CARSON, Calif. – US Under-20 national team head coach Tab Ramos continues to search for players who can help him at this summer's FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey.
That's not an optimal situation with just two months until the tournament opens – and only weeks before he must submit a preliminary roster. But then neither are the realities of the U-20 landscape.
Ramos and his staff continue to mull over dozens of players as they prepare to submit to FIFA next month the 35 names from which they'll choose their championship roster. Injuries and battles with clubs over releases makes that a task more daunting than it otherwise might be.
“You always want to have 11 [starters] that you count on that are your best guys, but unfortunately in this age group, that's nearly impossible,” said Ramos, whose eight-day camp at the Home Depot Center wrapped up Monday.
“We prepared the team for a year-and-a-half, and we went into the qualifiers with our two center backs not ever having played together, not even one game. Not even in the warmup game against Jamaica the week before. It's just how it works.
“We cannot calculate the injuries. We cannot calculate the releases from the clubs that just out of the blue they'll tell you, 'No, you can't have them.' There's nothing we can do about that.
"We can't do anything about someone like [Wake Forest midfielder] Collin Martin, who couldn't miss school [for qualifying] because we couldn't promise that he would make the [roster for the] qualifiers, so we couldn't call him up in January, so then we couldn't call him up for [the CONCACAF tournament in] February. There's a lot of issues out there you have to deal with. And that's the way it works.”
The 24-man roster for this camp was without some key players, including Real Salt Lake midfielder Luis Gil and Colorado Rapids defender Shane O'Neill, who remained with their clubs. They're among eight from the qualifying roster who were not on hand, and so are three players based in Germany – Freiburg midfielder Caleb Stanko, Hertha Berlin forward Jerome Kiesewetter and Kaiserslautern forward Mario Rodriguez (No. 5 at right, pictured with Jose Villarreal). Injuries have taken others out of the mix.
FC Dallas midfielder Kellyn Acosta, Seattle Sounders Academy forward Jordan Morris, and University of Louisville midfielder Marlon Hairston received their first call-ups. All played – and Morris was a standout – in a 6-2 victory Sunday over Cal FC, the club run by Eric Wynalda, who assisted Ramos in camp.
Trialing newcomers “this late in the game is very difficult,” Ramos acknowledged, “because you want to cash in on all of the work that you've been doing the last year-and-a-half, but when there's a player you feel can make the overall team better, then you have to take a chance. Any player that comes in now has to be someone that we feel is a lot better than someone who's losing their spot. Hopefully, we've found some guys.”
He says he doesn't expect to have his best possible roster when the US open the U-20 World Cup on June 21 in Istanbul vs. Spain.
“That would be a surprise to me if I get everyone I want,” he said. “But I'm fine with whoever we get. I'm good with the group we have.”
Would it be better if FIFA forced clubs to release players, as it would for the World Cup?
“Ideally, you want that," he said. "But at the end of the day, don't forget that this age group is also about developing players for our senior team. If guys are busy playing for their club, I think that's a good thing."