Tab Ramos is counting on a contingent of rising MLS talents to pace the US Under-20 national team to the program’s third straight trip to the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
Now on his third cycle in charge, the retired USMNT great is leading the US U-20s into a tricky CONCACAF qualifying tournament that opens this weekend in Costa Rica. Ramos has selected more than half of his roster for this event from MLS, and on Thursday extolled those players’ contributions in a media conference call – starting with his team captain, Sporting Kansas City HomegrownErik Palmer-Brown (pictured above, center).
“I’m looking forward to having Erik on the field; he has become a leader not just on the field but now his maturity level off the field has been able to help the team a lot,” said Ramos. “No. 1, he has the experience now, and he has the belief and the following of the group. He believes in all the values of our national team, and believes that being successful here is an important part of his career and what he has coming next.”
Ramos confirmed media reports that Palmer-Brown – a center back who also took part in the last U-20 cycle as an underage player – will likely appear in both midfield and defense during this tournament.
“All the players here have the goal of not just being a two-week national team player,” added Ramos. “Our goal for them and their goal coming here is for hopefully all of them to become 10-year national team players. And I think Erik is one that knows that that’s the goal and I think is a good example of that for the rest of the group.”
One of the U-20s’ more intriguing subplots centers on the goalkeeping position. Ramos stated that Cal’s Jonathan Klinsmann – son of former USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann – has pulled ahead of San Jose Earthquakes academy product JT Marcinkowski (currently at Georgetown University) in the battle for the starting role.
The coach also alluded to potentially significant attacking roles for Portland Timbers striker Jeremy Ebobisse and New York City FC winger Jonathan Lewis – both high selections in last month’s MLS SuperDraft.
“Jeremy has been a very good progression, a little bit at a time,” said Ramos. “He’s a very smart player, he’s learning – he’s learning about how to make runs, he’s learning on how tiptoe along the center backs to find the right timing on his runs, he’s been working on his finishing. So he’s been improving a little bit at a time.
“[Lewis] has some important qualities that other players don’t have. He has excellent timing on his runs, he has amazing speed – so he can break a game open at any time. He has a very easy time of getting to goal and creating opportunities, in particular when the game is wide-open,” added Ramos, noting that the NYCFC rookie is a preferred option when the US adopt a counterattacking posture.
FC Dallas’ Coy Craft (pictured above, left) may also see meaningful minutes after coming on strong in this year’s pre-qualifying training camps.
“If you were to ask me a month and a half ago about him being part of the group, I probably would’ve said he would’ve been on the outside looking in,” said Ramos. “Coy has had tremendous back-to-back camps and has shown that he can score and he can work for the team. So we’re very happy with those three guys.
No club sent more players to this U-20s group than Real Salt Lake, with Justen Glad, Danny Acosta, Sebastian Saucedo (pictured above, right) and Brooks Lennon – as well as academy product Aaron Herrera, who is currently playing college soccer at New Mexico – all making the journey to Costa Rica. All four of RSL’s senior teamers are in the mix for spots in the starting lineup as well.
“We have to give a lot of credit to [RSL academy director] Martin Vasquez, because these are all players that played for Martin at RSL-Arizona,” said Ramos. “Martin has done a tremendous job with these players and this was one of the teams that in the Development Academy, most of these players were the champions of the Development Academy [as U-16s in 2013] or made it to the finals [in 2014]. But they were definitely the best team there.”