PUEBLA, Mexico – Although his depleted US team ran out of gas in extra time against Mexico in the CONCACAF U-20 Championship final on Sunday, Tab Ramos now knows that he has a group of players that won’t be easily overawed.
“This shows the character of the players that we have coming up in the US,” stated Ramos in the press conference following the 3-1 overtime defeat. “Not only are we playing in a difficult environment, but we take a goal early when we’re attacking and the players responded.”
The US entered the game as heavy underdogs in the packed 40,000-capactity Estadio Cuauhtémoc against a Mexico side tipped to challenge for the U-20 World Cup title in Turkey this summer. Instead of being on the back foot, the American shaded the game during the 90 minutes with a gutsy performance, until tiredness kicked in.
“There was no question that with about 10 minutes left in the game in regulation that I started to think about the possibility of making some changes to try and either win the game or thinking into overtime,” Ramos said.
One of the changes he would’ve like to have made was the introduction of Daniel Cuevas who, along with the LA Galaxy’s Jose Villarreal and the Columbus Crew’s Wil Trapp, was named to the best XI of the tournament.
The coach revealed that he couldn’t risk Cuevas after consulting the team doctor, even though the player was desperate to get on the field.
In the end, the US only had 12 fit outfield players, while striker Villarreal was visibly limping at times.
But despite the problems, what pleased Ramos most was how much he learned about the players’ temperaments that completed the 120 minutes.
“There’s no doubt that these are the games where you see the players and how they respond,” he said. “I have to give the players a lot of credit because it was their first time playing in this situation like this and I think they respond incredibly. They played a great game and I’m very proud of that.”
Summarizing the tournament, Ramos said it was very much job done with the ticket to the World Cup in the bag and, while he acknowledged that the second goal was to win the tournament, he recognized that it wasn’t possible on the day.
He also emphasized how close the US came to pulling off a major upset.
“I happy with my team,” he said. “I’m satisfied that it was a game in which either one of the teams could’ve won and I think the team did a great job.”
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.