ussoccer.com: Take us through the final decisions to select the final roster.
Tab Ramos: "Selecting the final 20 players was extremely difficult. This is a group that has a lot of depth. It's a group that has gotten good results throughout the last 12 to 14 months, regardless of the players we've had in. A lot of players have made a good case for being on the team, but in the end, unfortunately, you can only take so many midfielders and you can only take so many forwards. I am very happy with the group we've selected, but at the same time I know there's a couple of guys out there that we didn't select that possibly could have helped us."
ussoccer.com: What are some of your overall impressions and strengths of this group for qualifying?
TR: “Overall, this is a group made up mostly with professional players, and that's a strength. These are players who are completely dedicated to the sport; players who 100 percent of the time prepare to do well, to get better, and be on the National Team. I believe this particular group has that part of their development as a strength. At the same time, I feel we have enough talent in this group, in particular in midfield, where we could have selected a number of different players who could have played those positions, who are all very technical on the ball, who all can chase and cover ground. Overall, I feel this group is stronger than groups in the past from top to bottom.”
ussoccer.com: You capped off the Honduras trip in December with two wins against the host side. What did you take away from those games and that camp overall?
TR: “We selected to go to Honduras because it’s a very difficult place to play. Honduras is an excellent team and they’re always very competitive. So we wanted to measure our players, and base our final decision on how well we perform against good teams in a tough environment. There were a couple of players in that camp that certainly made their case stronger than other guys and I think tilted the balance towards them.”
ussoccer.com: Having had a regular playing schedule for the past month, what is your impression of the team's game fitness and readiness for qualifying?
TR: “I think overall our game fitness is probably better than ever before. Brian O’Donnell (fitness coach) has done a great job in maintaining the players and allowing me time to push them, and at the same time selecting the times when we have to give them time to rest. So it’s been well monitored. U.S. Soccer has invested some more resources into protecting our players that way. We’ve been able to stay basically injury-free, at least through the camps that we’ve had at the time that we’ve had the players. I think overall Brian O’Donnell has done a great job with that, and I feel that the team has certainly benefitted from that.”
ussoccer.com: What are some of the key focal points you emphasize to the players as they approach this important tournament?
TR: “The focal point is knowing that this is the time to suffer for each other now. We're a good team, but at the end of the day, no matter what we say about our team - whether we say that maybe this cycle is a little more talented or less than another one - in the end we're probably going to be involved in all one-goal games. And if we're willing to suffer for each other, we're going to get through and we're going to do things well. And if we're not we're going to get run over. CONCACAF competition is always very difficult…Every game is going to be tough from beginning to end.”
ussoccer.com: Kellyn Acosta and Zack Steffen were part of the 2013 U-20 World Cup. How vital will their past involvement be in terms of their leadership among this group?
TR: “Very important, because that’s an experience that they can pass on to the other guys. Kellyn is one of those guys that’s been involved with U.S. Soccer at every level, so he’s experienced it all. I think for us and for the future of our senior National Team it’s good to bring young players along and give them experiences so that hopefully they can one day be 10-15 year National
Team players. In both Kellyn and Zack, we have two experienced players who I believe have a good future with the National Team.”
ussoccer.com: Cameron Carter-Vickers and Emerson Hyndman started for the U-23 side in Brazil last October, and Hyndman also debuted with the full Men's National Team. Can you talk about what these players can bring to this group?
TR: “Both Cameron and Emerson bring a lot to this group, because even though they are young players they both are experienced players playing at a high level. I think they certainly bring that experience to the group. At the same time, they are two players who are very excited to come to the group and help the National Team. That’s what we need. Sometimes, when you bring a player down from an older age group and have them play in their own age group, they don’t always react the right way. But I think these are two players that can be leaders, two players who are excited, and two players who will help us be better.”
ussoccer.com: Can you tell us about Brad Friedel’s role on the coaching staff and what he can bring to the group?
TR: “Brad is one who’s been working on all his coaching licenses overseas. I asked Brad if he would consider coming because I think he would be a great value for us. Unfortunately, he can’t be with us the whole time, but he works with one of the best academy programs in England at Tottenham. He knows Cam (Carter-Vickers) really well, which helps us. I think he’s going to add great value to our staff. I’m sure his opinion is one that will make us think out of the box a little bit. Sometimes as coaches you need to be challenged as well. And so I’m looking forward to having Brad with us.”
ussoccer.com: You have been a big part with this U-20 age group, both as coach and early on in your playing days. How exciting is this stage for you as this team and the players are looking to stamp their impact on the international front?
TR: “I’m very excited. I get excited every time we go, whether it was when I was playing or when I came as assistant coach or now as head coach for the last couple cycles. I’m excited to go to the tournament. I can’t wait for it. I hope I’ve been passing that down to the players. It’s very important for us to know the tradition of U.S. Soccer and the (past) players that these players this time represent. Because we do represent the Michael Bradley’s and the Clint Dempsey’s and Landon Donovan’s who have been here before in their shoes. So I’m hoping that they are as excited as I am because we truly feel fortunate to be here.”