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Tab Ramos

FIFA U-20 World Cup Quote Sheet: U-20 MNT Head Coach Tab Ramos

U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team head coach Tab Ramos fielded media questions on Tuesday as the squad prepares for its 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup opener against Spain on Friday (9 p.m. local, 2 p.m. ET; ESPN2, WatchESPN and Univision Deportes) in Istanbul, Turkey:

Opening statement:
Tab Ramos: “We’re very excited to be here competing in the World Cup. We’re very excited that we’re in Group A with some of the best teams in the world and some legitimate contenders to win the World Cup. I think that’s a good thing for our players. I’m also excited that this is the culmination of a year and a half of work and to see what we have put together and how competitive we are with the rest of the world. We feel very good about our roster and the players we have selected, and we certainly feel like we have good talent here with us.”

On the team’s improvements defensively since World Cup Qualifying:
TR: “At this point, we’ve obviously gotten to know each other a little bit better. There are young players that we are dealing with and some of them have more experience. We feel good about the fact that [DeAndre] Yedlin has been added to the roster and he’s someone who has a lot of professional experience the last couple of months since the World Cup Qualifiers, which he was not involved in. We feel good about the level of play of Juan Pablo Ocegueda on the left side and obviously Caleb Stanko, as well as Shane O’Neill. I think we’re a little bit more experienced than we were a couple months ago, and the fact that we’ve been together for a couple weeks is really going to help us.”

On the unique challenges of coaching younger players:
TR: “I have really enjoyed coaching this group of players in this age group. There are a lot of challenges to coaching this age group, and a lot of it is rewarding as well. We start this cycle with a lot of high school players and first-year college players and we end the cycle with about 90 percent professional players, so they go through that change throughout that year and half cycle. As late as today, Daniel Garcia has been announced by FC Dallas as having signed a new professional contract, so these are the basis of things that happen all the time within our team and things to be happy for within the group.”

On what he has done to get the squad prepared for the tournament:
TR: “We didn’t have an opportunity to have the team together too much, but one of the things we had to prepare for when playing European teams as opposed to playing CONCACAF teams is the speed of transition from offense to defense and defense to offense. We’ve tried to work over the last two or three weeks that we’ve been together on our transition from losing the ball to try to recover it. That’s been a challenge for us because many of our players are not used to that speed of play.”

On the lessons he learned from his participation in the U-20 World Cup:
TR: “As a player, we don’t learn as much as we should. The U-20s were a vital part of the rest of my career because that was good experience learning to compete on a world stage as a young player, and it’s the first taste of the international game at the highest level you can compete in at that point. Other than that, this has been an experience where I continue to learn every day. Coaching is a process that never really ends, and this has been a very rewarding cycle for us, and the way we play and the way we’ve implemented how we want our team to hold the ball and go forward.”

On the status of Luis Gil:
TR: “Luis took a pretty hard hit in our game Friday against Portugal. He was out of practice a couple days, but fortunately for us, he was able to fully practice (Tuesday). As far as we know from our medical staff, we feel like by (Wednesday) he will be cleared to play. We will have to wait until then to hear that, but I’m pretty confident that he will be available for us on Friday.”

On what DeAndre Yedlin brings to the team:
TR: “There are a number of things he brings to the table, with the number one thing being his experience at this point. Having played a bunch of professional games over the past few months, and having trained in a professional environment where he has to earn his position every day is certainly great for us. In terms of what he brings specifically on the field – his speed, his ability to go forward, which is what we like, his ability to get back on defense quickly and to play the game with urgency, which is the way we like to play. He was one of those pieces that we didn’t have to speak to too much as far as trying to fit him into our roster.”

