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Despite key absences, Ramos happy with U.S. squad bound for U-20 World Cup

Tab Ramos understands the frustration better than anybody. He knows there are several players, several big names, missing from his U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team roster. He’s fought the usual battles, made the usual concessions but, even still, the U.S. is missing some potential contributors.

But, make no mistake: Ramos is as confident as ever in the group he has been able to assemble for the upcoming Under-20 World Cup.

Ramos unveiled his 21-man roster on Tuesday, and it features some heavy-hitter additions mixed with players returning from the CONCACAF championship team. Cameron Carter-Vickers and Gedion Zelalem, two players on the last World Cup roster but used sparingly this cycle, are back in the fold. Philadelphia Union midfielder Derrick Jones is involved having recently been cleared to represent the U.S. as is Josh Sargent, fresh off a qualifying campaign with the U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team.

Still, it’s easy to see notable absences. Fiorentina forward Josh Perez was not released, although he has recently been dealing with an injury. He’s a player that Ramos targeted, even if Ramos hasn’t had him in camp for over a year. The same could be said for the Schalke duo of Weston McKennie and Nick Taitague, both of whom weren’t released by their club.

“We haven’t had an opportunity to see Josh with us in over a year now,” Ramos said, “and that’s really difficult, to follow a player that’s not playing on the first team, who is playing on the U-19 and we don’t get to see him with us.

“Schalke was pretty straight-forward with, ‘Our U-19s are more important than your national team, so they’re going to stay here until we’re done playing’. That’s something for our young players to look at. When they go to Europe, sometimes you sign for a club that thinks your national team is not important at the youth level, so you have to deal with that.”

The core of the group remains intact. In total, 15 players return from the team that won CONCACAF’s qualifying tournament. The six newcomers are headlined by familiar faces like Zelalem and Carter-Vickers, while Sargent makes the leap after dominating at the U-17 level. Ramos says he’s had his eye on Sargent for quite some time and, with U-17 qualifying done, the time finally felt right to bring him in.

The lone surprise, in many ways, is Atlanta United product Lagos Kunga, who impressed enough during a recent training camp in London to earn a spot on the roster.

Also a part of that training camp was Carter-Vickers, a player Ramos will rely on in the coming weeks. At that camp, though, Carter-Vickers suffered an injury, casting doubt over his status for the World Cup. There’s a contingency plan in place in the form of Philadelphia Union defender Austin Trusty, who would be called in should anything go wrong. Erik Palmer-Brown is also figured to feature in the centerback pool as Ramos looks to move him back from a No. 6 role.

Ramos is confident in Carter-Vickers’ fitness, though. The defender has been running since joining camp, mostly working on fitness. Ramos expects him back in the next three or four days in time to begin training in full early next week.

“This time around, he’s been on Tottenham’s first team, and Tottenham is one of the top 10 teams in the world today,” Ramos said. “That’s a great place to be and he’s playing with amazing players. Unfortunately for him, because of that, he hasn’t been able to play as many games as he played the year before. He’s gone from playing between 40-55 games to now playing only 10 or eight. That’s difficult for a young player.

“We’ve had to manage a little bit of that and that’s why we’ve called him to some camps to see if we can get him opportunities for extra games. Tottenham has been great for us and they feel the psychological part of the game is important. Cameron is happy when he comes with us and he needs that. He needs the 90 minutes games. That’s helped him.”

Ramos expects Carter-Vickers, Palmer-Brown and Zelalem to assume leadership roles in the coming days and weeks. He says he’s seen Palmer-Brown grow and mature in the two years since the last U-20 World Cup, becoming one of the best talents the team has at either centerback or in the midfield.

Admittedly, Ramos was a bit concerned with Zelalem, though. A recent loan move to VVV Venlo has proben less fruitful then expected, as the young midfielder made just nine appearances for the Dutch second division side.

But, having seen Zelalem up close, Ramos is more than happy with where he is. The U.S. head coach expects to rely on the midfielder big time to help unlock defenses, adding to an attack that struggled in qualifying. Despite leading the qualifying tournament in chances created, the U.S. struggled to score goals, and Ramos is expecting Zelalem to step up and drive the attacking force.

“Coming in, I was a little bit concerned with his form and what that would look like,” Ramos said, “but having seen him for the last three or four days at practice, I’m convinced he’s ready to do a great job for us. No concerns there.

“I would have hoped his career at this point would be a little bit more advanced. Two years ago, he was at Arsenal, he had already gotten some opportunities with the first team and here we are two years later and we’re looking at the same type of scenario. I think after this World Cup, he’ll likely move to play first team ball. That’s my feeling. Somewhere in Europe if it’s not in England alone, he’ll move somewhere else to play.”

Ramos admits there were a number of tough decisions. Leaving Mukwelle Akale off the roster was one that stuck out, and the U.S. head coach admits he still looks at the roster and wonders how he couldn’t fit the young forward in.

But, by and large, he’s happy with the group he’s assembled and he’s confident that it’s a group that is strong enough to compete at the World Cup. The U.S. faces a tough group, one featuring Ecuador, Saudi Arabia and Senegal, but Ramos believes this team has the weapons and swagger to step in and create something special in Korea.

