PUEBLA, Mexico – With a berth in the FIFA U-20 World Cup already in hand, the US Under-20 national team team continues its march toward a CONCACAF Championship on Friday with a tough semifinal match-up against a strong Cuba side (6 pm ET, Fox Soccer and Univision Deportes).
On Thursday, CONCACAF changed the venue of the clash to Puebla FC’s Estadio Cuauhtémoc and for US manager Tab Ramos the new setting – likely to be busy and partisan with Mexico vs. El Salvador following in the other semifinal – will be an excellent test for his depleted squad.
“One of the things we want to transmit to the players is that these will be World Cup-type games and a World Cup-type atmosphere,” Ramos told reporters after training on Thursday. “We also have to consider that the players get an opportunity tomorrow night to show they are worthy of a World Cup spot.”
WATCH: Tab Ramos previews Cuba clash
Cuba have been the surprise of the tournament so far and it seems the US coach is not one bit surprised that the Caribbean side made its first ever U-20 World Cup. All four semifinalists advanced to the FIFA World Cup to be held in Turkey at the end of June.
“I think they are a great team,” opined Ramos about Cuba. “We’ve been saying it all along. They are dynamic, they are good in transition, particularly going forward and they get back behind the ball when they lose it.”
With Real Salt Lake's Luis Gil, Jerome Kiesewetter and Caleb Stanko already departed after securing the ticket to Turkey – Cody Cropper was at training Thursday despite indications he would fly back to English club Southampton – Ramos has a weakened squad. But whatever happens on Friday, there won’t be any complaints from the US side about players leaving.
“We’ve said from the moment we got here, this is not about excuses about who is not here, which players didn’t get released and which had to go,” asserted Ramos. “This is about the guys that are here and I’m confident we can get the job done.”
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.