Ahead of the Northern Ireland Milk Cup, U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team head coach Tab Ramos checked in with ussoccer.com to discuss the tournament, roster selection process and what the team hopes to accomplish before the next World Cup qualifying cycle begins in February of 2013.
ussoccer.com: Heading into the Northern Ireland Milk Cup, what are your thoughts on the challenges presented by your first two opponents, Denmark and Turkey?
Ramos: “I think they’re going to be very difficult opponents. Turkey is a very skillful team and that will have its challenges because of the individuality going forward. Denmark, on the other hand, is a very dynamic, two-way team and it will be a completely different type of rival.”
ussoccer.com: The U.S. won the Milk Cup in 2005 and 2010. How much emphasis is put on getting positive results at this tournament, while also evaluating players ahead of the next World Cup qualifying cycle in 2013?
Ramos: “First of all, I don’t think as a coaching staff we ever coach games that we don’t want to win. We’re certainly going to Milk Cup hoping to win every game. At the same time, we’re in the middle of our evaluation process and we do believe we have a competitive group. We have a few players who have not been with us before, but I think they’re very good players and that they’ll contribute. I’m looking forward to the team being very competitive and doing the best we can. The goal is always to win every game we play.”
ussoccer.com: What was your thought process when putting together the roster for this tournament?
Ramos: “My thought process going into this tournament was to try to select the best players that I have available and I think that we’ve done that.”
ussoccer.com: You’ve had several training camps since taking over as head coach of the U.S. U-20s last October and the team recently played three games against South American opposition in June. Just how important are these opportunities to play against international opponents?
Ramos: “I think the opportunity to compete against some of the top teams in the world is something that we can’t replace with domestic camps. Certainly, for us as a coaching staff and what we mention to our players, one of the things that is very important about these international games is how they perform under pressure. There are little moments in these games that I think become very important for the group because they are moments that we’ll remember as players performing at certain times under pressure. So, when we go into qualifiers we can remember certain players doing well at those difficult times.”
ussoccer.com: As a team, what do you hope to accomplish between now and the start of the CONCACAF Qualifying tournament in February?
Ramos: “As a team we want to be able to develop that team chemistry which I think began in the last camp. I felt that by the end of the last camp, certainly the Chile game, I felt for the first time we looked like a team. Up until that point because of so many camps and so many players coming in and out, it was a bunch of guys just getting together and obviously they’re all good players, but there was no team chemistry at all. I felt by the third game of our South American tour we looked like a team. I think we made mistakes as a team and we went forward and did good things as a team. I think that was the beginning, I thought that was the first step for us and hopefully we can continue that going through the Milk Cup.”
ussoccer.com: Nearly a month after the Milk Cup concludes, several of the players from the U.S. U-20 Men’s National Team pool will kick off their collegiate seasons. How do you balance training camps around the fall college season while also keeping an eye on the players’ progress when they’re spread out across the country?
Ramos: “I have very good contacts around the country so I can have people watch our players play and, at the same time, some games are on TV and I will go to some of the games myself to watch some of the players. We’ll keep an eye on all the players we can whether it’s in Europe or college, we’re doing the best we can to keep track of everyone on our list.”