SOCCER AMERICA: How do you feel about your U-20 team after the first camp of the year, and four months away from the 2019 U-20 World Cup?
TAB RAMOS: We, once again, have a very talented group of players competing for a spot on the team, which is what a coach would prefer every time.
SA: Is the pool deeper than your previous three squads? If so, what do you attribute that to?
TAB RAMOS: I don’t think that the pool is necessarily much deeper although I think it is deeper in attacking positions. The investment on youth development in general has increased as has the competition to get the best players. That makes the market in general more competitive and clubs feel the responsibility to deliver the best environments to players.
SA: There's a lot of excitement about this group of U.S. U-20s. (Four -- Tyler Adams, Josh Sargent, Timothy Weah, Jonathan Amon -- have already been capped by the full national team. Some have seen a fair amount of MLS playing time -- Mark McKenzie, Chris Durkin -- while others have signed with European clubs, including Chris Richards, Alex Mendez and Richie Ledezma. Frankie Amaya was the No. 1 pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft.) Do you think this is a special generation of American players -- or is it too early to judge?
TAB RAMOS: I am highly hopeful that this will be a class to remember but as always, what matters is how much playing time they get in the next two to three years. There are many potential 10-year national team players in this group and that is exciting. They are skillful, focused, hard-working and have a winning mentality. They will do what it takes but they need a chance.
SA: At the last U-20 World Cup, your team reached quarterfinals without U-20 eligible players such as Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Haji Wright and Nick Taitague. This time around, do you expect that you might not have all those who are age eligible, because of clubs not releasing them or because they've moved on to the full national team?
TAB RAMOS: It seems like there are always players missing. That is just part of how this works. In some cases, missing the [U-20] World Cup works out for the players but in many cases, unfortunately, it doesn’t. My experience tells me that I have to do all I can for them to get released. We will be really competitive regardless. Our players see it as a great opportunity and they all have amazing determination to be successful against the best.
SA: When we spoke in August of last year, I asked you about the head-coach vacancies in the U.S. youth national team program and you said there had been a hiring freeze at U.S. Soccer following the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. This month, U.S. Soccer in its press release about January camps identified U-15 coach Dave van den Bergh as the "acting" head coach of the U-17s and Curt Onalfo as "acting" head coach of the U-19s. What's the status of hiring of youth national team head coaches?
TAB RAMOS: Looks like Dave van den Bergh will move from the U-19s to the U-17s with an announcement coming shortly. We have U-17 World Cup qualifying, the Concacaf U-17 Championship, coming up in less than three months.
SA: Last summer, you had to fill in as U-18 head coach after Omid Namazi left to take the helm of top-flight Iranian club Zob Ahan. Are you still short of staff for the U.S. youth national team program?
TAB RAMOS: At the moment, we have three head coaches for seven youth national teams. We have had to cut programming and continue to function without hired goalkeeper coaches. We have interviewed some candidates over the last four months so hopefully there will be some hires ASAP.
SA: U.S. Soccer has announced that it is expanding its U-14 program. Do the U-14s have a head coach?
TAB RAMOS: I'm very excited about expanding our base. This YNT/Talent ID combined project will be providing many more opportunities and will give us a chance to see a higher number of talented players at an important moment in their development. This will help our YNT [youth national team] environment and eventually our men’s national team. We do not have a head coach for this age-group yet.
SA: I was told last October by a candidate for a youth national coaching position that U.S. Soccer is requiring youth national team head coaches to live in Chicago [home of U.S. Soccer's headquarters]. Is that true? Training camps are never in Chicago and we live an an era of telecommuting. Wouldn't this requirement be an obstacle to finding coaches willing to take the positions?
TAB RAMOS: Some valid points but I cannot answer this question.Tab Ramos' 10 world championships
SA: If MLS clubs take their youth clubs out of the Development Academy, would that have an impact on the U.S. youth national team program?
TAB RAMOS: I think that MLS clubs should remain in the Development Academy. I don’t think it will have an impact on the YNT program. For MLS, I am not sure that the few extra competitive games they will add will offset the travel that the players will have to do at their young age and the added expenses that the owners will incur. Additionally, they would potentially separate themselves even more from their local clubs and communities.
SA: Speaking of MLS, are you satisfied with how much playing time young American players are getting with MLS clubs?
TAB RAMOS: I am very excited about seeing more American players getting opportunities. Real Salt Lake and the Red Bulls are providing a great pathway for their homegrown talent. Seems like FC Dallas will be doing the same moving forward.