On the late inclusion of Alonso Hernandez:
TR: “Alonso is not someone that we had been tracking for the last few months. He was someone that got onto our radar in April when he debuted in a Liga MX game between Monterrey and Santos. That’s the first time we’ve heard about him. Then we just followed him. For the next month I followed all his touches on the ball and was able to see every play he was involved in during the next four weeks. From there we decided to call him. We thought he did well enough to deserve a call. He plays for Monterrey, a great team with great players, and not only that but he plays for Coach (Victor Manuel) Vucetich, and because I played for him I know how demanding he is. I know in order for a young player to earn playing time for one of the best coaches the Mexican league has ever had, I think says a lot about the player. We called him in and I think he’s been nothing but a great find for us. He certainly fits in well with the team. He works hard and has been a great last-minute addition for us.”

On monitoring a large amount of players in the first cycle as head coach:
TR: “It’s been difficult throughout the whole process to track all the players we have to track. I’ve gotten help from a lot of different places because obviously it’s impossible for me to track all the players that we had an opportunity to see. We had an opportunity to bring in 79 players to our camp over the last year and a half. I want to say it’s a little over a year and a half because it’s been since November 2011 when we first brought together some of our players. It’s been a long process and taking all that into consideration, you still have to see that some of the players that were doing well at the beginning weren’t doing well at the middle of the cycle, and some of the players who were not involved as much at the beginning of the cycle have been doing really well as of late. I could say one example being Charles Renken, who at the beginning of this cycle was one of the players to watch and who didn’t end up figuring in our plans at all for the last year. At the other side of the coin, you look at a player like Yedlin, who was put into our first camp and didn’t do well for us for a long time until he signed a professional contract and started doing really well for his team and now becomes a vital part of our team. Even players that you’ve seen once or twice you have to revisit. It’s a long process, there’s a lot of homework to be done, but certainly for me I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

On the roles of Santos Laguna teammates Benji Joya and Daniel Cuevas:
TR: “Benji Joya and Danny Cuevas have been a very important part of this team for over a year now. Those are guys that we count on, guys that have a legitimate chance to play on Friday and guys that make our team better every day. We really appreciate the effort they’ve put in coming to the National Team. They’re guys that put in the effort and want to improve their game every day, and they have certainly shown that to us, and that’s why they’ve been pretty much every day National Team players for our staff.”

On the realistic expectations of the team in the World Cup:
TR: “I don’t know, to be honest. I like the players that we have. I like the talent that we have on our team. Obviously we play Spain in the first game. Spain happens to be the favorite to win the World Cup. At the same time, I see that as a great challenge for us that maybe tells us whether we’re close or really far away. At this point I don’t know the answers to that. I do know that if we can somehow survive in our group and get through to the next stage, I think that coming out of this group, we would probably be able to beat anybody.”

On whether he is concerned about the team’s personnel at center back:
TR: “I’m a coach, and I’m concerned about all the positions every day. Obviously, center backs have been the two most difficult positions for us. We’ve tried a number of players. Walker [Zimmerman] is a player played with us for the last time in October, didn’t play well for us and then got injured right after that and spent months without playing. I know that about a month ago I spoke with Walker and he was just coming back from an injury and starting to get back in rosters, and now he’s been in and out of the roster. It’s not a player that has been constantly playing a lot, but we felt like we’ve tried to solidify the center back position. The biggest issue we have at this point is that Shane O’Neill is out for the first game (serving a red card suspension from the final at the 2013 CONCACAF U-20 Championship). That’s something we’ve been trying to manage. We’ve decided to go with Eric Miller as sort of a backup center back as a third option for us in this game on Friday. It has not been easy, and to be honest it has not been any center backs other than Will Packwood who have stood out to us as guys that hands down deserve to play.”

On the similarity of Spain’s U-20s to their Senior National Team:
TR: “The one thing about Spain is that they play the same way in all their age groups. We just saw their U-21 team win the European Championship a few hours ago playing the same way as the first team. We’ve gotten to know this particular U-20 team very well and they also play in a very similar way to their first team. That’s something that’s very difficult for us and something that we’re going to have to deal with. The U.S. versus Spain game – I believe it was four years ago – the game where the U.S. beat Spain 2-0, is a game that we’d like to go back to. We’re probably going to show a little video of that to the players so that they know that our first team upset Spain a few years ago and there’s no reason we can’t do the same on Friday.”