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Ramos lauds deep crop of U.S. U-20 central midfielders

Soccer - International Soccer - FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013 - Group stage - Group A - Ghana v USA


The previous Under-20 cycle saw the U.S. Men’s National Team boast some serious talent in central midfield, but the current crop might be even better.

Luis Gil and former U-20 captain Wil Trapp were standouts for the U.S. last year and used the 2013 World Cup as a stepping stone to a strong 2014 MLS campaign. But while there may not be any players in the 2015 U-20 class that are curently playing at the level of Gil and Trapp, head coach Tab Ramos believes the overall depth of the midfield has improved immeasurably.

“This is a very deep central midfield type group,” Ramos told SBI Soccer in a phone interview. “This group has a lot more options. I think we didn’t really have that in the last group.”

Ramos named 12 midfielders to the U.S. U-20 provisional roster for the CONCACAF U-20 Championship, set to take place in Jamaica from Jan. 9-24. The group includes a number of promising center midfielders, such as Emerson Hyndman, Kellyn Acosta, Russell Canouse, and Joel Soñora.

Arsenal’s Gedion Zelalem could be added to the central midfield batch for the U-20 World Cup in New Zealand next May, assuming that the Americans qualify and that his one-time switch to U.S. Soccer is approved by FIFA by then.

With soccer players continuing to improve in the U.S. and more players joining professional academies or signing pro contracts at a younger age, competition for places in the U-20 squad has become fierce. Ramos lamented that there were only so many players he could call up, which forced him to leave a few behind that he thought had pro potential.

Ramos named Virginia’s Jake Rozhansky and Georgetown’s Arun Basuljevic as examples of players who may have made the U-20 squad in the past, but that are on the outside looking in because of the position’s current depth.

“It’s really difficult (to finalize the squad) because I can name eight central midfielders who should be on the team, and I can name guys who are not on the 30 who legit could be on the team and help us,” Ramos explained. “There’s going to be guys who unquestionably have enough potential to be professional players, and unfortunately I can’t consider them because there are just a couple of guys who are just a little bit better.

“That’s unfortunate because it doesn’t mean that I don’t like them.”

While Ramos admitted the selections were difficult, he claimed he and his staff already have a strong idea of what their final 20-man squad will be. Ramos is required to submit the squad for the U-20 World Cup qualifying tournament to CONCACAF by Friday.

The roster decision was made slightly easier though when goalkeeper Santiago Castaño failed to turn up to the start of a week-long training camp in Honduras earlier this month. As it turned out, Castaño was also selected to participate in a pre-South American Youth Championships camp with the Colombia U-20 team, and the New York Red Bulls goalkeeper and dual citizen chose the country of his parents over the country of his birth.

When Ramos learned that Castaño had decided to join Colombia’s training camp instead of the U.S.’s, he admitted he was surprised at the timing, but couldn’t fault Castaño for the decision.

“This age group in general is not an easy one for goalkeepers and I think he made a decision that’s probably at this point, the one that he feels is best for him,” Ramos said. “I can’t argue with that. I wish I could, and I want all the kids to play with us, but I can’t make promises for someone that’s going to play.”

“From a U.S. Soccer standpoint, that’s somebody we’ve spent a lot of resources on because he’s been with youth national teams at all levels, but you know what, this is where we are. People make different choices and he happened to make one.”

Ramos even admitted that he had spoken with Castaño a year earlier about potentially switching affiliations, and at the time Ramos had convinced the 19 year-old to remain with U.S. Soccer.

“I think he saw what’s out there here in the U.S. pool and maybe he thought the Colombian pathway for him is easier to get to where he wants to get,” Ramos said.

Although they were both friendlies, Ramos said there were plenty of positives to take from a pair of 2-1 victories against Honduras’ U-20 in San Pedro Sula.

Shaquell Moore assisted on both Tommy Thompson and Romain Gall’s goals for the U.S. U-20s in the first game, and Gall and Lynden Gooch added tallies in the second game to give the U.S. another victory.

“I took a lot away,” Ramos said of the victories. “I took away that this team – we’ve known that this in general, especially in midfield – is a deep team. But I think what we needed to know is if this team has character and I think we showed that.

