Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
Tab Ramos has some difficult decisions ahead.
With exactly four months until the start of the 2015 CONCACAF Under-20 Championships, time is running short for the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team coaching staff to select a 20-man squad to take part in the tournament.
To make matters worse, Ramos concedes that a handful of the best U.S. players eligible to play in the tournament won’t be released by their clubs, due to the tournament taking place from Jan. 9-24 in Jamaica. That could leave the USA shorthanded in their quest to qualify for the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
To prepare for this likely outcome, Ramos and his coaching staff will spend the next four months only calling up and working with players that they know will be available in January.
“This is when we get into the tricky part of the U-20 National Team,” Ramos told SBI in a recent phone interview. “The players who are going to get called moving forward are guys who I think will be eligible in January to play for us in the qualifiers. The only goal right now for the U-20 National Team is ‘how can we build a group between now and January just for qualifying’, because that’s really what matters.”
Luckily for Ramos and the coaching staff, the core of the U.S. Under-20s is based in the USA. New York Red Bulls Homegrown product Santiago Castano started the past few tournaments, and faces tough competition from University of Maryland goalkeeper Zack Steffen. Castano’s teammate Matt Miazga and Sporting Kansas City Homegrown defender Erik Palmer-Brown have also been regulars for the U.S. Under-20s in recent months.
In midfield, the U-20s were boosted with Romain Gall’s decision to sign with MLS and join the Columbus Crew, while up top they can count on Tommy Thompson, Ben Spencer, and Zach Pfeffer.
At the same time, there are some key players who could miss out on U-20 World Cup qualifying because their clubs don’t release them. Ramos specifically named FC Utrecht’s Rubio Rubin and Sunderland midfielder Lynden Gooch as players he didn’t expect to be available, and Ramos said he was “hopeful” that Hoffenheim’s Russell Canouse would be released.
Other players who could potentially miss out include Paul Arriola and Fernando Arce Jr. of Club Tijuana, Reading’s Andrija Novakovich, and Borussia Dortmund prospect Junior Flores.
“I’m not going to spend a lot of time on players who in the end, will not get released for three weeks in January,” Ramos said. “They may be the best players, but if I can’t have them, it doesn’t make any difference at this point to me.
“These are the guys that I’d love to count on, they’re very good players, but I can’t just bring them around if they are not going to be available.”
Ramos and the U.S. Under-20s are currently wrapping up a ten-day training camp in Buenos Aires with a match against the Argentina U-20s, and the coaching staff are using it as a final opportunity to take a look at some more foreign-based players.
Earning recalls were Chesterfield midfielder Gboly Ariyibi, Cruzeiro midfielder Luis Felipe and Boca Juniors’ Joel Sonora, all of whom could be potentially on the U.S. squad should they qualify for the World Cup in New Zealand. Luis Martir of Chivas de Guadalajara was a late addition, and he joined John Requejo Jr., Arriola, and Arce Jr. as players in the squad based in Mexico.
Despite all the roster questions, Ramos says he has a good idea already of what his starting lineup could look like when the U.S. take the field on Jan. 9.
“I would say probably 60 percent of the starting lineup that was with the U-18s will be the starting lineup in January,” said Ramos. “There’s a good chance 5 or 6 of those guys will be starters, and you can imagine who those guys will be.”
With potentially half the lineup sorted, now it’s Ramos job to ensure that the other half of the squad is identified and prepared to lead the USA back to the World Cup.