Tab Ramos believes he can build a team that can contend for a trophy when he gathers his US Under-20 national team for the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup in May, and he hopes to rely heavily on MLS to help him do so.
That means he’ll be logging some serious mileage in the coming weeks, in order to meet with clubs both in the US and across Europe and convince them to release their players for the tournament.
“This is where things get moving fast,” Ramos told reporters in a conference call on Sunday, after he attended FIFA’s draw for the U-20 World Cup in Poland, where the US were drawn into Group D alongside Nigeria, Qatar and Ukraine.
“I’ve already had that conversation with MLS, so we’re all going to try to work together on this. I’m going to work on the European players first, so my immediate number-one job now is tomorrow morning, as soon as I get up I head to Germany for my meetings with a lot of the German clubs to discuss some of the German[-based] players, and also head to Holland to speak with Ajax about Sergino [Dest] and possibly also [recent PSV Eindhoven signing] Richie Ledezma,” he continued.
“I have a lot of meetings over the next seven or eight days, and then the meetings will continue with MLS as soon as I come back.”
Though he said they’d be welcome, Ramos said he’s not expecting to have the full US national team’s crop of young guns – the likes of Tyler Adams and Josh Sargent – at his disposal in Poland, saying that “they probably have moved on” from the U-20 level. Even at that, he considers this cycle’s 1999-born crop one of the best in the program’s history, with US prospects becoming regular starters at younger and younger ages both at home and abroad.
“I happen to think that this is a very gifted group, and there’s a lot of guys who can emerge,” said Ramos, who is also U.S. Soccer’s youth technical director. “I look at the rest of the list and I can’t believe some of the guys that will actually not make the team. Because I think this group has a lot of talent, with guys who could potentially be eight-to-10-year national-team players.”
With clubs not required to release players for FIFA youth events as they are for senior national-team call-ups, Ramos will have to broker agreements and rely on positive relationships in order to build his preferred squad. With this year’s World Cup falling in the thick of MLS’s spring schedule, some clubs have reportedly expressed reservations about releasing US U-20 players who man key roles on their teams. Ramos hopes to have a clearer picture “in the next two to three weeks.”
It adds up to a great many moving parts for Ramos, who’d prefer to have ample time with his squad to prepare them pre-tournament but acknowledged that some players’ club responsibilities may force them to arrive just a few days before the United States’ opening match, against Ukraine on May 24.
“The last time we went to the World Cup, I didn’t feel we were the best team in the World Cup, but I thought that we had a shot at winning the World Cup. Why not? You know, you get a break here and there and I think we’re good enough for that. And with this group, the same,” he said.
“It’s very difficult to tell until you get there how much of a realistic shot you have. What I can tell you is, this is a very deep, talented group that we have and I really like it. And I’m excited about it, and I’m excited to see how they’re going to compete here.”