As part of his weekly series on MLSsoccer.com, senior writer Jeff Bradley spends 10 minutes with some of the biggest names in North American soccer to talk about how they’ve made their mark on the game through the years.
This week, Bradley sits down with legendary US midfielder Tab Ramos, the first player ever signed to play in MLS and the current coach of the US Under-20 national team. Ramos, 47, has stayed heavily involved in the game since retiring as a player in 2002. He is the president, executive director and U-16 coach of a New Jersey club program, NJSA 04, and has his sights set on moving up the ladder as a competitive coach.
BRADLEY: So, since you’re the original MetroStar, the first player ever signed in the club’s history, I’ve got to ask: Is this the year the New York Red Bulls finally win their first major trophy?
RAMOS: I hope so. I hope for the club and for Mike Petke that this is the year.
BRADLEY: In your eyes, does the Supporters' Shield count as a major trophy?
RAMOS: Absolutely. I think being the team that has shown the most consistency during the year and has been the best throughout the year is even more difficult than winning the MLS Cup. In the playoffs, you can lose to anyone in a home-and-away series. You play one bad game, and your whole season can go down the drain. But if you look at the whole season and how the Red Bulls have played, I think a lot of good work has been done. There’s no question they have a lot of talent, but a lot of talent isn’t easy to manage, so Mike’s done a great job.
BRADLEY: Do you look back on your seven years with the club and think there was ever a team that should have been able to win something?
RAMOS: No question. The 2000 team, I think we were the best team in the league and the team that should’ve won. Unfortunately, we had a call go against us in Chicago, in [Game 3], and that put us in a difficult situation. But I thought we were the best team in the league that year. With Adolfo Valencia and Clint Mathis, that was just such a great team. That’s the year that should have been ours, but you need a lot of things to go right to win it all.
BRADLEY: Do you believe, as some old school Metro fans do, that there’s a curse?
RAMOS: I’m not a superstitious person, so I don’t buy into it. Every year is a new year. Everybody has a fresh start. I do think when you play for a club that’s used to winning things, maybe things come easier because there’s a confidence that comes from having been there before. Unfortunately, if you don’t win the right game year after year when you get to that game … it becomes more difficult. But I think this year, the Red Bulls have been the most consistent team throughout the year and would be a deserving champion.
BRADLEY: But you know of the Curse of Caricola, right? That when Nicola Caricola scored a last-second own-goal in the first MetroStars home game, it cursed the club for eternity?
RAMOS: Yeah. [Laughs.] I am totally aware of that. And at some point it has to end. I hope this is the year for the club to to put an end to that talk once and for all.
BRADLEY: And, as I recall, you weren’t even with the Metros yet when the Caricola moment occurred?
RAMOS: I wasn’t there yet. My first game was the third game.
BRADLEY: But you’ve seen the video?
RAMOS: I have, yeah.
BRADLEY: Caricola was a character. I remember he went into the locker room, lit up a cigarette and basically said, “This is football. I’ve had own goals before, I’ll have them again.”
RAMOS: He was great. A good man and a good teammate.
BRADLEY: Let’s move out of the past and get caught up. You are now the coach of the US Under-20s, having taken them to the U-20 World Cup this past year. How was that experience?
RAMOS: It was amazing. I really enjoyed coaching the U-20s. I enjoyed the success that the team had. Obviously, the results from the World Cup in group play don’t show that, but for me, it was still a success that we competed the way we did against the teams we had to play. More importantly, I think the players were successful individually, and a lot of them have gone on and done good things.
When you look at the beginning of the cycle and how many pros we had, and you look at the end of the cycle and you see guys who were not pros like Wil Trapp or Jose Villarreal, you can’t help but think it was successful. Hopefully down the road, some of those guys will contribute to the senior team. In the end, that’s what’s most important.
BRADLEY: I imagine you’re like a proud dad now watching your boys in MLS?
RAMOS: Yeah, I follow all those guys. A lot of them – Villarreal at LA or Shane O’Neill or even a guy like Jack McBean, who ended up not making our final team, but was still a part of the group. Whether it’s a guy like DeAndre Yedlin, who’s obviously been doing well, there are a number of guys I follow. Really, I follow everybody.
BRADLEY: Is there anybody from your team we’ll see going to Brazil for the World Cup?
RAMOS: When you say, "Is there anybody?" I’m going to say without giving you a name, I think there is an outside shot that one of those guys will make it to the World Cup. We’re still 10 months away, these are young players who can improve a lot, so I say, "Why not?"
- EXTRA TIME RADIO: Tab Ramos talks youth development
BRADLEY: What role are you serving now? We catch a glimpse of you on TV here and there.
RAMOS: Since Jurgen [Klinsmann] took over, there’s a little bit more of an integration between the senior and youth national teams, so any time I’m not with the 20s, I’m with the first team so that when I’m with the 20s, I can work with them in a similar way in terms of the way the games are presented and in how we scout the opposing team and how that’s presented. As far as training sessions, I try to do a lot of the same things that the first team does so when those guys move up, it’s an easier transition. I’m enjoying my time and have learned a lot.
BRADLEY: What are your coaching aspirations?
RAMOS: At this point, I’m still learning and want to keep all my options open. I really enjoy being with the national team. I identify with the crest, and I know how much it means to play for the national team. So I’m very happy where I am at this point, but I will continue to move wherever the ball takes me.
BRADLEY: It sounds like you’re set on pursuing a career in coaching, then?
RAMOS: Absolutely. I get up every morning thinking about coaching, and I go to bed at night thinking about coaching. I’m really enjoying what I’m doing. It doesn’t feel like a job.