U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team head coach Tab Ramos is well aware of the availability – or unavailability – of his players throughout each year and cycle. At any moment, a portion of the U-20 MNT pool could be absent due to their professional club schedules.
Over the past year, 37 players have earned an international cap and approximately 60 players have been called into a U-20 MNT camps during a 2014 schedule that featured only nine international matches. The necessity of calling in a large number of players has added some significant depth to the pool competing for spots on the World Cup qualifying roster and Ramos says that bodes well for tournament.
“This is a deep group, particularly in the midfield, so we will have some tough decisions to make,” said Ramos, who played in the U-20 World Cup in 1983. “There will be players left out who could certainly help the team, and players off of the 35-player provisional list who have pro potential. We also have the luxury of players who can play a number of different positions. We expect that every player on the qualifying roster will play a significant role in this tournament.”
Having been through a previous U-20 cycle with a team that took second at the 2013 CONCACAF U-20 Championship and earned a trip to that year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup, Ramos says that this current cycle is ahead of the curve.
“No question – U.S. Soccer has been tremendous as far as providing the resources for us to prepare as much as we can for the U-20 qualifying in January,” Ramos said. “Everything that we’ve asked for has been laid out in front of me, and I’m very excited about that. Once January rolls around, our team will be as prepared as it can be.”
The 2013 qualifying tournament took place in Puebla, Mexico, using excellent facilities and was capped off by a 40,000-plus capacity crowd that watched the USA and Mexico in the final at Estadio Cuauhtémoc. Ramos says this year’s qualifying matches will not be played on such pristine pitches, which could pose a challenge for countries such as the U.S. and defending CONCACAF U-20 Championship title-winner Mexico.
“We are certainly ahead of the game compared to the last cycle as far as preparation,” Ramos said. “I think that the biggest challenge for us in this cycle is that the last qualifiers were played in Mexico and we were guaranteed of games on very good fields. That always benefits the good teams. This time around, because the facilities in Jamaica will be more difficult to play on, I think that evens out the competition a lot more. That’s something that we’ll have to adjust to.”