“Obviously attending and playing in a World Cup against the best players in their age int he world is a great experience for them,” Ramos said. “We’re very proud that, for the first time, we travel to a World Cup as champions of our region. I’m looking forward to seeing how the team responds to that. Normally, we like to play the underdog role and although in this case we remain underdogs, we go there as champions and I hope we can take this new experience as a good one and this becomes the norm rather than the exception.”

“I’m very happy with the roster that we have,” Ramos added. “You know this is a talented age group and regardless if we say is someone missing or not here or if there is someone else we can have that will make the team better, I still think the guys we have here will represent us well and we have a good team.”


  1. Haji Wright scored today for Schalke U19 in their semi final leg 1 victory over Bayern Munich, Schalke takes a 2 goal lead into next weeks second leg. Taitague drew the penalty that gave them the lead 2-0 after just 10 minutes. Wright and McKennie played all 90 minutes, Taitague was brought off in the 68th. Timothy Tillman (US eligible) played all 90 for Bayern.

    Will Pulisic’s BvB defeated Wolfsburg and McKinze Gaines 3-2 and picked up 3 away goals. Pulisic was on the bench and Gaines played the full 90 minutes.

    Would it be more important for US soccer players for Schalke to win with 3 American starters or US U20s to say make it to the semifinals?

  2. I’m largely okay with both Fiorentina and Schalke (or any other club) not releasing or requesting that a player not be called in for a U-20 World Cup. For one, it could give a player like Williamson, who showed well in qualifying, or even an under the radar pro like Derrick Jones to improve their stock; guys like Perez, Taitague, and Gaines are already hot commodities and don’t need the exposure.

    When it does matter is at the Senior international level, such as some of the weirdness surrounding how Hertha Berlin has approached Brooks’s involvement with the NT. It is understandable to worry about a player traveling across the world in the middle of a season, but soccer is the one major sport where international competition is super important, so clubs just need to suck it up at that point.

    At the end of the day, this is still a strong squad, especially defensively. It is likely that the four most talented players on the team are natural center backs in EPB, CCV, Redding, and Glad (Adams, Lennon, and Zelalem, maybe Saucedo, are close behind as well, just based on raw potential). Would those other players have made a difference? Of course, and I am still worried about who will score goals (watch for Sargent, he has every opportunity to start, based on what we saw in qualifying, both from him in U-17 and from the other forwards in U-20). I’m excited to see what these guys can do.

    • One final thought, a player I do wish had been called in is Farfan from Portland, but Tab might not have enough info and/or trust in him to throw him into the squad at this point. Acosta did fairly well in qualifying, so hopefully all will be well at LB.

  3. I thought clubs had to release players for this tourney? How can Schalke just say, our u19s are more important than your national team? That seems pretty unfair, especially if any Germans go from there to the German u20s.

    • I believe I’m right with this, but I didn’t check the FIFA regulations. Teams are not required to release players for youth tournaments (except the Olympics). Schalke is playing in the Bundesliga Junior A Semi-Finals Wednesday and the second leg next Tuesday. If Schalke lose those players would then be available, but with travel and lack of training time that would be a big disadvantage to have 2 or 3 players on your 18 man roster (since none of them are GK). Perez is also set to play in the Italian U19 championship if his fitness level is back up so Fiorentina likely would not have released him anyway.

      The U19 tournament in Germany seems very important, if you remember Pulisic missed some Copa America training and a friendly to participate last year. Also, Schalke probably sees this as a chance to market their youth players to other German sides for loans or transfers, whereas, smaller clubs may not be sending scouts to Korea. There is only one Schalke player on the German squad, but he plays for Schalke II not their U19s.

      • Then why the heck is Fifa scheduling this tourney to go head to head with european club youth tourneys? They should be playing in June or July if top youth players wont be available in May.

      • Not really sure, probably because it doesn’t effect too many players or it could be that the rainy season starts in late May or early June and last thru July. Look at it as a positive that we have five players (although Will Pulisic is the backup for BvB) who are battling on three different teams for the German Youth Championship and another who is a star on one of the top eight teams in the Italian Youth Division.

  4. Since Tab said EPB will be a CB I am assuming he will be paired with CCV and that will mean Adams is the DM. I see Zelalem playing as the other CM with Lennon on the right and Sargent and embossie up top, so who is going to start on the left? Saucedo? Fossey and Acosta at outside backs. Is this going to be a flat 4-4-2 or a diamond.

    • Luca de la torre plays in left midfield in concacaf championship, i think the start lineup will be: klinsmann, fossey, ccv, epb, acosta, adams, willianson, zelalem, brooks, de la torre and ebobisse

  5. We could have a really strong center of the pitch defense should CCV get healthy. EPB was a beast in the CONCACAF championships. At this level, he can be one of the top defensive midfielders of the tournament. We need to get out of group and at least equal the quarterfinal appearance last cycle. I hope Zelalem can be effective. He should be far more experienced now especially because of his play in Holland this season.


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