US coach Tab Ramos reveals his plan for 2016 Olympic qualifying as he gathers his first camp
CARSON, Calif. – Tab Ramos has Brazil on his mind, and it's not all about this summer's World Cup.
The Rio de Janeiro Olympics are just two years away, so Ramos this week is running US Soccer's first men's under-21 national team camp at StubHub Center, the first step toward qualifying for the 2016 Summer Games.
Ramos' foundation is the side he took to the FIFA U-20 World Cup last year in Turkey, which lost to its group winners Spain and semifinalists Ghana and drew with champions France, enduring a group-of-death campaign to finish 22nd in a 24-nation field.
“I think it was a good idea for us to start getting a '93s [birth year] group together,” said Ramos, who will assist Jurgen Klinsmann at the World Cup. “We're trying to begin to create a core for what would be the next U-23 team, and at this point that's pretty much it. We want to make sure that the boys come in together and that they [don't] forget how to play together, and continue [this], hopefully, for the next couple of years.”
Nine players from the team in Turkey form the foundation: defenders Juan Pablo Ocegueda (UANL Tigres), Shane O'Neill (Colorado Rapids) and Oscar Sorto (LA Galaxy), midfielder Benji Joya (Chicago Fire), forwards Daniel Cuevas (Lobos BUAP), Danny Garcia (FC Dallas), Victor Pineda (Chicago Fire) and Jose Villarreal (Cruz Azul), and goalkeeper Kendall McIntosh (Santa Clara University).
Midfielders Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake) and Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew), both very influential on the U-20 team, pulled out of camp with injuries. A few more eligible players, including U-20 veteran DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders), are in the senior national team pool.
“This is the same thing as when we've been working with the U-20s,” said Joya, who this year joined Chicago after two years with Santos Laguna. “It's the same staff, with Tab Ramos, and basically the same players, and coming together again, we have confidence in each other. We know how we play, we know each other well.”
There's a definite Mexican flair to the side, with six players who play or have played in Mexico and four more with roots south of the border. That's largely about qualifying for the U-20 championship.
“In this particular group's case, we had World Cup qualifying in Mexico, so we wanted to find some players that had the experience of playing in the altitude and playing in the heat [of Mexico],” Ramos said. “These happened to be the guys, and they did well. And I think they certainly earned the shot to be seen [here].”
Ramos, who starred in midfield for the US at the 1990, '94 and '98 World Cups, plans on getting them together again in July or August – probably the first week of August.
“We're hoping that there would be one more before the end of the year, so that would be three times [in 2014],” he said. “That would be pretty good.”
Ramos also hopes to set up a game with, likely, a European opponent.
“We'll work on that,” he said. “But this [team] is new for us, so we're working on it.”