Two years ago, when head coach Tab Ramos led the U.S. U-20 MNT to the 2013 CONCACAF Championship in Mexico, he wanted to give his players a little extra motivation, a little more inspiration.
Before the team checked into its hotel room in Puebla, the staff placed a U.S. flag and placard featuring the name of a former U.S. player who had been part of both a FIFA U-20 World Cup and FIFA World Cup above each player’s bed.
That team proceeded to qualify for the 2013 U-20 World Cup. With that background, Ramos is keeping the tradition going this time around in Jamaica, hoping for the same result.
On Monday as the U-20 MNT arrived in Kingston ahead of the 2015 CONCACAF Championship, the new batch of youngsters walked into their hotel rooms to also find the names of current and former USMNT stars above their beds.
“It’s very important for us to know the tradition of U.S. Soccer and the past players that these players this time represent,” Ramos said. “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.”
The names are familiar to long-time U.S. soccer fans: Chris Henderson, Landon Donovan, Jeff Agoos, Kasey Keller, Tony Meola, Damarcus Beasley, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, and so forth; players who were once in the sames roles as the current group, trying to qualify for a U-20 World Cup, before eventually playing in one and later at the biggest soccer event in the world.
Emerson Hyndman, rooming with Lynden Gooch, said they each claimed a bed once they walked in their room. When Emerson looked up, he noticed Clint Dempsey’s name above his bed. Dempsey played at the 2003 U-20 World Cup before competing at the 2006, 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cups.
“It’s kind of funny ‘cause I actually know Clint, from his time at Fulham,” Hyndman said. “To see all the World Cups he’s been to, and what he’s achieved with the U.S., it can’t help but inspire me.”
Forward Paul Arriola wound up with Michael Bradley, who played at the 2007 U-20 World Cup and the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. And like others, Arriola is familiar with the recent success of Bradley on the senior National Team.
“I was in residency with the Under-17 team, and we all knew that Michael Bradley was one of those guys who had been there a couple years but he was one of those guys that didn’t get picked for his World Cup cycle,” Arriola said. “So for us, it’s a big deal, because it’s kind of saying that we shouldn’t give up hope. There’s going to be times when maybe we’re not the best player at the right time…but it doesn’t mean that we have to get discouraged or stop believing in ourselves. I think he’s a perfect example.”
Center back Matt Miazga walked in and saw Marcelo Balboa’s name on his wall. While it’s been more than 10 years since Balboa retired, Miazga passed his test of knowing the former star defender who made over 100 appearances at the senior level. Balboa also represented the U.S. at the 1997 U-20 World Cup and the 1990, 1994, and 1998 World Cups.
“He was obviously a center back, like I am, and a year ago, he was one of the assistants at our January camp,” Miazga said. “He worked with the center backs intensively and gave us a lot of pointers on what to do better in certain situations, and how to better defend and play that position.”
Hyndman and Dempsey have more in common than having played for Fulham, where Emerson currently plies his trade and Dempsey starred from 2007-12. The two also grew up playing club soccer in Texas.
“All of us, our goal is to be a part of the senior National Team at some point and to go to an actual senior World Cup,” Hyndman said. “To see a player like him achieve it – especially from my area – it really just motivates me to be that much better.”
Ramos is hoping this team can replicate the successes of previous U-20 teams at the CONCACAF Championship and qualify for the 2015 U-20 World Cup, which will be held this June in New Zealand.
“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,” said Ramos. “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.”
Current U-20 players (left) and the former players (right) picked to inspire them:
Kellyn Acosta - Landon Donovan
Fernando Arce – Bobby Convey
Paul Arriola - Michael Bradley
Russell Canouse - DeAndre Yedlin
Cameron Carter-Vickers - Chris Henderson
Conor Donovan – Carlos Bocanegra
Junior Flores – Bobby Convey
Romain Gall – Oguchi Onyewu
Lynden Gooch – Benny Feilhaber
Ethan Horvath – Kasey Keller
Emerson Hyndman – Clint Dempsey
Bradford Jamieson IV – Eddie Johnson
Matt Miazga - Marcelo Balboa
Amando Moreno – Ben Olsen
Shaquell Moore – Jozy Altidore
John Requejo – DaMarcus Beasley
Ben Spencer – Gregg Berhalter
Tommy Thompson – Jeff Agoos
Tyler Turner – Tony Meola
Zack Steffen – Tim Howard