I feel like I want to represent the U.S.?' And I believe that’s something that’s not mentioned often enough.

“Sometimes the culture you grow up in trumps the country you’re born in. And that’s just a fact. That has nothing to do with teams. I keep hearing out there that we lose all these players to the Mexican national team, and that’s just not the case. How many players have we lost to the Mexican senior national team? Who’s a great Mexican national team player who’s an American who we don’t have?

“But there are always going to be players who will decide to play for Mexico because that’s who they identify with and I think all we can do, and we do this, is let them know everything we have to offer and how much we want them. But in the end, I value the cultural experiences that they get. And if a player identifies playing for Mexico, that’s a feeling. Something that we should respect.”

U-15/16 Semifinals
July 14 in Carson, Calif.
FC Dallas 3 Real Salt Lake AZ 0
Atlanta United 2 Vancouver Whitecaps 0

U-15/16 Third-place/Final
Sunday, July 16 in Carson, Calif.
Real Salt Lake AZ 3 Vancouver Whitecaps 2

U-15/16 Final
Sunday, July 16 in Carson, Calif.
Atlanta United 2 FC Dallas 1

* * * * * * * * * *

U-17/18 Semifinals
July 14 in Carson, Calif.
LA Galaxy 3 Seattle Sounders 2 (OT)
Texans SC Houston 2 Colorado Rapids 2 (PKs: 3-2)

U-17/18 Third-place
Sunday, July 16 in Carson, Calif.
Seattle Sounders 2 Colorado Rapids 1

U-17/18 Final
Sunday, July 16 in Carson, Calif.
Texas SC Houston 2 Los Angeles Galaxy 1

* * * * * * * * * *

All-time Development Academy Champions

2017 Atlanta United
FC Dallas
2015 FC Dallas
2014 LA Galaxy
2013 Real Salt Lake AZ
2012 New York Red Bulls
2011 LA Galaxy
2010 Chicago Fire
2009 Derby County Wolves**
2008 Carmel United*

2017 Texans SC Houston
FC Dallas
2015 Chicago Fire
2014 PDA
2013 New York Red Bulls
2012 FC Dallas
2011 Pateadores
2010 Vardar SC
2009 Carmel United*
2008 Baltimore Bays
* Now Indiana Fire. ** Now Crew Soccer Academy Wolves.

* * * * * * * * * *
5 comments about "Tab Ramos on 2017 Development Academy finals and Mexican-American tug of war".
  1. R2 Dad, July 18, 2017 at 2:24 a.m.

    Thx, Mike, for this report--glad to get more details about our youth development. I have a couple of questions/comments/observations: 1) Atlanta United gets the credit for all the hard work and player development from the previous Georgia club merger, but the jury is out whether they will be able to integrate and build on that work. Curious if Atlanta will have the same elevated status in 5 years, or whether the clubs fails to integrate and build. From the hubris I've seen in the sport, I'm thinking it's the latter and not the former. 2) Tab's comment is a non-starter - "How many players have we lost to the Mexican senior national team? Who’s a great Mexican national team player who’s an American who we don’t have?" The whole dynamic of Mexican soccer vv eligible players north of the border, as far as I can see, is to attract skilled MexAm players to Liga MX--it's free development. El Tri is not the metric, since club owners run El Tri and will always promote their own people vs outsiders. So unless that talent is truly spectacular (vs just very good), Tab should be asking himself how many MexAm players are playing in Liga MX. And the answer is : a few, but it's growing because MLS doesn't play/promote youth across the board especially skilled/smaller/less physically developed hispanic players". 3) Kleiban got to a national final beating U17/18s with some U15/16s? This is outrageously, impossibly unheralded in youth soccer, especially given the crappy kick-and-run even at the highest levels in DA that normally steamroll a technical team like Kleiban's. Heads should be exploding &/or rolling all over the national DA system. How come I haven't heard anything about this, anywhere? The shame should be career-cratering for all those kickball coaches. Or is it just business-as-usual?

  2. Ric Fonseca, July 19, 2017 at 1:10 a.m.

    R2D2: Good comments! We could go on and on until whenever, but the fact of the matter is still rotates around the issue of why aren't we getting or keeping the Mexican American players and then we only cry blood sweat and tears, tearing our hearts and crying the "mea culpas" whenever we see talented young players sign with Liga MX. One of the obvious reasons is that thos young men, and mark my words fairly soon young ladies - are offered a position within the LIGA, while colleges do not even go out of their fricking way to offer opportunities! As to why you haven't heard "anything about this, anywhere"??? Well, I hadn't heard about it either, I live not too far from the Stub Hub (site of these games) - and BTW, I used to teach at Cal St. Dominguez Hills, where stadium is located, and maybe it was because the Stub Hub was "hosting" those pro-games, including LIGA MX cup games, who the hell knows, maybe it was business as usual, but know something else, outside the local newspapers, Long Beach Tel, maybe La Opinion, there wasn't a word mentioned in the LA Times, or even in the local tv stations. Go figure, though I think you're right, that it is 'business as usual...?" (sic)

  3. Raymundo Ramirez, July 19, 2017 at 9:48 p.m.

    Gentlemen, good points from the two of you. Here is my take on the Mexican-American players: if you or anybody can tell me what the US's style of play is, please do so now. Whatever our style of play is, it is not one where these Mexican-American players feel comfortable playing. Efrain Alvarez was born in the US. He should be playing for our national team in a few yeats

  4. Raymundo Ramirez, July 19, 2017 at 9:52 p.m.

    ...years. Right now he is on the youth Mexico team by choice. We should be doing all that we can to make sure he plays here. The only one I see changing our culture and style of play for the national team is Tab Ramos. Put him in charge of the senior national team after Bruce's term and he will have is playing attractive soccer.

  5. R2 Dad, July 20, 2017 at 2:50 a.m.

    I'm giving up on american-educated coaches.--they're only teaching half the game. Watched Moratalaz B16 wipe the floor with all before them, using small technical players. I don't think Spain has all the answers, but their coaches train players to be complete performers on the field. If you're a spanish-speaking coach, go to Spain to learn what you are missing in the US.

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