One of the more intriguing stories of the upcoming MLS season will be the debut of Tab Ramos as coach of the Houston Dynamo. The Hall of Famer earned his MLS head coaching job after eight years as boss of the U.S. U-20 men’s national team, which he led to the quarterfinals of the last three U-20 World Cups.
The potential is there for Houston to take a youthful turn although Ramos has said that such a change will take time. But the Dynamo recently made its first significant approach in this direction when it signed Marcelo Palomino to a Homegrown contract shortly after the new year.
Palomino, 18, had been exploring opportunities overseas but Ramos taking the job in November played a role in changing his mind.
“So, I was overseas a couple of times, on trials and get some training in,” Palomino said. “When I first spoke to Tab about the opportunity, I thought about it. And it wasn't such a hard decision with him being the coach and with Houston being my hometown city and the Dynamo being the club I dreamed of playing for so many years. That made it a good opportunity for me.”
Ramos and Palomino have worked together before. Back in February, Ramos was in charge of a U-18 camp and Palomino was on the roster. Then in September, Ramos coached his final U-20 camp to kick off the 2021 cycle and Palomino once again played well while featuring in various attacking midfield positions – including his preferred No. 10 role.
So in addition to playing for his hometown team, Palomino felt a comfort level with Ramos that made the opportunity too good to pass up. For him, there is a chance to develop in Houston and a belief that first-team minutes are possible.
“I've had a couple of camps with him and I feel confident enough playing under him,” Palomino explained. “He gives me that confidence and that's really important for any player and he's really good coach. And we've done well under him. I think we've won every game or almost every game that I've played under him. And I really like his philosophy and the way the way he likes to do things. I think he's a great coach and I'm excited to continue playing under him this year.”
Beyond Ramos, the Dynamo means a lot to Palomino. He has been with the organization since before he turned 10 and progressed through the club’s academy. But the Dynamo has struggled with player development when measured by the lack of academy players it has pushed into the first team and compared with the massive success FC Dallas has had in the state. Palomino will join Memo Rodriguez and Erik McCue as the third academy alum on the current first team roster.
Marcelo Palomino, flanked by Coach Tab Ramos (left) and GM Matt Jordan upon signing a Homegrown contract in early January.
For Palomino, his homegrown signing while also working with a coach who believes in him and has had success with young players makes him significant for the direction the organization wants to take – and if Houston, one of the biggest cities in the country, can improve with youth development, it could greatly benefit the league and U.S. youth national teams.
“I started coming into training camps with the Dynamo when I was about 9 years old,” Palomino said. “And I moved to the pre-academy when I was around 11. And I played there ever since. Obviously growing up and playing for them, it was always an honor and a privilege to be able to put on the jersey and wear orange. And that's what I dreamed of doing for the professional team ever since I ever since I got into the academy.”
“The preseason hasn't started and there are a lot of new guys, a lot of new faces from the last time I was there,” he added regarding playing time in his first year. “I am going to do my best and work hard and take advantage of any opportunity given to me and just keep working on it.”
While Ramos and his U-20 teams were big selling points for Palomino to come to the Dynamo, he’s currently with the U.S. U-20s in its first camp under Ramos’ successor, Anthony Hudson.
The current U-20 team is expected to be built heavily around the 2001-born players, which includes Palomino. And it will be a tough team for attacking midfielders to make because at the No. 10 playmaker position, key players will be Gio Reyna, Matko Miljevic, and Indiana Vassilev. Players contending for the No. 8, box-to-box midfielder role, include Cole Bassett and Thomas Roberts. The wings consist of Uly Llanez, Cam Harper, and Konrad de la Fuente.
But Palomino’s work ethic has been a strength of his so far in his career and he looks forward to the challenge – both in terms of making the U-20 roster for qualifying this summer and helping to contribute to yet another successful cycle at the U-20 level. As the cycle kicks off, Palomino insists that he and his teammates are optimistic.
“I'm here right now at the camp and we're all excited,” Palomino said. “Well, really motivated. And like you said, coming off those three good cycles that we had in the past. Expectations are the same and higher from us, the players. And we want to do just as well, even better and always improve. And yet we're really motivated, really excited and ready to get going.”