“In general, I thought we played a very solid game the first game because Honduras is always very good, not just at home. The fact that we went to San Pedro Sula and beat them twice I think says a lot for the character of our team.”

Twenty-one players from the 35-man provisional squad are currently training in Sunrise, Florida, in the team’s final camp before departing for Jamaica on Jan. 5, ahead of a match against Guatemala in Kingston on Jan. 9.


  1. Zelalem does not need to do a one-time switch. He just has to register his affiliation with the US to FIFA. If Zelalem had accepted a cap tying game from Germany he would not be able to make a switch regardless if he became a US citizen.

    • But he has made appearances for Germany on the youth team, so wouldn’t that require a one-time switch? Fabian Johnson had to do the same thing. He represented Germany at the youth level and I’m fairly certain he had to make the switch.

      • Someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Johnson played for a German youth side in an official tournament. I want to say the European U-21 championship. Zelalem never had such an appearance so no one time switch is needed. And actually, since Zelalem would not have been eligible for the US when he would have made such an appearance, I don’t think a one time switch would have been possible. He would have become cap-tied to Germany.

        Can anyone confirm?

      • You are correct, except that a German youth competitive match for Gedion would still allow him to switch to Ethiopia (as unlikely as that might be).

      • No, need for a one time switch; in fact, he still would have his one time switch available to move to Germany or Ethiopia down the road.

        Only time a one time switch is needed is if a player represents a country in a youth competitive match. Players like Mix and Edwin Lara have played for two countries in youth friendlies without filing a switch.

  2. If the midfield is so great why is Shaq Moore getting all the assists?

    Assuming we qualify for the U-20 World Cup this team could really use Zelalem as the attacking midfielder. I believe Julian Green is age eligible as well, if he continues to not make progress why not give him a shot at this level?

    • Assists are very often not indicative of who the best passers are. The best passer of this generation, Xavi, had 5 assists all last season. Depending on the side and the tactics, the role of the midfield playmakers is often to make the key pass to unlock the defense, to find the player in space, to pick out the pass that will unbalance the defense and create mismatches, not to make the assist.

    • Everything I’ve heard about him says GZ is a deep-lying playmaker/CDM, and we have plenty of attacking talent as it is…if we let him play the playmaker/box-to-box role and get forward, we’ll need someone as a dedicated DM to be the enforcer a-la Gattuso. Jones was as close as we’ve gotten to that, but if Cameron is going to be moved to the midfield permanently we may be able to make it work.

      • Zelalem is NOT a CDM, you have no idea what you’re talking about. Thank you for giving your opinion on a player you have obviously never even seen, though. After all this is The Internet where people weigh in on **** they know nothing about as if they’re experts…

    • In Honduras, the USA had 22 shots, 9 on target, forcing 6 saves. 4 of those were goals, and 2 were Shaq Moore assists.

      Who assisted the 20 other shots? We would have needed to see the game. Let’s make sure we see some games before we judge this midfield, Bobbbb.

    • The UEFA U19 champion acts as a U20 World Cup qualifier meaning Green is cap tied for that tournament to Germany and not eligible to represent the US.

      • But they are separate tournaments…so why would he be tied? It’s not like if a player transfers during the season for the FA Cup or UEFA CL
        Can anyone else verify?

      • OMG! He is not cap-tied and can play in the tournament. They were not full youth national team games because he pulled out of tournament. If they were and he played, he WOULD NOT be able to play with the USMNT. FIFA law states that you can only switch teams to another team if you were able to play for the latter team when you played for the former team. Up until today, GZ could only have played for Germany and Ethiopia. If he had played in an official tournament match, then he would only have been able to play for Ethiopia or Germany.

      • The UEFA U19 is the qualifying tournament for the U20 WC. Any appearance in qualifying “cup ties” the player for the entire U20 WC. No Green for the U20 WC.

      • You are correct, Green can’t play for the US U-20s because he is cap tied to Germany’s U-19s for those purposes, I forgot about that.

      • Bobb, your wrong or just typed the wrong bit of information because Green is in fact cap tied to the US after playing and scoring no less in this past summer’s WC….Gedion on the other hand would have to file a one time switch which I believe he is in the process of doing!

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